Yes, Albert Almora is Getting Better Against - and More Starts Against - Righties

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Yes, Albert Almora is Getting Better Against – and More Starts Against – Righties

Chicago Cubs

When I was scrolling through Twitter before the game last night, this tweet from Albert Almora’s interview on 670 The Score caught my eye:

First, I absolutely love the confidence coming from Almora, because that’s *exactly* how I want him to feel right now. Self-awareness is a very important trait – particularly when something is/has been an issue – but when you put in hard work and begin to see results, that outward confidence is well-earned.

Second … I don’t necessarily agree with him.

We’re going to get into the improvements he’s made against right-handers in a second (and you’ll be happy to see the numbers, I’m sure of that), but let’s be clear about the path to success: Almora has struggled mightily against right-handers early on in his career.

2016

Albert Almora only got 74 plate appearances against righties in his debut season, and while the results weren’t terrible right away (.286/.324/.400), he was striking out twice as much against fellow righties as opposed to lefties. And his overall production against righties (93 wRC+) wasn’t anywhere close to his stuff against southpaws (113 wRC+). And then things got worse.

2017

In his first full big league season, Albert Almora drew 198 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and it’s fair to say they had his number (.271/.291/.420). Against lefties, he was walking 10.4% of the time and striking out just 13.6% of the time with a massive 137 wRC+, but against right-handers, he walked in just 3.0% of plate appearances, struck out at an 18.2% clip, and posted an 81 wRC+ (meaning he was just about 20 percent worse than the league average hitter).

Almora’s extremely impressive defense in center field and overall ability against lefties would probably always ensure that he had a spot in the Major Leagues, but so long as righties were killing him, he was never going to be a quality, everyday starter (after all, a vast majority of pitchers are right-handed).

So to that end, I disagree with Almora’s comments (even as I’m glad *HE* feels that way). The worry and narrative surrounding his ability to hit righties matters to us so much because, if he could do it (even at a league-average rate), he instantly becomes an All-Star candidate. In other words, it’s not that we believe he’ll bust if he can’t hit righties better than the 80-90 wRC+ he’s posted so far, it’s that the upside is so obvious and enticing that focusing in on his one last deficiency is only natural – like pining for Javier Baez to stop swinging at that low and away slider.

Perhaps we, as Cubs fans, overdo the worry, but again, when the upside is so clear … can you blame us?

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Well, even if you’re a worrier, take heed: things are improving.

With one out in the top of the ninth inning yesterday, Albert Almora stepped up to the plate with no one on base and his team down a run. Standing on the mound 60 feet and 6 inches away from him was the rested Braves’ closer, Arodys Vizcaino. For his career, Vizcaino has held fellow right-handed hitters to a paltry .219/.291/.333 slash line (.275 wOBA) and even that was above the .205 wOBA righties have posted against him this season.

Needless to say, this wasn’t a lefty. This wasn’t even one of the reverse-split righties Almora has used as training wheels from time to time this season. This was a bonafide closer who demolishes right-handers going up against a guy who’s historically struggled against right-handers to a fairly significant degree.

And yet after taking a slider for a strike, Almora cranked the next pitch 254 feet on a line into left field and hustled into second for a sliding double. He would later go on to score the game-tying run on Addison Russell’s double and the Cubs held on to win.

But perhaps bigger than just the singular win in mid-May was Almora’s success. Sure, this was just one plate appearance, but it came in a huge moment against some very long odds. Naturally, that made all of us want to know … is Almora figuring things out against righties? It’s still early, but it sure seems like it.

Through 77 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers this season, Albert Almora is slashing .286/.342/.371 with a 7.8% walk rate and a 22.1% strikeout rate. Overall, that level of production equates to a 98 wRC+, which is just barely below the league average of 100 … and that’s fantastic.

As we’ve mentioned before for guys like Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, and Javy Baez, league average offensive production combined with their defensive capabilities would make them each very valuable players. So even if Almora was just a 100 wRC+ guy for his career, you’d expect him to still be an everyday-caliber player.

Of course, it’s much better than that. Almora is still crushing lefties. In fact, he’s hitting them better than ever: .324/.390/.541 (153 wRC+). So overall this year, Almora is slashing .299/.359/.430 (117 wRC+) and has already been worth more WAR than he generated in all of 2017.

And that’s not all.

In the month of May, alone, Almora has slashed .389/.476/.611 against right-handers with a walk rate (14.3%) higher than his strikeout rate (9.5%). Yes, it has been only 21 plate appearances, so we can’t call anything yet, but it’s definitely not a bad sign – particularly the plate discipline, which leads me to believe he’s seeing righties better than ever (which is the first step to hitting them better than ever).

Like everything, it’s not all good news. For the season, Almora has a 29.6% soft-hit rate and 22.2% hard-hit rate against righties, and those numbers have only improved to 25.0% and 31.3% over the past month. But I think it’s pretty easy to see a trend emerging, and that’s exciting.

Hopefully, with more exposure to the right right-handers in the short-term, and eventually more and more tough right-handers long-term, Almora can continue to develop into the everyday, All-Star-caliber center fielder we think he can be. Until then, I’m just enjoying the improvements and hoping for the best.

Almora starts tonight against another right-hander, and he’s even leading off.



Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami