HomeTrending MLB NewsAlex Bregman Is Powerless | FanGraphs Baseball

Alex Bregman Is Powerless | FanGraphs Baseball

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, in his 26th game of the 2024 season, Alex Bregman hit his first home run. It didn’t come a moment too soon. Over his first 25 games, Bregman had run a wRC+ of 65. Until this year, he’d never had a stretch of 25 games in a single season in which he’d hit so poorly. Even in his worst season, an injury shortened 2021 campaign, he still finished with a 114 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR. So far this season, Bregman has been worth just 0.2 WAR. A cursory look at Bregman’s numbers over those first 25 games tells a very simple story: zero home runs, .268 SLG, .052 ISO. That’s not just a power outage. That’s a catastrophic grid failure. Only once before has Bregman posted an ISO this low over a 25-game stretch: In 2017, in the 54th through 78th games of his entire career, his ISO was .044. Because he’s been an impact player for so long, it’s easy to forget that Bregman is just 30 years old. It’s not as if Father Time has suddenly caught up with him, and he’ll surely bounce back at some point. But what’s going on right now?

Bregman has always had a somewhat odd offensive profile. As Houston hitting coach Troy Snitker told reporters, “He doesn’t hit for power because he hits the ball harder than most guys; he hits for power because he hits it in the air more than most guys.” In his entire career, Bregman has posted an above-average hard-hit rate just once, and he’s never broken 40%. However, he has impeccable plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills, and he’s constantly pulling the ball in the air. Although he’s recorded an above-average barrel rate just once, he’s never once had a below-average sweet spot rate. If you’re pulling the ball in the air, especially at Minute Maid Park, you don’t need to hit the ball hard enough to qualify for a barrel; you just need to hit it hard enough to get to the Crawford Boxes. Since 2015, Bregman has hit 18 home runs at or below 95 mph, second in all of baseball to Didi Gregorius with 19.

Snitker saw Bregman’s approach as an opportunity. “So with guys like that,” he said, “if you can have any small improvements to how hard the ball is coming off (the bat), he benefits the most, because he’s already getting the most balls out there.” This offseason, Snitker proposed weighted bat training in order to increase Bregman’s bat speed, with the goal of adding just a single mile per hour in exit velocity: “Just his batted-ball profile with 1 mile an hour is worth a lot in production,” said Snitker. Bregman explained that the focus was “trying to move (the bat) as fast as I could.” After four months of training, Bregman said, his bat speed numbers increased significantly without having any adverse impact on his mechanics. Coming into spring training, Bregman said he felt like his swing was “in the best spot that it’s been in years.”

Needless to say, the results have not been there. Bregman’s hard-hit rate is down, as are his average exit velocity and his 50th percentile exit velo. However, his 90th percentile EV is doing just fine and he’s nearly matched his max from last season. It’s not that he can’t hit the ball as hard as he used to; it’s just that he’s not doing it as often.

Alex Bregman’s Exit Velocity

YearHH%EVEV50EV90Max EV
202237.688.998.4102109.2
202338.288.698.1101.6107.5
202433.787.596.7102.2107.2

But it’s not just his contact quality; it’s his entire batted ball profile. Bregman’s groundball rate has exploded while his pull rate has cratered. His pull rate hadn’t been below 42% since his rookie season, but this year it’s at 33.7%. Only once before has he had a groundball rate as high as 40%; this year he’s at 42.7%. Look at his spray charts from 2023 and 2024. There’s so much less in the outfield, especially to the pull side.

Bregman’s line drive rate has cratered. When he hits the ball on the ground, he’s rolling over the it and sending it to shortstop rather than ripping it down the line. His fly ball rate is nearly the same, but when he puts it in the air, he’s often dropping his back shoulder, resulting in a weakly hit ball to right field.

If we combine the contact quality and batted ball profile, the picture becomes more clear. In 2023, Bregman’s hard-hit balls had an average launch angle of 13.6 degrees, and his balls that weren’t hard-hit were at 20. This year, those numbers are 10 and 26.8. As it’s currently constituted, Bregman’s swing just doesn’t seem as optimized as it once was for hard contact in the air. In the launch angle charts below, I’ve highlighted the exit velocities above 80 mph. In 2023, his average EV was that high on just about anything except popups and balls hit straight into the ground. This year, not only is he hitting the ball at optimal launch angles less often, when he does, he’s hitting it softer.

So that’s the bad news. Now let’s look at some reasons for optimism. First of all, it’s still April (or at least it was while I was writing this). Bregman usually starts slow, though not this poorly; his career 110 wRC+ in March/April is his worst of any month. And maybe he just needs some time to get used to his new swing. Second, a big reason for Bregman’s problems is that his line drive rate cratered, and line drive rates are notoriously fickle. Third, Bregman has been seeing tougher pitches this season. Because he succeeds by lifting the ball to the pull side, it’s no surprise that pitchers have always tried to attack him away and down. However, they’ve done a much better job of hitting that outside corner this season. He’s seen more pitches on the edges of the zone and fewer pitches right down the middle than in any previous season. The heat maps below show the location of the pitches he saw in 2023 and 2024.

After looking at these, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Bregman has made worse swing decisions and had a harder time pulling and lifting the ball. Assuming pitchers don’t remain that precise all season, this could be something that evens out over time.

When a player stops pulling the ball, it also makes sense to check whether they just can’t get around on the fastball anymore, but that doesn’t seem to be the problem. Although he’s had poor results against four-seamers, a pitch he usually crushes, Bregman is both chasing and whiffing against them less often than he did last year. It’s breaking and offspeed stuff that’s giving him fits, and players don’t usually forget how to hit soft stuff after eight excellent big league seasons. That lends credence to the idea that Bregman has merely been struggling with timing issues. That his homer last night came against a changeup should make it all the more encouraging.

Let’s assume that Bregman’s weighted bat work did give him some more power. Maybe we should be encouraged by the fact that his exit velocity hasn’t fallen all that drastically, considering the fact that he hasn’t really been swinging at the right pitches or making the kind of contact he wants. Maybe when he does figure those things out, that extra power will announce itself.

It’s also worth noting that Bregman’s batting stance looks different this season. His stance was slightly closed in 2023, but this year he’s squared up to the pitcher and a little more upright. Additionally, his leg kick is often less pronounced now than it was last season. In the stills below, I captured Bregman at the moment when his knee was at its highest; it’s subtle, but you can see that it’s a bit higher on the left, in 2023. Despite these changes, by the time he gets his foot down, it looks to me like he’s in pretty much the same hitting position that he was last year.

I don’t want to come anywhere near blaming Bregman’s struggles on his new stance or the changes he made to his swing. There are a million things that could be affecting his performance, and it would be facile to seize on the few that I can see or read about in the Houston Chronicle. That said, these are a lot of changes to make to a swing in a single offseason, especially when that swing has been so effective. Maybe Bregman just needs some time to get used to facing big league pitching with this swing, or maybe he needs to consider returning to what was working for him before. After a two-hit perforamnce in Mexico City on Sunday, Bregman noted that he something seemed to click when he tried getting into his load earlier. Either way, things are bound to pick up sooner or later, if for no other reason than that they couldn’t get much worse.

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