Have I Shortchanged AlJu?

I’m probably the only one calling him that, and I don’t care.

Most of this week around the Cubs-o-sphere has been something of a memorial to Dexter Fowler’s stay here. It makes sense. He rejected the qualifying offer, as he should, and there has to be at least a few teams that are just aching to hand over $20m+ for a few years to him because everyone in baseball has stupid money to throw around (hi there, White Sox!). What’s scary is the Cardinals could probably use some outfield help with the departure of Holliday, the collection of random Jim Rose Circus rejects they tossed in center all season, and that would definitely hurt. But they’re hardly the only ones who could used some help in the outfield. As previously stated, the Cubs are going to have to toss some serious money around in the not-too-distant future and doing so for a 30+ outfielder when you have in-house replacement isn’t the most prudent idea.

While we’ve discussed Albert Almora Jr. taking over in center full-time, while noticing the defensive upgrade we worry about the OBP. Maybe that’s being a bit short-sighted?

I hadn’t really noticed before, but upon really studying Almora’s minor league numbers, the first thing that jumps out is that he has never struck out anywhere close to 20% of the time, which is about the major league average. Even last season in his brief glimpse at the majors, and being completely flummoxed by change-ups and sliders, Almora struck out at 17%. So while it might not be walk-heavy plate discipline, it’s at least plate-discipline.

What made Almora a plus-offensive player last year is a pretty high 27.8% line-drive rate along with his ability to make contact. The former should see a higher than normal BABIP if he can keep it up, along with his plus-speed. Nearly half of Almora’s hits last year were for extra-bases, which is obviously not something that’s going to continue.

What’s worrying about Almora is he never really was offensively dominant at any level in the minors above single-A. A full season at Double-A in 2015 only saw a 105 wRC+, and 80 games in Triple-A last year only saw 92. There’s a steep learning curve here, but I’ll take the line-drives as a starting point.

What also may be undersold here is just how much of a defensive upgrade Almora might be. In only 47 games last year, according to FanGraphs Almora was 5.8 defensive runs above average. Over 125 Fowler was just 2.7. So Almora was twice as valuable in the field in almost a third of the time. Almora’s UZR and UZR/150 are also very similar to what Fowler put up over a full season. The Cubs could seriously be looking at numbers from Almora in center that they got from Heyward in right, which could put their outfield somewhere in the historic stratosphere that their infield was at times this year. That might be enough to offset what he doesn’t do at the plate and whatever’s in left. Like, I can’t wait for Joe to have an alignment where Almora and Heyward actually set up in the gaps and Schwarber is given like fifteen square feet to cover. It could totally work.

-Just random thought. The Twins apparently want a catching upgrade and they want a plus-framer in it. I wonder if this might not be a landing spot for Miggy if his back hasn’t turned completely into dust. While I doubt the Cubs are jonesing to enter next season with only Contreras and the one game per week that Schwarber might be able to catch, I also doubt that Montero’s bellyaching about his role went over too well. We know Arrieta and now probably Lester want to keep him around, and they’ll certainly have some pull. I don’t know who would be a suitable replacement if you went that route. Maybe Jason Castro? Does he want to play only part time? A.J. Ellis? He really isn’t that good defensively despite the Kershaw tears at his departure. We shall see.

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