Cubs News: This one thing derailed Albert Almora’s career

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Cubs outfielder Albert Almora struggled in this one aspect of his game.

Former Chicago Cubs first-round pick Albert Almora could do a lot of terrific things on the ball diamond. He totaled 11 outfield assists during his first four professional seasons and tallied a 1.1 WAR (according to Fangraphs) in both 2017 and 2018. He appeared to be on the cusp of breaking out given his performance and natural abilities. But last week, the Cubs non-tendered him along with fellow outfielder Kyle Schwarber and two others. The reason? He couldn’t hit the breaking ball.

Slider. Curveball. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t hit it. And the league was privy to it. In 2016 and 2017, he saw a curveball in just over 10 percent of his at-bats. In 2018 and 2019, that number continued to climb – up to 13 percent of the pitches he saw. Concurrently, the slider rate steadily climbed, as well – all the way up to 34.1 percent in 2020 – trailing only the fastball. Opposing pitchers knew his weakness and relentlessly exploited it.

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It was difficult to watch. Slider after slider, he went after it – swinging and missing. He would get several fastballs up high and then chase the slider down and out of the zone. Almora batted just .167/.265/.200 this year with a .238 BABIP – the lowest of his MLB career.

By September, he was sent to the instructional site in South Bend. Three months later, his Cubs career drew to a close. So how did teams figure out how to neutralize Almora at the plate?

Well, patience. In his first few years, he feasted on a steady diet of fastballs (55.6 percent of the pitches he got in 2016 were heaters). Last year, that number had bottomed out at 36.4 percent. At the same time, the rate he saw both curveballs and sliders steadily increased – and this season, he essentially saw as many sliders as fastballs.

In his career, Fangraphs never graded Almora out to even be league average against sliders.  But in 2019, he was catastrophically bad against that pitch – coming in at -12.3 wSL (slider runs above average). Meanwhile, what do you think he did against fastballs? That’s right. He was a +4.4, marking his fourth consecutive season of clocking in above-average in that regard. It’s not hard to figure out what to throw him from that point on.

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In the end, it was some good, some bad for Almora during his Cubs career. For a sixth overall pick, you’d hope for better, of course. I suspect he’ll catch on somewhere else this offseason. Hopefully, he can get back to what made him a fan favorite early-on during his time on the North Side.