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Plate Discipline Key to Alex Bregman’s Improvement So Far in 2018

SB Nation logo SB Nation 6/11/2018 Issa Cook
© Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

In just his third season in the majors, the Houston Astros third baseman is taking major steps in his development as a hitter.

So far in this young 2018 season, the Houston Astros offense has been the source of much frustration and anger rather than excitement and joy. Struggling players like Carlos Correa, Jake Marisnick, and Evan Gattis until recently have angered fans, but the reality is that right now the Astros still boast one of the MLB’s best offenses in multiple statistical categories.

If that’s the case, then who has been stepping up for Houston? Sometimes it’s easier to get caught up in the larger narrative of struggling players, but if the Astros have so many struggling hitters and still a statistically great offense, then there must be someone putting in the work and going unnoticed, right?

Starting at the top, it’s pretty obvious that George Springer is having a great start to the 2018 campaign. Coming off a World Series in which he was named MVP, the Astros leadoff man has already clubbed 14 home runs and his wRC+ on the year is a whopping 146. Then, most people know that Jose Altuve is back at it again, leading the MLB in hits with 93 (on pace for 200+) and posting a slash line of .342/.388/.471 along with a wRC+ of 140.

However, the one Houston Astros hitter that has been helping his team the most in a more quiet fashion is none other than the team’s young star at third base: Alex Bregman.

After spending the entire offseason hyping up the Astros Back to Back Tour and putting in the work with an altered nutrition plan and intense workout routine, Bregman has backed up all the talk by putting up great numbers and showing marked improvement at the plate.

The most amazing part of Bregman’s improvement so far this season is that he has walked more times than he has struck out. It is really difficult to accurately reflect the gravity of this accomplishment, as major league pitching is extremely tough to hit and the MLB is in an era now where strikeouts are at an all-time high. But, with a 13.4% BB% and 13.1% K%, Bregman has bucked that trend so far.

Has Bregman always been this disciplined as a hitter in the majors? The answer is no, which makes what he is doing now that much more impressive. In his 2016 debut season, Bregman walked in only 6.9% of his plate appearances while striking out in 24.0% of his plate appearances. In his first full season in 2017, Bregman greatly improved his K% from 24.0% to 15.5%, but still finished the season with a relatively low BB% at only 8.8%.

Out of 160 qualified hitters in all of baseball, Bregman’s 2018 BB% has him ranked 22nd and 1st on the Houston Astros roster. Additionally, his .375 OBP is ranked the 29th best in all of baseball, trailing only one Astros as Jose Altuve boasts an OBP of .388 right now.

With the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel hitting behind him, Bregman has learned that getting on base is imperative and he certainly has adjusted his approach to take more pitches and make the most of his opportunities to drive the ball.

This season, Bregman’s O-Swing%, which just means the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that Bregman has swung at, has dropped from 25.8% in 2017 to 20.4% in 2018. In fact, Bregman has just started swinging less altogether regardless of where the pitch is located, as his swing % numbers are down this year across the board.

Bregman is cutting down the quantity of swings and elevating the quality of his swings, making contact 87.3% of the time when he swings the bat, which is up from 74.7% in 2016 and 85.7% in 2017. Additionally, Bregman is making more hard contact, as the young third baseman was hitting the ball with hard speed 32% of the time in 2016, 33% of the time in 2017, and now 39.0% of the time in 2018.

This past weekend in Arlington, the fruits of Bregman’s labor were displayed loudly as the young third baseman remained selective at the plate and made Rangers pitchers pay when they were forced into bad counts. In the four game series, Bregman collected two doubles, a triple, two home runs, and drove in five runs over the course of four games.

As Bregman works on his selectivity throughout the season, his opportunities to drive the baseball will only increase because pitchers simply cannot afford to give him a free pass. Bregman is just as capable a hitter as Correa, Altuve, or Gurriel and he surely will be able to make opponents pay for giving him a fastball down the middle in a 3-1 or 3-2 count.

So far this season, Bregman has become the perfect poster child for why batting average is really not a statistic that should matter to baseball fans, because the .266 mark would show that Bregman is having basically an average to slightly above average season so far. However, this could not be further from the truth.

In reality, Bregman has done an unbelievable job of setting up his teammates, staying focused at the plate, and driving the ball when presented the opportunity. His current BABIP sits at .287, but if he could get that number over .300, then I would expect his more “traditional” offensive numbers to skyrocket and for people to start mentioning Alex Bregman’s name in the All Star conversation.

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