We all know Alonso is the Manny Magnet Mike Piazza Jersey , but he has to, like, play baseball for the White Sox, too"All right, before we start, this is great:Before 2017, Yonder Alonso only played a full season twice in his MLB career. He never had double-digit home runs — with a career high of nine. His highest fWAR season was 1.2, and from 2012 (his first real time in the majors) to 2016, he was the 30th-best first baseman in baseball. which greatly increased led his launch angle and good contact, Alonso blossomed into an All-Star. His career high in homers sky-rocketed, from nine to 28. With that, Alonso went from the 30th-rated first baseman to the 15th-rated first baseman in baseball, courtesy of a 2.4 fWAR. All because of swing changes in one offseason.Unfortunately for Alonso, his success was not able to translate to Cleveland, where he signed as a free agent last offseason. Alonso still showed some pop, with 23 home runs and a career-high 83 RBIs. However, his fWAR fell from 2.4 to 0.7, dropping him back to being the 30th-rated first baseman in MLB again. As Alonso’s wRC+ fell from 133 in 2017 to 97 in 2018, his problems were not just about the league adapting to him — Alonso was now adding new problems to his offensive game. The problems were enough for Cleveland to offload the $8 million due him in 2019, and a possible $9 million vesting option for 2020.Contact differenceThe way Alonso became more of a power hitter was with an immense increase in launch angle from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, his average launch angle on batted balls was 10.4 degrees. He was able to make a nine-degree jump, to 19.4, in 2017. That means Alonso went from being basically a ground ball hitter in 2016 to being a line drive hitter with good lift in 2017 — enough to launch 28 home runs. The 10.4-degree angle in 2016 placed Alonso at 195th in baseball, while the 19.4 in 2017 took him all the way to 11th in baseball. More lift means more power — but it is not everything.Quality of contact is just as important as launch angle, and Alonso saw a gigantic difference in contact quality between 2016 and 2017. In 2016, Alonso’s barrels per plate appearance (BA/PA%) was a mere 3%, 221st in all of baseball. He was tied with batters like Alejandro De Aza, 37-year-old Chase Utley and Gordon Beckham (ew). In 2017, Alonso’s BA/PA% rose three percent to 6.3% — good for 73rd in baseball. This time, Alonso was keeping company with guys like Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Avisail Garcia (the version who hit .330). So, what does better contact and a launch angle that induces more lift on batted balls equal?Alonso’s 2016 ISO per pitch (ISO/P) heat maps on the left, 2017 on the right.FanGraphsmore red ... and more homers. Just in case you do not believe me, let’s look at expected slugging percentage (xSLG), which combines both exit velocity and launch angle. In 2016, Alonso’s xSLG was .411, was 156th in baseball. That was right by defensive wizard Brandon Crawford and Mark Teixeria, who retired at the end of the year. By the end of 2017, Alonso’s xSLG increased drastically, to .510, which was 44th in baseball — right around Marcell Ozuna and Robinson Cano. That is how Alonso made himself money last offseason, earning a two-year, $16 million contract. Unfortunately for Cleveland, most of Alonso’s stats dipped in 2018.As a reminder http://www.dodgersfanproshop.com/authentic-max-muncy-jersey , in 2017, his average launch angle was 19.4 degrees. In 2018, it decreased to 15.6. Meanwhile, Alonso’s BA/PA% actually rose to 7%, a new career high. Though the average launch angle was still the second-best mark since Statcast debuted (2015) and his BA/PA% set a new career high, the four-degree drop in launch angle negatively affected Alonso’s home run rate. In 2017, his HR/PA was about 5.4%, and it fell to about 4% last season. Also, his ISO fell from .235 (32nd in baseball) in 2017 to .171 (80th in baseball) in 2018. This time, there is much less red.Alonso’s 2017 ISO/P heat map on the left, 2018 on the right.FanGraphsWhy was Alonso’s contact worse? Well, it all comes down to discipline.Plate discipline differencesBefore the swing changes, before the launch angle, before the dark times without power, Alonso’s calling card at the plate was his batting eye. Before 2017, the highest K% of his career was 13.9%, and he was walking consistently at about an 8-10% clip. In 2016, Alonso’s BB/K was .61 with the Oakland Athletics.In 2017, Alonso saw a huge jump in K% that blasted his previous career high out of the water (22.6%). However, he also had a new career high in BB% with 13.1%, so his BB/K only dipped to .58. From a plate discipline standpoint, it was still the best of both worlds.Unfortunately, that was not the case for Alonso in 2018. The K% stayed about the same, at 21.4%, but the BB% went back to Alonso’s career norm, at 8.9%. That led to a .41 BB/K — a career worst.The reason why Alonso’s BB% rose while the K% stayed the same was how pitchers and Alonso himself changed approaches at the plate. Yonder started to swing more — a lot more. In 2017, he swung at 47% of pitches thrown. In 2018, his swing rate jumped to 50.4%. Unfortunately for Alonso, he swung at a lot more pitches out of the zone, actually, his most since his first stint in MLB. His outside the zone swing rate took about a 6% jump, to 33%. That is a jump from 56th-best in baseball to 89th. Even worse for Alonso, his outside the zone contact rate fell to a new career low of 58.7%. Meanwhile, he was also swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before, at a 75.2% clip. Normally, that is not a bad rate, but the placement of pitches negatively impacted Alonso.Alonso’s heat map of pitches seen in 2017 on the left, 2018 on the right.FanGraphsIf you zoom in on the heat maps above, you’ll see that pitchers have started to change how they pitch to Alonso. In 2018, pitchers threw more pitches down below the zone and high in the zone. Alonso swung more often in both areas. For a swing aimed at inducing more launch angle, anything down probably looks optimal to send to the bleachers. However, because more pitches started to travel below the zone, there will be more swing-and-misses, or ground balls. From 2017 to 2018, Alonso had just less than a 5% increase in ground balls and a 3% decrease in fly balls.Meanwhile Chase Utley Jersey , balls thrown high and in the zone would, for a swing aimed at inducing more launch angle, produce more fly balls that are “just missed” off the top of the bat. From 2017 to 2018, the infield fly ball rate for Alonso jumped more than 7%, from 8.3% to 14.5%, a new career high. Though infield fly ball rate is indicative of a bad player, Alonso now has a similar percentage of other typical launch angle hitters, like Matt Olson and Cody Bellinger.By no means should Alonso make a swing change again, because he does not need to. It is an oversimplification, but if Alonso can return to laying off pitches down in the zone, he can be an above average hitter again, instead of the 97 wRC+ hitter he was last season.There was no difference in percentage of pitches thrown inside the zone to Alonso, but there was about a 5% increase in first pitch strikes, which means he is swinging more — and that is not a good thing for him. In 2018, in counts that started 0-1, Alonso had a wRC+ of 48, and that happened in about 57% of his plate appearances. Meanwhile, on counts that started 1-0, he had a wRC+ of 146, but that only happened on 43% of his plate appearances. It should be obvious that Alonso needs to be more patient at the plate, and especially lay off pitches down outside the zone.If that happens, the White Sox will have a great first baseman for the next two years, and at a very nice price. Can any of these guys crack the roster?"It may not feel like it, but spring training is almost upon us. Pitchers and catchers will report in less than two weeks on February 12. It will be a spring training much like many others. Hope and the crack of bat on ball will be in the air. Salvador Perez will be playing pranks on his teammates. And the Royals will have a bunch of guys running around playing with the big league boys who aren’t actually on the team.An important question you might be asking right about now is what exactly does it mean to be a non-roster invitee? Basically any player who is invited to participate in spring training with the club who is not on the 40-man roster is considered to be a non-roster invitee. If they open the year in the big leagues, they will have to be placed on the roster, usually requiring the team to remove someone else. Last year, the Royals broke camp with two such players: Blaine Boyer and Ryan Goins. Neither was a stunning success. In 2017, the Royals brought along only one such player, Peter Moylan. Moylan, though he had signed a minor league deal, was expected to make the roster from the get-go, as he had performed well for the team in 2016, and everyone saw it for the roster chicanery it actually was. In 2016, they again only brought along one non-roster invitee, Chien-Ming Wang.This year the Royals will invite seven pitchers, four catchers, five infielders, and three outfielders to train with the rest of the 40-man roster during spring training. As you can see above, none of them have a great chance to break camp as a member of the big league team. But it would also be out of the ordinary for none of them to make it. Let’s see who has the best chance.For starters, almost none of the catchers are likely to make it. The Royals already have Salvador Perez entrenched in the starter role, and Cam Gallagher has played adequately enough to be his backup. Most of these guys got invited simply to have extra gloves for all the extra pitchers that will be around - beyond the seven non-roster invitees the team also has 23 pitchers on the 40-man roster. If you only have two catchers, it’s going to be awfully hard for all of them to get their work in. Nick Dini and Xavier Fernandez are veterans of this process. Sebastian Rivero seems to be getting his introduction to it. The interesting name here is MJ Melendez. Melendez (n茅e Mervyl) broke out last year for Lexington, smashing 19 homers with an .808 OPS. He won’t make the big league roster this year or probably even next, but he’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on as a potential heir to Salvador’s throne.The Royals seem pretty set in the infield, as well http://www.dodgersfanproshop.com/authentic-max-muncy-jersey , with Chris Owings taking over backup duties there, and Whit Merrifield’s new deal all but ensures he’s around for at least the next three years. Nicky Lopez appears to be nearly major league-ready, but the Royals shouldn’t be playing him as a backup, so he probably won’t be added to the 40-man roster until they see an opportunity to give him some starts. Humberto Arteaga and Samir Duenez haven’t appeared particularly ready for the big leagues though both could be auditioning for backup roles later in the season if injuries or ineffectiveness force the Royals’ hand. Jecksson Flores had a breakout year for AA Northwest Arkansas last year, but he’d have to have a heck of a spring to be considered for more than a promotion to AAA.The big name among the infielders that everyone will be watching is Frank Schwindel. For two straight years, he’s put up solid numbers for AAA Omaha; for two straight years, the Royals have not only declined to play him at the big league level, but they’ve refused to even protect him from other teams during the Rule 5 Draft. He had a terrific spring training last year, but it still wasn’t enough to get him a second look. If he can have another terrific spring and Jorge Soler or Ryan O’Hearn get hurt, it might finally be time to see him promoted, but don’t expect to see him during the regular season until then. Notably missing from this list is Cheslor Cuthbert, who—so far as I can tell—is not currently signed to a contract with any team after being DFA’d in order to allow the Royals to re-sign Kyle Zimmer. (Edit: Cuthbert cleared waivers and is in the organization).The Royals only have three outfielders among the invitees. Elier Hernandez and Erick Mejia are both likely just getting a taste of big league camp. Bubba Starling, on the other hand, will be fighting to prove he still belongs in the organization. Chances are slim-to-nil that any of them crack the big league roster barring massive injuries as the team already appears over-full at that position in major league talent with Alex Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin, Jorge Bonifacio, Jorge Soler, Brett Phillips, and Terrance Gore on MLB deals.Then there are the pitchers. Jason Adam and Andres Machado have both pitched for Kansas City before but struggled mightily leading to their removal from the roster. Foster Griffin was once a high level prospect who had boosted his stock with a strong 2017 but fell backward again in 2018. Zach Lovvorn was a mediocre pitcher in the minors last year. Michael Ynoa has pitched in the big leagues for the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and 2017 butdidn’t appear in a professional game, last season.Then there is Jake Kalish. He struck out more batters than innings pitched, if barely, while pitching for Northwest Arkansas. But it was enough to earn him a promotion to Omaha where he again struck out his fair share of batters. But this time the punch-outs came with a much nicer 3.34 ERA. He doesn’t walk many, though he gives up more hits than you’d like. He did pitch a complete game shutout for the Storm Chasers, last season. If you like Kalish, you’ll really like the last guy on the list: Richard Lovelady. He’s been a fan-favorite around here for a while. Though he fell off a bit from his stunning numbers in 2017, he was still a more than adequate reliever for Omaha last year as he compiled a 2.47 ERA without a blown save. He also gets a lot of groundballs when he isn’t striking guys out, always a plus.The Royals’ biggest weakness, especially toward the end of the year, was with their pitching staff and particularly their bullpen. If any of the non-roster invitees figures to make the cut, it will probably be either Kalish or Lovelady. It’s hard to see both of them making it, however, with spots already all but guaranteed to at least eight pitchers and with so many others still ahead of them on the depth chart. Dayton Moore has made it very clear that keeping guys in the organization, especially pitchers, can sometimes outweigh performance. Without a 40-man spot to offer them, their chances would be much slimmer. It is for that reason that Eric Skoglund’s suspension, while bad news for him and for the team, is very good news for both of the aforementioned pitchers.That being said, the most interesting battle to watch during spring training will definitely be to see who can claim the last couple of rotation spots after Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jakob Junis. Only then will the bullpen picture begin to clear up as guys who won’t start may slot in there. Will we finally get to see the legendary stuff of Josh Staumont in Kansas City? Has Kyle Zimmer finally figured out how to keep his arm healthy? How many veteran cast-offs can Dayton Moore shove to the front of the depth chart halfway through spring training? These are the questions that will keep us entertained throughout the late winter and early part of spring.
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