Better know a Royal: Hanser Alberto

One of the newest Royals definitely fits into the team's 2021 plans.

This is the first in what should be a series of profiles of the players on the Royals’ roster. The hope is we can get through the key names we’ll see in 2021 by the end of spring training. Many of the names will be familiar to us, but I plan to highlight some relevant information that isn’t readily obvious. I want to learn something about these guys. If you haven’t yet, subscribe so you don’t miss a thing! First up, one of the newer Royals: Hanser Alberto.

We’ve reached the point of the winter where, with the free-agent pickings slim, the Royals are looking to fill out their roster with some potential bargain buys. At the end of January, the Royals did just that, signing Hanser Alberto to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. If he makes the Royals, he will earn $1.65 million in 2021. And with just over four years of major league service time, if Alberto sticks with the organization, the Royals will control his rights through the 2022 season.

Alberto was available as a free agent after the Baltimore Orioles decided they didn’t want to tender him a contract. He earned $1.65 million in 2020 and was eligible for arbitration for the second time; MLB Trade Rumors projected he was due $2.6 million to $4.1 million for the 2021 season. Trey Mancini is set to be the highest-paid Oriole, non-Chris Davis division, at $4.75 million. The Orioles are…not trying to compete.

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Could Baltimore’s loss be Kansas City’s gain? Alberto has his flaws (more on those in a moment) but it seems like a fair price for a player who put up 2.0 fWAR in his first full season of playing time in 2019 and backed it up with 0.6 fWAR in 2020.

Let’s take a look at Alberto’s game.

The Offense

fWAR aside, on the surface, Alberto seems like the prototypical Royals signing. I mean, just look at these walk and strikeout rates.

He found regular playing time for the first time in Baltimore in 2019 and promptly posted the lowest strikeout rate among qualified hitters at 9.1 percent. On the flip side, his 2019 walk rate of 2.9 percent was just one-tenth of a percent off the lowest in the league. The strikeout rate increased last year, but the walk rate dropped. You think Salvador Perez doesn’t take a free pass? I mean, you’re right to think that—he’s the Royals’ poster child for the avoidance of walks as a supposed organizational philosophy—but Perez’s career walk rate is 3.4 percent. Look at those rates the last two seasons for Alberto again. I mean, whoa.

This is just fascinating to me. I’d like to move on, but before I do, take a look at how his walk and strikeout rates are represented on Baseball Savant by percentile. The top row is 2019 with the bottom his last season’s percentiles.

I included the Whiff% in there to underscore the fact that the guy just makes loads of contact. But you already knew that because…look at those walk and strikeout rates! (Fine. I’ll move on.)

Here’s the rub. All that contact that Alberto makes? It’s not necessarily good contact. Actually, it’s often the opposite of good. In 2019, Alberto’s average exit velocity was 84.4 mph which was the fourth-worst rate among qualified batters. He barreled the ball in just 2.5 percent of his plate appearances, the 10th worst rate. The numbers were even worse in last summer’s abbreviated schedule: An average exit velocity of 82.3 mph and a 0.9 percent barrel rate. He’s put up a BABIP of .314 in 2020 and .318 in 2019 which is a good thing given that his offensive production is entirely dependent upon how many balls drop for hits.

Let’s let Savant paint the full picture. Should I tag this NSFW? I’ll let you decide.

OK…enough doom and gloom about low walk rates and soft contact. Let’s shift to something positive about Alberto’s offensive game. You probably recall that the initial reaction to the Royals’ Alberto signing was focused on his batting splits. Those are somewhat…extreme. But extreme in a way the Royals could leverage them into a benefit for their club.

How extreme? Again, the best way to convey this information is to simply present it.

The guy can hit lefties. The platoon splits above are for Alberto’s career. They absolutely track for the 2019 season where he was a regular and even the small sample of the recently completed 2020 season. The tOPS+ is telling. Remember, that’s a favorite stat of mine, used to measure the OPS+ of a particular split against that player’s entire performance. In this case, Alberto did 25 percent worse than his overall numbers against right-handed pitching. He was 45 percent better against southpaws. A difference of 70 percent is staggering.

Alberto hits with an open stance and chases no matter what hand the pitcher throws with. But he chases a lot more of the low and away stuff against the right-handers. And he chases in an area where good—or even half-decent—contact is basically hopeless.

The above gif is from images taken from Baseball Savant and uses Alberto’s 2019 season for maximum sample size. You can see how he swings for the low and away pitch so much more frequently against right-handers. Of course, in that location, he’s seeing a ton of sliders and assorted off-speed pitches. Overall, Alberto chases out of the zone close to 47 percent of the time and makes contact around 75 percent of those instances. Both rates are too high.

Here is Alberto chasing a slider against Trent Thorton in 2019. Note his stance and the location of the pitch. If he somehow puts bat to ball, there’s just no way he’s going to make any kind of quality contact.

But he can handle a slider off the plate on occasion. For fairness, here’s a single off Luis Perdomo the same year. The slider was supposed to be down and away (duh!) but hung up and off the outside. Alberto reaches for it and manages to flick it to left for a single.

The Defense

Defensively, Alberto has logged time at both second and third base, with the majority of his innings coming at the keystone. His numbers at the Fielding Bible are something of a mixed bag. At second base in 2019, he was better at going to his left and struggled going to his right. Last year, his performance was effectively reversed with better grades going to his right than his left. Still, he makes roughly three defensive miscues for every two good fielding plays. Overall he was worth two Defensive Runs Saved in 2019 and was at minus-two DRS last year. Let’s grade him as average defensively at both positions.

The Projections

  • PECOTA - .267/.297/.394, 86 DRC+

  • Steamer - .287/.316/.403, 86 wRC+

  • ZiPS - .285/.307/.399, 83 wRC+

  • THE BAT - .269/.299/.377, 81 wRC+

The projection systems are in basic agreement that offensively, Alberto will be about 16 percent below league average in production. It should be noted that ZiPS extrapolates for a full season of plate appearances while PECOTA goes for about 60 percent of regular playing time. The other two project him for around 200 PAs.

If you’re going to roster Alberto (and believe me, the Royals are going to break camp with Alberto on the squad) it’s helpful that he has some utility and can play a couple of positions on the infield. The Royals will need to use him exclusively against lefties to receive the most value out of his bat. If Alberto receives 200 plate appearances in a platoon role, it will represent a good signing. The left-handed-hitting Nicky Lopez doesn’t have a platoon split, but it seems a likely scenario is where Alberto takes the reps against southpaws with Lopez finding time against the right-handed starters. The Royals would be losing Lopez’s top-notch defense in those games, but it could represent an upgrade for the offense.