Pete Alonso is for real
From the moment Pete Alonso’s sixth major league home run splash landed in Atlanta, he’s been on the national radar.
Pete Alonso, guys.pic.twitter.com/EFxkGRrwDe
— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) April 12, 2019
Only three players had hit in-game home runs at harder exit velocities than the ~118 MPH with which Alonso hit that one, and their names are Judge, Stanton and Trout. Alonso hasn’t stopped mashing, either, with a top-10 exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, per Statcast.
If you own Alonso, you’re thrilled with his rookie season output. If you don’t, it’s probably too late to acquire him for anything but a king’s ransom. How, though, did a player that never ranked better than No. 40 on any major prospect list turn into one of baseball’s premier sluggers, seemingly out of nowhere? It’s the Paul Goldschmidt story all over again.
Honestly, the reason Alonso ranked so highly in the first place was in part because of Goldschmidt. People had realized that a top-end bat, even when deployed at first base, was still a top-end bat. But at the same time, a player destined to man first base has to hit, or he won’t provide any value. There’s always risk that the next level of pitching could expose them.
That hasn’t happened in the early going with Alonso. He actually has a lower average exit velocity against fastballs than he does against offspeed or breaking pitches. Part of that stems from his tree trunk-like legs.
On the most recent Sunday Night Baseball, Alex Rodriguez analyzed Josh Donaldson’s swing. He spoke about how Donaldson embraced the launch-angle revolution not with his arms but with his lower half. Alonso works in a similar fashion, at least in his legs, as Donaldson. Alonso almost gets lower as he swings, which can be seen in the splash video above. He sets up his lower body as a spring under lots of pressure, not just weight back but also weight down.
Alonso’s momentum can only move one direction when he starts to swing: out and upward. That allows him to crush balls to all parts of the field, in the air and often out of the ballpark.
This is Peter Alonso back pedaling from Mets manager Mickey Callaway pic.twitter.com/BPhTReBrvX
— Billy Heyen (@Wheyen3) March 26, 2019
The pessimistic New York Mets fans out there might be asking what’s going to stop Alonso from ending up like his teammate, Dominic Smith, Jr. Smith was a “bad-body,” high-ranking first base prospect coming up through the Mets’ system, too. He mashed in the lower minors, just like Alonso did. Or maybe they want to know if Alonso can really turn into a perennial All-Star like Goldschmidt.
Part of this goes back to Alonso’s lower half. Because of that up-and-out spring motion that Alonso’s swing is forced to take after his load, he avoids maybe the biggest impediment to Smith’s success: hitting the top half of the ball. Smith has “topped” 34.4 percent of balls in his major league career, per Statcast. Alonso is much better in that category, at 20 percent. And Smith never had the raw power of Alonso, so each extra ball Alonso hits in the air has that much more chance of reaching the seats. Even when he doesn’t, Alonso can reach out and poke a ball 99 miles per hour the other way, as he did on Monday.
And who knows: Maybe setting Alonso up to be the next Goldschmidt is setting the bar too high. But this is the same player who was run into by Josh Reddick in Spring Training and didn’t flinch, instead leveling Reddick in the process.
Josh Reddick finding out the hard way that Pete Alonso is a large human. pic.twitter.com/r3Wp8UWjMS
— Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer) March 11, 2019
Admittedly, there’s nothing in common between Alonso standing his ground when a lighter man runs into him and holding his own against major league pitching. But I had to work that video in somehow. And if you slow down a video of a baseball at contact, it looks a lot like Reddick did in that clip. Alonso, more than almost anyone in baseball, adds a little extra crush to every ball (and apparently human) that he hits.