If we put our minds to it, we could probably come up with some storylines involving the 2019 Orioles that would produce some amazing scenarios. But a player claimed off waivers four times before the start of the 2019 season and then going on to win a batting title might top the list.
Hanser Alberto ended the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers. Then he was claimed via waivers by the New York Yankees on Nov. 2, the Orioles on Jan. 11, the San Francisco Giants on Feb. 22 and the Orioles again on March 1.
And the Orioles must be pretty glad they got a second chance to add Alberto.
With so few games to go, Alberto’s shot at the American League batting title seems a long one, but he’s at least got a shot. After he went 3-for-4 Sunday, he’s batting .321 and is tied for third in the AL with Michael Brantley of Houston. New York’s DJ LeMahieu is second at .328 with Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox leading at .334.
Before this year, Alberto had never gotten more than 104 major league plate appearances in any season and that was with Texas in 2015. This year he has gotten 480.
Alberto was always a pretty good Triple-A hitter and holds a career .309 batting average in exactly 1,000 plate appearances at that level. I recently asked him if he’s a better hitter this year or just getting more of a chance to show what he can do.
“All the hard work in the past is paying off right now,” he said. “If you look at my numbers in the minor leagues, I’ve always been a really good hitter. Most of the time over .300. But in the big leagues, I hadn’t gotten an opportunity to show that. This year, I’ve gotten the chance and I’m showing what I did in the minors.”
He surely is doing that.
Over his last 13 games, he has six multi-hit games and is batting .404 (21-for-52). Alberto has hit safely in six of seven games against Texas, his original team, on the season, batting .394 (13-for-33). In 50 games since the All-Star break, he is batting .339 (63-for-186). Sunday was his 40th multi-hit game, which is second-most on the Orioles to Jonathan Villar with 47.
Alberto had three hits against a very tough left-handed pitcher in Mike Minor yesterday. His 84 hits are the most in a season against lefties since Ichiro Suzuki also had 84 in 2004. For the season, he is batting .420 (84-for-200) against left-handers to lead the majors.
Over the weekend, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias talked about Alberto’s strong year.
“He’s somebody that if you look at his minor league and winter league record, he has kind of a knack for winning the batting title everywhere he goes,” said Elias. “He does it with a lot of singles and without striking out a lot and a lot of good contact. I just think he’s somebody that’s able to put the barrel on the baseball.”
Elias also called himself out for briefly losing Alberto on a waiver claim by the Giants. But he had the chance to get him back a few days later and jumped at it.
“You saw he got waived a few times this offseason,” Elias said. “The reason that teams do that is they’re trying to get a guy through waivers, so there was a period of time where he appeared to be somebody that you might strategically be able to pass through waivers.
“We tried it. It didn’t work. I kicked myself very hard when that happened, and as soon as he went back on waivers again, we felt that we had lucked out and grabbed him right away. It’s a risk you take when you’re trying to game the waiver system over the offseason.”
Alberto probably doesn’t have to worry about hitting the waiver wire this winter.
And with his relaxed and engaging personality, he’s probably not much worried about chasing an AL batting title. If he somehow does finish first, Alberto would join a list of one - one Oriole in team history has won the AL batting title. That was Frank Robinson when he hit .316 and produced a Triple Crown in 1966.