“I really don’t want to talk about this anymore, because it’s redundant and it’s something I don’t like. I don’t like to split lefties, righties. I’m playing baseball. I’m facing the opponents and that’s it. I’m not saying I’m pissed you’re asking me that. Just in general, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s not something I’m going to limit myself to.”
That’s a full, and obviously passionate response from Cubs outfielder Albert Almora at Cubs.com, and not one I blame him for offering. I’d expect nothing less from a talented competitor like Almora (or any Cub, for that matter). In fact, I may prefer that sort of attitude to the alternative – confidence is a good thing. AND ALSO, we have to be realistic.
The fact of the matter is that, for his career, Almora has been *far* more successful against left-handed pitchers (117 wRC+) than righties (85 wRC+). If you’re unfamiliar with those statistics, note that a 100 wRC+ is exactly average and every point above or below 100 is 1 percent better or worse he was than the league average. In other words: yeah, that’s a huge, not insignificant (919 PAs) split.
But uncomfortably, it gets a little worse than that.
Plenty of us, I’m sure, remember Almora’s scorching hot first half of the 2018 season. Indeed, in his first ~300 plate appearances last year, Almora slashed .319/.357/.438 (115 wRC+) overall. Sure, he hit lefties (118 wRC+) better than righties (113 wRC+), but the split wasn’t nearly as big *and* his production against righties looked downright strong, at 13% better than the league average hitter.
But a deeper dive into the numbers reveals quite a bit. In addition to an unsustainably high .387 BABIP against righties, Almora’s groundball rate was elevated (50.7%), and he wasn’t making particularly good contact (31.2 hard%, 24.7 soft%). In other words, he wasn’t even earning that unsustainably high BABIP (I will note that those peripherals were all somehow even worse across the board for lefties, but that doesn’t really help his case). Balls, at that time, were just finding holes. And, in the second half, when they stopped (.274 BABIP), he hit just .225/.250/.267 (38 wRC+) against righties.
Which brings me back to Almora’s comments.
While understandable – laudable even – he’s simply going to have to prove himself against righties before he ever takes on a more substantial role on the Cubs roster. Indeed, given his 47 wRC+ in the second half overall, he’s going to have to prove himself against all types of pitchers before he’ll really start generating a ton of starts.
But all of that is really besides the point. The reality of the situation actually has very little to do with Almora, individually. The nature of this particular roster is always going to lend itself it to split time, lots of movement, inconsistent lineups, and platoon advantages. There simply isn’t a place for Almora to be starting everyday when lefties like Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward can provide platoon advantages he can’t, let alone the need to work in talented, established hitters like Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist into the lineup/outfield on a weekly basis. There’s also Ian Happ, the switch-hitter with plenty of upside on his own, who needs his shot, too.
So while I can appreciate the confident attitude – and can even say I believe Almora will take great strides against pitchers hurling with either hand this season – the Cubs will not be able to guarantee him time.
But to end on a more positive note, I will say this: IF Almora proves capable of hitting righties around average and lefties a bit better than that, his defensive capabilities in the outfield will make him VERY difficult to sit for any length of time. He’s the sort of player, not unlike Heyward, who can be so valuable with just better than league average production thanks to his glove and I’d love nothing more than to see him earn exactly that. He may never be a full-time, everyday, no-doubt starter for the Cubs on this roster, but he can get very close.
Hey, the guy is not yet even 25. It’s not like we haven’t seen talented young hitters fundamentally improve their offensive game before. You can’t rule it out.