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Cubs: Where Does the Love for Albert Almora Come From?

After a down season offensively void of many good points, Daniel Shepard asks why people are so high on Cubs outfielder Albert Almora.

As with most high-school hitters, it takes them longer to progress through the minors when compared to a college bat, and Albert Almora is no exception. Selected sixth overall in 2012 by the Chicago Cubs (Theo Epstein’s first draft choice with his new team), Almora toiled away in the minor leagues for the better portion of four seasons.

On June 7, 2016, a 22-year-old Almora became the 18,752nd major leaguer to make his debut, bringing a solid scouting report with him. To be chosen sixth overall by a rebuilding franchise, an impressive scouting report is a must have and Almora had just that.

Four years ago, this is what Jonathan Mayo had to say about Almora. In short, Mayo suggests the youngster will outproduce and have a better career than Houston Astros’ outfielder George Springer who you might remember as having won 2017 World Series MVP honors. The basis of Mayo’s argument revolves around Almora’s bat tool (which he grades as a 65 compared to Springer’s 55), leadership and work ethic.

There is no doubting Almora’s work ethic. At just 24 years old, Almora has already contributed to a World Series title run (.763 OPS in 117 plate appearances in 2016), while his baseball IQ and instincts led to him taking an extra base on a fly-out late in Game 7.

Perhaps, that is what Cubs fans think of when they harbor fond memories and thoughts about Almora. Additionally, plays like the ones below have helped keep his name in the good graces of the Wrigley faithful.

While the caliber of defense shown above gets fans on their feet, there are two sides to every player in baseball, with offense often taking priority. In 2018, Almora had the best year of his career defensively, clocking in at plus-nine defensive runs saved, at least two of which came in the above clip.

On the flip side, Almora suffered his worst offensive season since breaking into the big leagues a little more than two years ago.

Almora’s Splits Make Him an Offensive Liability

Immediately, Almora developed a propensity for hitting left-handed pitching. While 47 games is often not a large enough sample size to judge a player’s career, Almora’s first 117 plate appearances turned out to be a huge foreshadow for future events.

Despite his batting average being more than 20 points lower against southpaws in 2016, Almora more than made up for it with his .548 slugging percentage, a number that propelled his OPS to .827 (103 points better than against righties). Couple that with his 11.6 percent strikeout rate (20.3 percent against right-handers) and 114 wRC-plus (93 against RHP) and the platoon advantage shines through and through.

Multiply Almora’s splits over his entire career thus far, and it becomes clear the youngster is likely no more than a platoon player at the big league level. A slash line of .279/.308/.389/.698 against right-handed pitchers is dwarfed by Almora’s .309/.360/.456/.816 line when facing southpaws. That swing takes Almora from being a 15 percent below league average hitter to a 17 percent above league average hitter while at the same time cutting his strikeout rate by more than seven percent.

Last year, Almora did not have the luxury of his platoon splits carrying his overall numbers. His .742 OPS against left-handers was still almost 60 points better than the .684 mark he posted when facing righties. However, the former only led to Almora amassing a wRC-plus of 101 with his struggles dragging that number down to 89, a career-low for the youngster.

During his first two seasons in the league, Almora found enough success against lefties to balance his struggles, making him a league average hitter (101 wRC-plus in ’16, 103 in ’17). This past year, however, Almora found it increasingly harder to hit left-handed pitchers while still being unable to figure out right-handed pitchers.

Where’s the Power?

Five years ago, in 2013, this scouting report was put together when Almora was still in Class-A. In the report, it is stated Almora possesses a “potential 20-25 home run bat that will rack up doubles as well.”

Over 82 games at that level in 2013, Almora hit just four home runs while also breaking out with 23 two-base hits. At that time, it was reasonable to believe the youngster had some pop in his bat, a notion that was seemingly backed up with his nine home runs and 27 doubles in 2014. Since that career-best power display, Almora has come nowhere close to repeating that, either in the minors or at the major league level.

What was once touted as a 20-25 home run bat has clubbed just 16 total home runs since making his debut, while racking up no more than 24 doubles in a season (2018). A look at the numbers paint a clear picture as to why Almora has struggled with finding his power-stroke.

In 2016 and 2017, the youngster hovered around four percent barrels while maintaining an average exit velocity of around 86.5 MPH producing xwOBA’s in the low-300’s. Hard hit percentages of 31.5 and 32.3 percent respectively accounted for ISO’s of .179 (solidly above league average) and .147 (solidly below league average). While not exactly the type of power-numbers expected from Almora — especially with scouting reports touting his above average power — those are acceptable.

Keep in mind, when Almora was posting these numbers, he was an average major league hitter, something you swallow as long as he continues to provide stellar defense. However, in 2018, Almora was sapped of his power, as he turned in some of the worst numbers in the league.

His barrel percentage dropped by more than 50 percent down to 1.4 percent (bottom three percent of the league). Additionally, Almora’s exit velocity suffered a decline (85.6 MPH), as did his xwOBA (.268 – bottom three percent of the league) and hard hit percentage (27.4 percent).

Those numbers did not translate any better to the more traditional ones as Almora’s ISO dipped under .100 (.092). To go along with that, Almora’s slugging percentage suffered, clocking in at .378 and leading to a lackluster .701 OPS with just five home runs.

Perhaps, Almora’s struggles with the power aspect of his game can be told by a tale of two halves. Prior to the All-Star break, Almora hit four of his five home runs, posting a .438 slugging percentage, .795 OPS and 115 wRC-plus. Like with the majority of Cubs players, Almora crashed following the All-Star festivities. His one home run and five doubles accounted for his .048 second half ISO. Additionally, Almora slugged just .280 with an even worse .267 OBP and 47 wRC-plus, rendering him an automatic out at the plate.

Coming out of high-school and early in his professional career, Almora was touted as a contact guy who hits with regularity. In his three years at the major league level, Almora has lived up to that, racking up 247 hits for a career .289 batting average. Of those hits, only 70 have gone for extra bases (51 doubles, three triples and 16 home runs) while 177 have been of the single variety. That means, 71.7 percent of Almora’s big league hits have been singles. For perspective, only 57.5 percent of Kris Bryant‘s 598 hits have been singles.

I guess in the end, I can see where fans can love Albert Almora, and don’t get me wrong. Watching him make diving catch after diving catch is a wonderful sight and one that has no doubt saved a game or two over the years. But, in his time with the Cubs, Almora has proven to be little more than a platoon center fielder who has regressed to only league average in his strongest area (hitting LHP’s).

Without the thump in his bat that was predicted by scouts more than six years ago, Almora turns into a hitter who puts the ball on the ground too often for someone who does not have the speed to beat out grounders.

For now, Almora has a role with the Cubs — platooning with Jason Heyward in center field. As has been floated by many this offseason, the Cubs are in the market for a ‘professional hitter’ which will likely fill a spot in the outfield. If that means packaging Almora with someone like Tyler Chatwood for a bullpen piece or prospect to open up a spot, sign me up. I’ve never been on the Almora bandwagon.

Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: NBC Sports

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1 comment on “Cubs: Where Does the Love for Albert Almora Come From?

  1. We could tell you werent on the almora band wagon whenn we saw the title… every bad thing you said , you had to end with “but that is respectable”.. your a fucking hater and i dont get it.. maybe the scouts were wrong about his power, but thats not his fault … great defense and damn near a .300 hitter … oh and only 22! I think your boss should package you up and get you the hell off this website… oh and i was never on your bandwagon

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