The Mets Junkies Podcast (Episode 22): Spring is in the air, Splitters are in the dirt.

Michael and Gem talk about Pete Alonso’s sophomore season and what fans should expect from him moving forward. We also talk about Marcus Stroman’s new pitch and even get some grades on players this spring.

Deep Dive – Pete Alonso’s Sophomore “Slump”

The “Curse”

The dreaded sophomore slump is a phenomenon that seems to affect athletes across all sports and especially baseball. Our friends over at Bat Flips & Nerds did a breakdown on this last year before the 2020 season that was simple yet effective in breaking down the performance of Rookie of the Year players over the last decade.

If you look at the picture above from Bat Flip & Nerds piece, Alonso’s decline was not as extreme as Wil Myer’s decline but optically many fans would think it was! When you dig into the numbers his “decline” is much more in line with both Ronald Acuna and two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani’s “slumps”. We saw Alonso’s OPS+ drop from 147 to 123 for a net drop of 24 points. Meanwhile we saw Acuna drop 22 points and Ohtani 30 points, so we see Pete’s “slump” falls somewhere in between two other elite hitters “slumps”. The optics that a LOT of Mets fans can not seem to get out of their head is Alonso swinging and missing at the down and away slider over and over and over….… Peep the extreme delivery angle from the Rays Ryan Thompson on this nasty frisbee slider

But were those optics exactly that? Just optics? Lets dig in…

“Peak” Pete

In 2019 Pete obviously had a historic year as he broke the rookie HR record previously set by cross-town giant Aaron Judge. The one thing that in my mind and the minds of others really separated Pete from your traditional pull happy 30-40HR guy was his ability AND willingness to hit up the middle and to the opposite field. In fact in 2019 no hitter hit more home runs up the middle or to the opposite field than Pete Alonso’s 28. Over HALF of his home runs came when not pulling the ball. The hitters behind Alonso in HR of that variety in ’19?

So ya… Some pretty elite company

When Alonso is at his best, like he was in 2019, no park can really hold him with his ability to hit for power to all parts of the park. Pete’s HR totals alone do not show just how impressive he was hitting to the opposite field or how integral it was to his game.

Oh hi there JD Davis…

As you can see above Pete was top 10 among all hitters who hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. This approach is something that waned a little bit down from the first half to the second half as Pete was approaching the rookie home run record. Pete’s opposite field percentage dropped 4% from almost 20% to barely over 15%. Over that same time period we saw his batting average from .280 to .235. Of course there is more to this, such as how pitchers approached Alonso in the second half after establishing himself as one of the best hitters in baseball in the first half of 2019. So we saw Alonso’s approach change throughout 2019 but how did it carry over to 2020?

The “Inevitable”

The helium and expectations for Pete Alonso were as inevitable as the infamous sophomore slump some would say. He is coming off a unanimous Rookie of the Year season and 53 home runs. There were many fans who’s expectations were yet another 50 home run season and as someone who looks at and studies the numbers its hard to say those were fair expectations. His ’20 projections still did project him to be an elite hitter averaging anywhere from 39-48 home runs dependent on the projection system. His OPS was projected to be anywhere in the high .870s all the way to almost .920. So not only were fan expectations high but by all accounts so were the expert projections. Pete initially struggled in the abbreviated ’20 spring training which was almost a complete 180 from his excellent ’19 spring training that catapulted him onto the opening day roster. He batted only .244 over 14G, hitting only 2 extra base hits and not collecting one walk or home run. Sure it was a VERY short sample size but simply by looking at Pete, he was pressing. What player wouldn’t under the same circumstances especially after dominating the Grapefruit League just a year prior? When the REAL season started, Pete quickly found himself at the plate a lot with RISP. For the months of July-August Pete Alonso faced the 3rd most pitches with RISP. The results themselves were not pretty as seen below.

w/ RISP July-August ’20… Also of note new Met Francisco Lindor struggled immensely as well

There are several factors that created these early struggles. Alonso swung and missed at a lot of pitches with RISP, which helped create the aforementioned “bad optics”. Not only was Pete struggling but Pete was struggling at the WORST times. Only three hitters in all of MLB swung and missed at more pitches with RISP.

A weird group no? You have speedy free swingers like Mondesi and Robert as well as established hitters like Chapman, Ozuna, Lindor and Castellanos. But swings and misses were not the only issues that frustrated the feared slugging Pete Alonso. Over the same time span, Alonso was struggling with getting underneath balls. He had five balls classified as “pop-ups” with RISP in the first half of the season, the only other player in MLB who had more was Nolan Arenado(6). But not everything was unlucky for Pete Alonso he was actually only one of SEVEN hitters who hit at least two pop-ups to have one fall for a hit, courtesy of the terrible Red Sox bullpen!

Pete with half of the “Bloop and a Blast”

The Rebound

There were several times early in the season where we thought Alonso was coming out of the slump, yet would find himself faltering yet again. Then September came around… Pete Alonso found himself as one of the best hitters in baseball during the month of September and he got hot by being more aggressive. He started consistently hitting the ball in the air and with power that he was missing in the first half. Even Pete’s outs in the second half we started to see more of the “Peak Pete” we started seeing more hard hit flyballs and line drives to right field. Pete was still getting under a lot of these pitches as they were hit hard but often too high so they turned into routine outs but the change in approach was palpable and explains the increase in production that we saw from Pete. Alonso quietly hit the second most home runs in baseball over the last month of the season hitting 10, with two coming in the very last game. While it might have been harder to notice inside of a short season with such a slow start Pete Alonso DID turn it around, you don’t have to believe me though.

2019(Full Season) – .384 wOBA

2020(September) – .384 wOBA

Looking Forward

While it is true that Alonso did fall victim to the “sophomore slump”, what I think is not said enough is it what not as severe as it appeared and also if not for the shortened season likely would have been even less so with how hot Alonso ended the season. While he may never become a .300 hitter or ever hit 50HR again, Alonso can be, and will be a premier power threat in the game. He is just not any ordinary slugger though, Pete envisions himself as a student of the game who is capable of learning and evolving. To see this you do not have to look any further than the notebook that he’s used since his college days. Where he writes down each pitcher, how the AB went, what he was thinking at the plate, and more. The infamous notebook probably had more chicken scratch and notes after the early struggles but it’s what you do with those struggles that determine what happens next.

Pete Alonso has endeared himself to fans and to the game as much for his likability and relatability as his majestic towering home runs. He has shown that with his size and skill he is an elite-level athlete. Professional sports are full of elite-level athletes though. It is Pete Alonso’s mind and work ethic that have separated him from the pack. When fans ask why I am not worried about Pete Alonso after his “sophomore slump”, my answer?

His work ethic didn’t.

Photo from NBC Sports

Slightly Too Early Pete Alonso 2021 predictions and projections

By Angelina Heather Rizzo

Pete Alonso had a slightly less productive 2020, as we all expected. Here’s a small glimpse of what he may achieve in 2021, by the stats of the previous season.

In 2020, Alonso, during the COVID-19 shortened season, hit 16 home runs and drove in 35 with a .231 batting average.

Also read: International Free Agency Preview 2020/21 – Part I

His best year thus far was arguably his rookie year, he hit 53 home runs with 120 batted in and a .260 batting average.

It’s not impossible for Alonso to regain some momentum and get a better handle on his hitting progress again. He’s young and in his prime. The time is now where Alonso can make adjustments to his swing and turn his career into one for the decades.

Also read: Mets Trade Target: Francisco Lindor

I can see, if there is another shortened season, Alonso hitting 20 home runs and driving in 42 with a .260 batting average. If there is a regular season, I can see Alonso hitting 44 home runs and driving in 89 with a .268 batting average.

To put things into perspective, Alonso is more than capable of having a solid 2021. Let’s hope he reaches his full potential!

Also read: Marcus Stroman must impress in 2021

Photo from MLB

Pete Alonso on number 50

After hitting his astonishing 50th home run of the year, New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso spoke to reporters about the rare feat. He told the media as they surrounded his locker “For me, I’m just trying to hit a hard line drive somewhere. I’m not trying to ‘dip and rip’… I’m just focused on hitting the ball as hard as I possibly can, stay short, compact and just barrel it up the best I possibly can on the sweet spot.”

The Mets first baseman add, “We gotta focus up and take the series tomorrow.”

I genuinely love how Petey’d rather win ball games over accomplishing individual and personal records or goals.

“I don’t think this is going to truly settle in until the off season”

Also read: Jeff McNeil reacts to Pete Alonso’s 50th

Todd Hundley on Pete Alonso

“To me, he’s more than a power hitter, he’s a pure hitter. I have seen five or six of his games and he keeps getting better and better. He has just had a tremendous year. Congrats, Pete you deserve all the records you have broken.”

Todd Hundley broke the record in 1996 with a .259/.356/.550/.906 driving in 112 runs.

Source: Mike Puma

Pete Alonso is an animal… a Polar Bear

New York Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso hit his 39th home run, a 3-run shot also driving in Amed Rosario and Joe Panik to put the Mets up over the Atlanta Braves in the first inning.

The home run pits Alonso at 2nd place in home runs by a rookie this season and is three home runs away from breaking a franchise record, not just for rookies.

Alonso would end the night going 5-5 with six RBI’s.

Wednesday Night Lineup: Mets vs Braves

  1. Rosario SS
  2. J.D. Davis LF
  3. Alonso 1B
  4. Ramos C
  5. Conforto RF
  6. Frazier 3B
  7. Tejada 2B
  8. Lagares CF
  9. Matz LHP

After a tough loss to the Braves in Atlanta for the series opener, the New York Mets look to even the score on Wednesday night against the Braves’ newly signed left hander Dallas Keuchel. The Mets will be without hitting machine Jeff McNeil due to a hamstring injury, unfortunately as of Tuesday evening, there doesn’t seem to be a timetable as far as his return. Team Officials and fans alike are keeping their fingers crossed until the super utility man’s MRI results come back.

Steven Matz, also a lefty, will take the mound for the Orange & Blue and looks to continue his good play as he’s pitched three quality starts in his last four trips to the hill. Matz also has a career 5-1 record with a 3.61 ERA against the Braves in 10 starts. Overall, the New York native is 7-7 with a 4.49 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP as well as striking out 104 batters in 110.1 innings pitched.

Dallas Keuchel signed with the Braves shortly after the MLB June Amateur Draft, allowing Atlanta to keep their pick if they would’ve signed him before the draft. Keuchel is 3-5 while pitching to a 4.83 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP, alongside 46 strikeouts in 59.2 innings.

If Jeff McNeil ends up seeing time on the Injured List, it’ll be interesting to see who the Mets will call upon to temporarily replace the utility man. Do they go with Dilson Herrera? Or Ruben Tejada? Hopefully we won’t have to find out.

Friday Night Matchup: Nationals vs Mets

The Washington Nationals and the New York Mets square off in a series of dire importance. The Mets are currently a half a game back from the second Wild Card spot while the Washington Nationals own the first Wild Card spot with a two and a half game lead on the Orange & Blue.

The Nationals have no intentions on going easy, especially with sending Stephen Strasburg to the hill in game one of a three-game series. Strasburg is currently 14-5 with a 3.72 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP as well as 175 strikeouts over 145.1 innings.

Ultimate utility man Jeff McNeil has broken out of his “slump”, the Santa Barbara, California native has been hitting .476/.607/1.143 with four home runs out of his 10 hits in his last seven games. Take note of that .607 OBP paired with his 1.143 slugging percentage, those are indeed lethal numbers from your clean-up spot, let alone the lead-off batter.

I had Michael Conforto pegged as a potential M.V.P. candidate and it looks like my prediction will not come into fruition however, the Mets outfielder could very well be the most underrated player in the game. I admit, there has to be bias feelings as I just literally admitted that I saw him as an elite player but let’s take a look at his numbers.

The Oregon State product is hitting .261/.370/.512/.882 in 379 official at-bats during the 2019 campaign. He’s hit 20 doubles, 25 home runs, while scoring 65 times and driving in 64 runs. The first round draft pick is just 3 home runs short of his career high, yet many fans unfortunately view the outfielder as a bust. I couldn’t tell you why, I love the kid.

Marcus Stroman will take the bump for the second time in his Mets career, this being the first one in front of the home audience, quite literally. The Long Island native have a tough start in his first go around however he picked it up and battled tremendously past that first inning.

Overall, Stroman is 6-11 with a 3.07 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP to go with 102 strikeouts in 129.0 innings pitched. However, the righty is 2-3 with a 2.83 ERA in his last seven starts and the Mets need “HDMH” to show the Nationals where the heart lies. Expect and enjoy a cool interview from family during the SNY telecast, as well.