CLEVELAND – A trip to the restricted list was not how Abraham Almonte wanted to spend the first 90 days of the 2016 season.
After testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing drug under MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the 27-year-old was forced to miss 80 games and the entirety of a momentous postseason run.
One year later, Almonte finds himself more disciplined than ever with a career-high walk rate (16.9%), on-base percentage (.400) and OPS (.777) through 53 at-bats in 20 games played.
“Abe’s a very aggressive hitter,” said manager Terry Francona. “He really hits off the fastball. We don’t ever want him to lose that.”
Francona’s assertion is evident through Almonte’s 35.1% swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone in 2016, a monstrous mark that crushes his career average of 29.4%. In addition, Almonte swung at 76.1% of pitches inside the strike zone, another total that significantly exceeds his lifetime average of 67.9%.
In simpler terms, the Dominican Republic native needed to cut down on his aggressive swings to elevate a minuscule .294 on-base percentage heading into the 2017 campaign.
“It’s not like you just tell people to walk, that’s not how we feel,” Francona said. “But if you swing at good pitches, I think the byproduct is one, you’re going to make better contact, but you’re also probably going to walk more just because your goal is to swing at better pitches.”
This major adjustment has paid dividends for Almonte over the course of April.
“You kind of lay off balls that are fringy or off the plate then maybe getting yourself out,” said Francona.
Almonte has swung at 27.8% of pitches outside the strike zone (7.3% decrease from 2016), 70.5% of pitches inside the strike zone (5.6% decrease from 2016) and a career-low zone percentage of 39.9%, a statistic that measures the percentage of pitches a batter sees inside the zone. To further this point, the switch-hitting outfielder is seeing a career-best 4.32 pitches per plate appearance.
Finding the proper balance of patience, selectiveness and aggressiveness correlates to consistently reaching base while forcing opposing pitchers to labor through at-bats against a stingy bottom of the lineup hitter like Almonte.
“Every hitter is different and they have to hit how they hit, but seeing a lot of pitches normally is good for guys,” Francona said. “The more pitches they see, usually the more dangerous they get. It’s probably means they’re swinging at more strikes, laying off of more balls. I would say it’s generally a good thing anyway.”
Not only is Almonte more disciplined on pitches off the plate, but he is also making enough contact with pitches on the plate to be a more productive hitter.
“I do think he is aware of trying to get pitches that he can hit, and I think through that, he is laying off of more, especially breaking balls that he has more of a tendency to chase,” said Francona. “He has had deep-count at-bats and I think it serves him well. No matter what his batting average is after a week, his at-bats have served him well.”