Welcome to Major League Baseball in 2019. Baseballs are being punished at a rate never before seen and young studs are making names for themselves in a big way. The game has transitioned toward more youthful, impactful talent and two rookies have stood out above the rest: Pete Alonso of the New York Mets and Yordan Álvarez of the Houston Astros. The two are killing it in their inaugural campaigns and are the favorites to win NL and AL Rookies of the Year. Both are sure to be franchise cornerstones moving forward but would you rather have Alonso or Álvarez on your team right now?
Before looking at any data I asked myself this same question and instinctively selected Alonso. The Mets named him their Opening Day first baseman and since then, he’s taken the job and run with it. He’s the Home Run Derby Champion. He leads the Major Leagues in home runs. He’s also really impressed this season on both sides of the ball, playing much better defense than scouts had anticipated. The hype of his monster rookie season combined with the ability to play a defensive position makes him an exciting player to watch during the next several years. I was prepared to write about why I would take him over Yordan but then I realized something…
Pete actually isn’t better than Yordan in any valuable offensive categories. *
The greatest argument in favor of Alonso is of course his ability to hit home runs. It’s a fair point. He won this year’s Home Run Derby in Cleveland. He does currently lead the Major Leagues in home runs with 47, as a rookie. Statcast Leaderboards says his average home run distance (412) is three feet further than Álvarez’s. But, there’s more here than what meets the eye.
Yordan has played in 71 games, literally half of Pete’s 142 games. In that time, he’s hit 24 home runs in 263 at bats (eerily enough, exactly half of Pete’s 526 at-bats). Yordan’s home run rate of 9.1% is slightly higher than Alonso’s. If given the same number of at bats, Álvarez would have been on pace to out-homer Alonso by one.
It’s not just the home runs, Álvarez is just a more productive hitter in comparison this season. His batting average is 46 points higher (.316 to .270) and his OPS is 114 points higher (1.082 to .968). Not to mention, Yordan has the edge in other categories such as Walk Rate, Strikeout Rate, ISO, BABIP, and Hard Hit % (according to FanGraphs). He distributes his balls-in-play around the field more uniformly and as a left-handed power bat, even hits significantly better against lefties than Alonso does (.291 to .254).
In my opinion, what’s most important when evaluating and comparing hitters is how hard the ball is being hit and how often it’s being hit hard.
When I was younger I had a coach that used to say, “It’s not about hitting the ball far, it’s about hitting it hard.” The question then becomes who hits the ball harder, Álvarez or Alonso? According to Statcast, Álvarez has the edge on that one as well. Álvarez’s average exit velocity of 92.5 mph trumps Alonso’s 90.8 mph.
A hard hit is classified as a ball that leaves the bat at 95+ mph. Álvarez hits the ball hard 50% of the time compared to Alonso’s 42%, placing 78 players between them. On balls put into play, Álvarez barrels 18.1% of those compared to Alonso’s 16.3%. He’s putting the ball into play hard more often than Pete too.
Sure, you can propose the argument that Yordan Álvarez doesn’t mean as much to his team as Alonso does. I suppose you could also make the case that since Alvarez is a DH that any defense (namely Alonso’s defense at first base) is better than no defense at all. Just remember though, the value of these guys as baseball players comes off of their bats. Álvarez is taller, leaner, and younger than Alonso and he plays in the league that suits his career path better moving forward, as a DH.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Yordan Álvarez, or like me, didn’t truly grasp how good his rookie season has been thus far. Maybe it’s because he plays on the Astros and his greatness gets overshadowed by Springer, Altuve, Correa, and the rest of the pitching staff. Or maybe, it’s because the media loves to talk about Alonso chasing the Major League home run lead as a rookie. Whatever the case may be, the 22-year-old Cuban phenom is showcasing his amazing talents and he’s here to dominate the American League for years to come.
*Stats reflect those on September 10th, 2019
Photo Credit to offthebenchbaseball.com