Alex Bregman and the Astros Are Still Searching for Answers

Alex Bregman is struggling early in the season, and his atrocious start is a major reason why the Astros are struggling as well.

Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros hits a three-run home run against the New York Yankees during the third inning in game two of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 20, 2022 in Houston, Texas.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 20: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros hits a three-run home run against the New York Yankees during the third inning in game two of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 20, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Entering the 2024 season, one of the pressing issues facing the Houston Astros was what to do with Alex Bregman. A month and a half in and the issue is the same, yet so very different.

Bregman is set to become a free agent at the end of the year, so coming into the season, the big debate was whether or not the team should extend him. Now, there are much bigger questions looming.

Because Bregman has been such a great player for so many years – nine to be exact – it seems like he is older than he is. In fact, the third baseman out of LSU just turned 30 years old on March 30. That is far from ancient, even in baseball years.

The Basic Numbers

Baseball is a numbers game. The most important ones each day are always runs scored and games won. From there, things can be broken down into pieces, as large or as small as you would like to analyze.

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Bregman numbers this year have been unusually bad. After Sunday’s game in Detroit, he is slashing .201/.270/.264. He has scored only eight runs and driven in only 13, with six doubles, a lone home run, and a 57 wRC+. The fact that he has 159 plate appearances and one more stolen base (2) than home runs (1) is shocking.

Contact Analysis

Fans of the movie Major League will remember Willie Mays Hayes’ pop-up after pop-up in search of home runs. Well, Bregman has been giving off some serious Hayes vibes this season.

A look at Bregman’s Baseball Savant page shows that his pop-up rate historically has been around 10% and has sat in the single digits over the last four seasons. It was 8.6% percent last year; this year, it is sitting at 18.4%.

Bregman has also been hitting fewer line drives this year. Over the course of his career, he has hit them at a 25.8% clip. So far in 2024, he is ripping line drives at a 20.8% rate.

Part of the problem with Bregman is that he doesn’t miss the baseball very often. Why is that a problem? It usually isn’t, but since his timing is off, he is making contact even if it is of the weak variety.

When digging into the numbers, one interesting fact is that Bregman is hitting well against both sinkers and (to a lesser extent) sliders: .324 and .250 batting averages, respectively. Along with his abnormally high pop-up rate, this suggests that he is really searching for the bottom of the ball and not focusing on squaring it up for a line drive.

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Why Is Bregman Struggling?

As we all know, baseball is hard, and it can be difficult to pinpoint just one cause for either good or bad results. Historically, Bregman has been a slow starter in most seasons. His weakest overall numbers come in the first month or two. But the poor results this season are next-level struggling.

It is hard to think that a proven veteran like Bregman would be so strongly affected by his desire to have a fantastic walk year, but it happens. With the amount of money that is out there, perhaps he is simply pressing too much and not staying with what has always worked.

I have never done anything like Bregman is doing that had such massive financial implications, so I don’t know exactly how I would react. But I did have some sage advice given to me by an older gentleman out on the golf course several years ago.

He said, “You can’t play a money game in golf with one hand on your wallet.” Maybe that is unconsciously part of what Bregman is doing. In wanting to do so well in order to get paid, he is hurting his efforts.

A Rigorous Offseason Could Be Backfiring

Speaking of change, Bregman spent a ton of time in the cages this offseason looking for some additional pop or exit velo. He went to Arizona and hit more this offseason than he had in the past. He was healthy and was searching for something to unlock some more home runs.

Ironically, so far this season, he has done the opposite. However, an argument against his offseason adjustments being the culprit is his performance in spring training. Bregman had one of his best seasons in the Grapefruit League, hitting .383/.431/.596 with four doubles and two home runs in just 16 games.

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Maybe he was just more relaxed during the spring and started to think too much in the regular season instead of just being a ball player and playing ball.

Let’s go back to the fact that Bregman spent so much time hitting this offseason. It was one of the first offseasons of his pro career in which he wasn’t rehabbing some sort of injury. Maybe the problem is as simple as he is tired and slightly burned out – probably mentally more than physically.

Rest is important, and it is important to step away from the game to not only give your body a break but your mind as well. He did the opposite and is having a hard time.

Plus, with the Astros making it to the ALCS or World Series in each of the last seven seasons, Bregman has been playing an extra month of high-stress baseball each year. He has logged an astounding 97 playoff games in his career. Maybe rest should have been his offseason focus, not trying to become something that he isn’t.

Where Do the Astros and Bregman Go From Here?

As of the end of play on Sunday, the Houston Astros are sitting ten games under .500 at 15-25. Nobody expected this dismal start to the season.

To be fair they have experienced a massive number of injuries to the pitching staff, but it goes beyond that. Several Astros like Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Peña, and Yordan Alvarez are producing, but so many others aren’t. And that goes for both position players and pitchers.

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Can the Astros turn their season around? Absolutely they can. They haven’t created a dynasty by just giving up when things get tough. Additionally, they are getting healthier in their rotation, and that is going to help tremendously. But, if they are going to dig out of this hole, they need to grab a shovel, and quick.

Now, let’s just say that the Astros don’t pull off a 2019 Washington Nationals-style turnaround (they started the season 19-31 before making the playoffs and winning the World Series) and still find themselves under .500 at the trade deadline. Then what?

The Astros Wouldn’t Trade Bregman, Would They?

Would the Astros actually entertain the idea of trading someone like Bregman in order to start the rebuild? Publicly, no way would they admit that, but Dana Brown and his staff would have to at least kick it around.

A player with Bregman’s track record would demand a hefty return and could help bolster a depleted farm system. But, at the end of the day, this is all just spitballing at this point.

Personally, I will be shocked if the Astros don’t go on a hot streak this summer and, at the very least, get themselves back in shouting distance of the AL West front-runners. And Bregman is too good of a player to stay down for much longer.

Baseball is a game of streaks and momentum, and he just needs to flip the script. When Bregman gets back to hitting line drives and staying within himself, that is when the numbers will improve.

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We have all seen Bregman shine for so many years that it is hard to believe that this is his new norm. He will most likely snap out of this funk soon, and when he does, opposing pitchers should watch out.