Trying to Measure Up

The Padres are in the midst of a tough 12-game stretch, facing recent playoff teams Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Washington, and perennial pain-in-the-butt St Louis.  They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Yonder Alonso has definitely gotten going.

After  posting an oh-fer in the first game of the Tampa series, Alonso has been scorching.  Heading into last night’s action, he’d posted a .379/.367/.621 line, with 2 home runs over the previous 8 games.  This hot stretch has helped raise his OPS+ to 123, second best on the team, and his wRC+ is 119, tied with Jedd Gyorko for second on the team (minimum 100 PA for both metrics).

Yonder won’t spend his career looking over his shoulder.  We can do that for him.  The Padres have Kyle Blanks on the roster, originally a first baseman.  VM Nate had a great post yesterday on Blanks vs Alonso.  In 2011 the club had Anthony Rizzo slotted to become the everyday first baseman, but traded him away that off-season.  Many fans wish Rizzo had remained here, especially after the RF fences came in.  Before that the Padres traded away Adrian Gonzalez due to fiscal constraints.  That’s a lot of baggage hovering around the first base bag.  Naturally Alonso’s peformance gets compared to those three players.  Can Alonso measure up to them offensively?  What about defensively?

Let’s do a quick comparison of their offensive prowess through the first quarter of this season.

  • Blanks:  140 OPS+, 146 wRC+.  Kyle has been a beast this year, and it appears he’s finally figured out how to hit that low outside strike that once gave him fits.
  • Rizzo: 134 OPS+, 136 wRC+.  Rizzo has 184 PA.  In a comparable sample has been a more valuable hitter than Yonder.  And he just signed a team-friendly 7-year contract. 
  • Adrian:  140 OPS+, 138 wRC+.  Adrian’s got 154 PA’s so far this year.  He’s hit 4 HR in 2013, meaning the questions about where his power went continue to dog him.

Blanks’ hot start is a pleasant surprise.  Rizzo was expected to hit very well playing half his games at Wrigley.  Adrian continues to produce at a high level.  Despite his recent/current hot streak, Yonder isn’t in the same class of offensive threat as the other three men.  Good, but not a bat you fear every time he steps into the box.  Yet.  Whether he ever reaches that elite level or not remains to be seen.

Shifting to defense, I’ll use the fielding bible plus/minus for the comparison.

  • Alonso (347.2 innings at first) +5
  • Rizzo (383.0 innings at first) +5
  • Gonzalez (320 innings at first) 0
  • Blanks has played 10 innings at first.  No point in talking about his defense there in 2013.  He’s played 56 innings in LF (+1) and 78 innings in RF (-1).

Alonso has definitely improved around the bag.  Last year in 1200+ innings his plus/minus rating was -3.  Defensive prowess only seems to deteriorate with age or chronic injury, so it’s reasonable to expect Alonso will continue to play at a high level in 2013 and for several years beyond.

WAR rolls both facets of a player’s contribution up, albeit using UZR for the defensive part of the calculation.  I did not use UZR here.  If you want to read an interesting conversation on the limitations of UZR, check out the comment section of Nate’s post.   Based on Fangraph’s WAR number, Rizzo leads the pack at 1.2 so far.  Blanks has been worth 0.6 through 44 games.  Alonzo and Gonzalez are tied at 0.5. 

Alonso is a solid major league first baseman.  He’s played well in 2013.  It will take more offensive heroics to stop the comparisons to Rizzo and Gonzalez.  Knowing Blanks can capably man the position should he falter is all the movitation he needs to continue improving.

Of course Alonso goes o-4 last night.

Fielding stats from Bill James’ website.  OPS+ pulled from Baseball Reference.  WAR from Fangraphs, as noted.  I occasionally appear on Twitter @Padres_Trail. 

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  • Is plus/minus the same as DRS? Fangraphs has Alonso’s DRS at +2 in 1276.1 innings last year.

    • padrestrail

      Drew – they’re related.

      Plus/Minus is defined as the number of plays the player made above/below the number that an average fielder would make, according to the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions. Simply put, if you make a play the average fielder would miss you get a point; if you miss a play the average fielder makes, you get a minus.

      Defensive Runs Saved compiles all of the ratings into a single number that equals the number of actual runs saved or allowed by the fielder, compared to the average. There’s a pretty good detailed explanation of DRS in the Fangraphs Glossary.

  • I think there is a section of fans that will never warm to Alonso. Which is a shame because he is a good player getting better.

  • I love Alonso’s swing. He starts with his hips then turns his whole body into a torque machine. The anti-Mike Piazza.