Peter Alonso Should Not Be The Mets 2019 First Baseman
With everything Peter Alonso does, it is getting harder and harder justifying keeping him in Triple-A past the first few weeks of the season. His power is legit, and it he attacks this offseason like he did the last, he’s going to be a significantly improved player. Seeing the season he just had, that’s a scary thought, and yet, there’s no way the Mets can just hand him the first base job next year, not if they are planning on winning next year.
Again, this is no slight against Alonso, but rather a result of the circumstances. When analyzing the situation, there are certain assumptions we need to make. The first assumption Jay Bruce has a contract which cannot be traded. When looking at the sprint speeds compiled by Baseball Savant, Bruce is the slowest right fielder in the majors, and as a result, the second assumption is Bruce should no longer be playing the outfield. The last assumption is with Bruce still having two years $28 million on his deal, the Mets are not going to put him on the bench, nor would Bruce be willing to accept such an assignment.
With all of that being the case, where is the room for Alonso on the 2019 roster?
You could argue he could go play right field, but then you are weakening your outfield defense. Last year, Bruce was a -4 DRS in 538.2 innings in right field. With him in right, Brandon Nimmo is your likely center fielder, and he was a -2 DRS and -2.8 UZR in 350.1 innings in center last year. Configuring your outfield this way may also carry with it the possibility Juan Lagares, who is the best defensive center fielder in baseball, even fewer innings in the outfield.
The obvious rebuttal to this is Bruce is not a first baseman. It’s a fair comment, but if you follow the scouting reports, Alonso has struggled at first base next year. You could argue Alonso would not be better than the 0 DRS Bruce had in 180.1 innings there last year. You could even argue Alonso would be worse.
Assume for a second, the Mets decide to ignore outfield defense completely, and they put Bruce in right field to make room for Alonso. Your outfield is now set, and also, it means your infield is likely set. This means the Mets do not add a Manny Machado, A.J. Pollock, or other big right-handed bat this team really needs to add this offseason.
Sure, you could say the Mets could still sign someone, but then you are likely forcing Jeff McNeil to the bench because it is unrealistic to expect Brodie Van Wagenen to tell his former client Todd Frazier he is now a utility infielder. Moreover, for a Mets pitching staff who induces many groundballs, it would seem like a mistake to put your only quality infield defender on the bench. If you have your choice between Alonso and McNeil, don’t you have to go with McNeil at this point because he’s proven he can play and play well at the Major League level?
The bigger question iss if you’re the Mets, and you are truly trying to build a World Series contender next year, are you really going to put all of your eggs in the Peter Alonso basket? That’s a really big risk.
Keep in mind, some of his stats in Binghamton were inflated by a .344 BABIP. Given how slow he is, he’s due for some course correction on that. Compounding the problem is the fact he pulled the ball 50.3 percent of the time with Vegas. If he is going to be that extreme a pull hitter (as opposed to what he was in 2017), teams are going to shift him accordingly, and he’s going to lose a lot of base hits he is currently getting.
With Vegas, he had a 25.9 percent strikeout rate. In the Arizona Fall League, he is striking out 25.6 percent of the time. That’s not a great strikeout rate, and it’s possible he strikes out more against Major League pitching.
There’s also some question about his ability to hit right-handed pitching at the Major League level. Baseball America said of Alonso, “his power will play in the big leagues, perhaps in the second half of 2018, whether as a regular or a platoon masher.” To be fair, the stats don’t necessarily prove that out with Alonso having a higher OPS against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching last year.
Now, it’s possible Alonso comes to Queens next year, and he is able to succeed despite these question marks. After all, Paul Goldschmidt was once thought to be a platoon bat who proved he could hit anybody. Lucas Duda was able to prove himself an everyday first baseman despite a high strikeout rate because of his plate discipline and power.
Really, by no means should we count out Alonso being a masher at the Major League level. However, we also shouldn’t count on it happening immediately next year. More than that, the Mets shouldn’t be counting on it if they intend to try to win the World Series next year.
Ultimately, Alonso needs to start the year in Syracuse because the Mets are going to have to find a spot for Jay Bruce to play and because the team needs to get a proven right-handed bat this offseason.