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Has Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman returned to MVP form?

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

It appears extra like a debate you’d have about an NBA star or an NFL quarterback. 

“Is Alex Bregman a top-10 MLB participant? Can Alex Bregman be the No. 1 possibility on a championship crew? Is Alex Bregman elite?!

Fortunately for the Houston Astros, the distinction between an excellent Bregman and an amazing Bregman in all probability received’t have a dramatic affect on their place within the standings the remainder of the season. This is a crew with one of the best document within the AL that has maintained a double-digit-game lead within the AL West for almost two months. 

The Astros are a dominant drive, and Bregman is only a small a part of that — that is baseball, in spite of everything. One man can do solely a lot.

That stated, the trajectory of Bregman’s efficiency the previous 5 years has puzzled me sufficient to surprise: Just how good is that this man, precisely?

To be clear, Bregman is superb at baseball. That has been apparent since he stepped on LSU’ campus as a freshman 10 years in the past. But given how his efficiency has fluctuated, are we speaking a couple of actually good third baseman on an amazing crew, or are we speaking about the most effective gamers within the league?

The second choose within the 2015 MLB Draft, Bregman raced to the massive leagues in a flash, taking part in in simply 146 minor-league video games earlier than he earned his first call-up in late July 2016. He joined the Astros proper as they had been ascending to the dominant drive they’re often known as right this moment, and he has been one of many faces of the franchise ever since.

In 2018 and ‘19, Bregman was one of the best players in baseball. His 16.2 fWAR was not just tops among third basemen but also third overall behind some dudes named Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. His WAR was boosted significantly by the fact that he played a considerable amount of shortstop during Carlos Correa’s a number of harm absences, however it wasn’t nearly spectacular defensive metrics at difficult positions; Bregman’s 162 wRC+ ranked third behind solely Trout and Christian Yelich.

He was the most effective hitters in baseball, full cease. He was merely sensational, and at simply 25 years outdated, he was seemingly solely getting began.

Since 2019, nevertheless, it has been a a lot completely different story. Bregman’s 7.0 fWAR ranks eighth amongst third basemen and nowhere close to the highest of the MLB chief board. His plate self-discipline has remained elite, however his energy has declined to a shocking diploma, as he slugged simply .439 the previous three seasons, in contrast to a .561 mark in 2018 and ‘19.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that the majority of Bregman’s underlying metrics have remained regular the previous 5 years. Usually when a participant ascends (or descends) to a brand new degree of efficiency, you’ll be able to pinpoint one thing that modified dramatically inside his profile. Maybe a man begins putting out method much less or hitting the ball a lot more durable or getting it within the air extra typically.

But in the event you checked out solely Bregman’s batted ball knowledge or plate self-discipline metrics over the previous 5 years, it’d be tough to select which seasons had been higher than others.

* 2018: 13.6% stroll fee; 12.1% strikeout fee; 20% chase fee; 88.5% contact fee; 89.4 mph common exit velocity; 7.4% barrel fee; 39.8% hard-hit fee

* 2019: 17.2% stroll fee; 12.0% strikeout fee; 18.8% chase fee; 87.0% contact fee; 89.3 mph common exit velocity; 4.6% barrel fee; 37.2% hard-hit fee

* 2020: 13.3% stroll fee; 14.4% strikeout fee; 21.1% chase fee; 86.5% contact fee; 88.9 mph common exit velocity; 3.9% barrel fee; 33.6% hard-hit fee

* 2021: 11.0% stroll fee; 13.3% strikeout fee; 21.0% chase fee; 87.7% contact fee; 89.0 mph common exit velocity; 6.4% barrel fee; 38.1% hard-hit fee

* 2022: 13.3% stroll fee; 12.2% strikeout fee; 20.8% chase fee; 86.1% contact fee; 89.2 mph common exit velocity; 7.6% barrel fee; 38.0% hard-hit fee

Can you inform which season he hit 41 dwelling runs and which one he slugged solely .422? If I hadn’t advised you the years, I’m not so certain you could possibly.

Then there’s Bregman’s postseason résumé, which is a equally fascinating combined bag. Playing for the Astros the previous seven years has afforded him the chance to play lots of playoff baseball. Bregman has 319 profession postseason plate appearances, which is already seventeenth all time and sixth amongst lively gamers, behind solely Yadier Molina (398), Jose Altuve (363), Albert Pujols (352), Justin Turner (352) and Carlos Correa (334). 

He may not catch Derek Jeter’s ridiculous all-time mark of 734 postseason PA’s, however seeing as he’s simply 28 years outdated, Bregman may find yourself awfully excessive on that listing when it’s all stated and executed. 

So he has performed extra playoff baseball than the common bear, however how has he been in that big October pattern? In the division collection, he has been sensational, hitting .360/.455/.680 with six homers in 88 plate appearances. 

In the later rounds? Eh, not a lot. Of course, he has had his moments — all of us bear in mind his walk-off to win Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, one of the chaotic video games in MLB postseason historical past. 

On the entire, although, Bregman within the ALCS and World Series has been markedly lackluster in contrast to his LDS dominance. He has hit .167/.323/.222 in 133 ALCS plate appearances and .188/.247/.400 in 89 World Series plate appearances. That does embrace 5 Fall Classic dingers, together with three in opposition to the Nationals in 2019, however Bregman’s 2-for-21 in final 12 months’s World Series in opposition to the Braves, together with an 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts in three dwelling video games, left a bitter style coming into the winter.

That brings us to this 12 months. Two famous person campaigns in 2018 and ‘19 were followed by two merely solid seasons in 2020 and ‘21. After finishing second to Trout in 2019 AL MVP voting, Bregman wasn’t even shut to any award conversations the previous two seasons. So which Bregman would we get in 2022?

The first few months, it wasn’t fairly. In a three-game collection at Texas in mid-June, Bregman went 0-for-11, dropping his season line to .214/.331/.363, a slash line hardly befitting a man batting third for the most effective groups in baseball.

At that time, I used to be pretty involved. What occurred to this man? It appeared truthful to surprise if we’d ever see the identical degree of brilliance from him once more.

But now, that 0-fer in Arlington seems to be just like the turning level. In his first at-bat of the Astros’ subsequent collection in opposition to the White Sox, Bregman took Lucas Giolito deep to left discipline.

Since that Rangers collection, Bregman has hit .315/.404/.584 with 12 dwelling runs in 54 video games — together with two Thursday — elevating his season OPS to a way more respectable .834. In that point, he ranks seventh in MLB in each wRC+ (172) and fWAR (2.6). That’s extra prefer it! Bregman’s chilly begin will nonetheless forestall him from returning to the 8-WAR heights he reached in 2018 and ‘19, but he’s beginning to look rather more just like the MVP candidate he was in these seasons.

What’s extra, Bregman’s scorching-hot stretch has conveniently coincided with some critical regression from rookie standout Jeremy Peña. Since getting back from the injured listing following left thumb discomfort on June 26, the shortstop has hit simply .212/.236/.353 in 41 video games – a far cry from the bona fide Rookie of the Year numbers he put up within the season’s first two months. Bregman has picked up the slack after which some because the Astros have surged previous the Yankees for one of the best document within the AL.

This is a part of what makes Houston so harmful: When a crew has that a lot expertise, it’s virtually assured to have not less than a handful of its finest gamers performing like All-Stars at any given second. With the preliminary breakout of Peña and the large manufacturing from established guys akin to Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez, the Astros may afford to have Bregman wrestle for 2 months. Now they’re reaping the rewards of his return to kind as one other necessary a part of their crew is struggling.

Bregman’s obvious return to All-Star kind has additionally made me mirror on the extension he signed with Houston back in March 2019. Coming off a 2018 season during which he completed fifth in AL MVP voting, Bregman signed a five-year, $100 million extension that coated all three years of arbitration and two years of free company. He obtained a $10 million signing bonus up entrance, and the deal was backloaded, which means he would make $11M in 2020-22 and $28.5M in 2023 and ‘24. At the time, it was the third-largest extension ever signed by a player between two and three years of service time, behind only those of Buster Posey and Mike Trout.

Had he not signed the extension, Bregman would’ve hit free company this coming winter alongside a loaded infield class that includes Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson and — in all probability, assuming they choose out of their present contracts — Nolan Arenado, Xander Bogaerts and Correa. Even along with his latest resurgence, it’s robust to say the place Bregman would rank on the open market relative to these different stars.

As it’s, Bregman stays in H-Town and can possible proceed to rack up the postseason PA’s over the subsequent three Octobers. He has made it clear since early in his profession how a lot he appreciates taking part in in Houston, and it wouldn’t shock me in any respect to see him in an Astros uniform past 2024.

If his latest run of manufacturing is any indication, Houston will likely be more than pleased to pay him almost $30M yearly for his subsequent two seasons. More importantly, we’ll all get to watch one of the best model of Bregman once more — a model that’s hopefully right here to keep.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball author for FOX Sports. He lives in D.C. however is a large Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which suggests he would not get lots of sleep. You can observe him on Twitter at @j_shusterman_.

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