After a week where the Royals stayed pat while the rest of the Central made a flurry of moves (which was further amplified by the Twins signing Nelson Cruz on Tuesday evening), the Royals announced this Minor League deal on Sunday evening that wasn’t earth shattering, but still a noteworthy transaction nonetheless:
Hanser Alberto didn’t seem to be on many Royals fans’ radar this off-season. However, this deal appears to be a solid move that shores up the Royals’ infield depth for the upcoming season. While Whit Merrifield can play second base, it seemed like the only real bench utility infielder on the 40-man roster prior to the Alberto singing was Lucius Fox, who was acquired in the Brett Phillips trade with Tampa Bay. However, at 28-years-old, Alberto is a more proven option off the bench than Fox, and he doesn’t come with a high price tag either, as he could earn up to $2 million next year if he makes the team and reaches the incentives on his deal.
One of the most glaring positives of the Alberto acquisition is his offensive prowess against left-handed pitchers. Max Rieper of Royals Review mentioned his splits against LH pitching over his career, and how this could possibly lead to a platoon at second base with current projected second baseman, Nicky Lopez, who bats left-handed.
Alberto has also been a lefty-masher, hitting .350/.367/.464 against them in his career. Hanser could fill in at second base to allow Nicky Lopez to sit against lefties. He could even play some third base, pushing Hunter Dozier to a corner outfield position if the Royals want to protect left-handed hitting Franchy Cordero against lefties.“Royals sign infielder Hanser Alberto to a minor league deal” by Max Rieper; Royals Review
The idea of Alberto splitting time with Lopez is an intriguing possibility, especially after two sub-par seasons at the plate from Lopez. Thus, I wanted to take a look at the profiles of both, and how the two could possibly co-exist at the keystone position next season.
(Hint: a lot of data will be used.)
Lopez and Alberto, at the surface level, both profile offensively as very similar hitters at the keystone position. They don’t offer much power, and they don’t swing and miss a whole lot either. However, Alberto has a more swing-heavy approach, while Lopez tends to be a little more patient at the plate. Let’s take a look at their advanced data lines from 2020 and how they compared to one another
As you can see by the data from 2020, Alberto walked far less than Lopez (7.2 percent less, to be specific), and this resulted in a BB/K ratio that was also 27 points lower than Lopez’s as well. However, Alberto’s aggressive approach fared much better for him overall at the plate in 2020 than Lopez’s more patient hitting style. Case in point, other than walk rate and BB/K ratio, Alberto out-did Lopez in nearly every category of advanced data listed above, including WAR (Alberto was nearly 0.8 points better, according to Fangraphs).
One interesting piece of data that stands out between the two is BABIP, as Lopez’s BABIP was 54 points lower than Alberto’s in 2020. BABIP can be a complicated category. Hitters who post BABIP numbers under the “average” .300 threshold are typically categorized as “unlucky” during that year and could experience a “bounce back” the following year. On the flip side, hitters who post BABIP numbers above .300 are typically dubbed “lucky” and could be due for regression the following year. Of course, this notion of BABIP is being challenged all the time, and in order to gain a better sense of BABIP, BBE (batted ball event) data needs to be examined further.
Let’s take a look at Alberto’s and Lopez’s BBE data from 2020, and see if that could explain their BABIP difference.
Even though Alberto has a more free-swinging approach, he tends to put the ball in the air more than Lopez. In fact, Alberto’s GB/FB ratio is nearly double the ratio of Lopez’s. Thus, the BABIP difference (in favor of Alberto) is not that surprising, as hitters who hit more groundballs will be more susceptible to lower BABIP numbers and less overall hits than those who hit the ball in the air (because balls in the air are more likely to fall for hits). Therefore, Alberto’s ability to hit the ball in the air more seems to have produced more fruit in terms of hits in 2020 than Lopez’s “weed killer” hitting style.
Interestingly enough, though Lopez did hit more groundballs (11.2 percent more to be specific), they did hit roughly the same amount of line drives, percentage wise. Thus, Lopez has the potential to be produced batted balls like Alberto, but he may need to adjust his launch angle in order to do so. To compare, Lopez’s launch angle on batted balls was 1.7 degrees, while Alberto’s was 13.2, a huge gap, and not in a good way for Lopez.
The most notable difference between the two when watching their swings is that Alberto tends to pull the ball more, while Lopez seems to have an inside-out approach. Let’s take a look at two singles: one from Alberto and one from Lopez. Furthermore, let’s see how they hit the pitches, and not the differences in what they try to do with the pitch.
Here’s a Alberto single against Martin Perez of the Red Sox in 2020:
Notice how the pitch is on the outer right part of the strike zone, and yet Alberto still pulls the ball to left field for a single. Alberto should probably go to the opposite field with that pitch, but his over-aggressive style causes him to pull the ball instead. It works out for him here, but this is a pitch that could be taken to the gap for an extra base hit, so it’s a missed opportunity.
Now, let’s take a look at Lopez single from last year.
See how the pitch is on the inside part of the plate to Lopez? However, instead of pulling it and getting under it, like he probably should, he drives it up the middle. Yes, this does result in a base hit to center field in this scenario. However, he needs to generate quicker bat speed and turn on balls like this if he wants to be a productive hitter in the future. Going up the middle with a groundball single may not be a segue to long-term success in the future, especially in 2021.
Furthermore, Alberto’s pull-heavy and Lopez’s more middle-to-oppo approach are even more amplified when looking at spray charts from last year. Let’s take a look at Alberto’s below:
Notice how a majority of his extra base hits are pulled down the left field line, which seems to be in line with his pull-heavy approach. Now, let’s take a look at Lopez’s spray chart from 2020:
As one can see, it’s a lot of singles, and a lot of the extra base hits are in the gaps to left and right center field. Thus, while Lopez actually hits balls with more average exit velocity than Alberto (84.9 MPH to 82.3 MPH, respectively), his approach didn’t generate as much success as Alberto in 2020, and could be a reason to be cautious about Lopez heading into next season.
Lastly, I wanted to see the split data and see if the R-L splits were as pronounced as other Royals fans hyped them up to be. So, I decided to compare their 2020 data both against right-handed pitchers solely as well as left-handed pitchers solely, in order to see how Alberto and Lopez differed (or didn’t). Let’s take a look at how Alberto and Lopez performed against left-handed pitchers last year:
Obviously, the “lefty masher” reputation sticks here for Alberto, and is a glaring advantage for the former Oriole against Lopez. While Lopez did posted a better BB/K ratio, his wOBA and wRC+ were 165 points and 122 points lower, respectively. Thus, on offense alone, it’s hard to justify Lopez in the lineup against lefties over Alberto, which should only fuel the fire of a possible “platoon” at second base next year (even Roster Resource’s Depth Charts on Fangraphs seems to project it).
Now, let’s take a look at their splits against right-handed
As one can see, Lopez continues to have the advantage in terms of walk rate and BB/K ratio. However, what also sticks out is that the difference in the other categories isn’t as pronounced. Alberto is only seven points better on a wOBA basis and only six points better on a wRC+ basis as well. This is a lot more reasonable than what Royals fans saw between Lopez and Alberto when they faced left-handed pitchers in 2020.
However, many Royals fans may ask “Well, if Alberto is better against both right handers and left handers, why doesn’t he just become the everyday second baseman in Kansas City?” Well, before coming to that conclusion, I would challenge Royals fans to look at the information below:
If you scroll to the right, you will see Alberto’s percentiles, according to Baseball Savant. Scroll to the left, and you will see the Lopez’s. The main difference? Outs Above Average. Lopez ranks in the 96th percentile, which puts him as one of the best defensive second baseman in the game. As for Alberto? His OAA is in the 6th percentile, which puts him at the bottom in regard to defensive value.
Furthermore, for those who may be skeptical of Savant’s fielding measurement, other metrics rate Lopez as much better than Alberto on a defensive basis as well (and considerably so).
According to Fangraphs, Lopez’s DRS (defensive runs saved) was +8 at second base in 2020, while Alberto’s was -2 (a 10 run difference. On a UZR basis? Lopez posted a +1.4 UZR at second base in 2020 while Alberto posted a -1.0. And thus, while Alberto may be slightly ahead of Lopez in regard to hitting against right-handed pitchers in 2020, Lopez’s glove is significantly better than Alberto’s and that should merit him the opportunity to at least start in the Royals lineup against right-handed starting pitchers in 2021.
Dayton Moore’s decision to acquire Alberto was a shrewd move which could pay dividends in 2021. It’s a cheap deal, and not a particularly long one either, as Alberto will be eligible for arbitration for one more season after next (he’ll be a free agent after 2022). While Alberto isn’t necessarily the “impact bat” that Moore was chirping about to the media earlier this Winter, he does add much needed depth in the infield, and could provide a valuable voice in the clubhouse. Alberto has long been known as a great presence on and off the field, and Minda Haas Kuhlmann reminded Royals fans of that in her Tweet below:
The Royals most likely will have another young team in 2021, and they will need positive presences in the lineup, and in the clubhouse, to help them reach their potential by season’s end, whatever that may be. Furthermore, in addition to some solid intangibles, Alberto also gives the Royals the possibility of a productive platoon at second base, especially with Alberto’s history against left-handed pitchers, and Lopez’s defense, plate discipline and contact skills. Granted, Lopez will need to show progression at the plate in 2021 to justify such an arrangement, and next season may be his last “chance” to prove that he can be a regular player in the lineup. That being said, perhaps the presence of Alberto will ease the pressure, and help him focus on “one kind of pitcher”, which in turn could help him boost his meager offensive stat line from the past couple of seasons.
It will be interesting to see what manager Mike Matheny does with Alberto and Lopez this Spring, and if he will test that platoon early on in Cactus League play. Nonetheless, the Royals need to see more production offensively out of the keystone position next year if they want to climb in the AL Central standings next year. The offensive and defensive combo of an Alberto-Lopez platoon could help boost that much-needed production, and without much of a dent in the payroll too.
Now, let’s just hope they get a chance to show what this platoon can do in Kansas City in 2021…
Because if they do produce…well…let’s just say the Royals could have an interesting situation at second for at least a couple of seasons.