As play begins in Major League Baseball tonight, the Orioles’ Hanser Alberto ranks fourth in the American League and ninth in the major leagues with a batting average of .320.
Not bad for a hitter that before this year had a total of 192 plate appearances spread over parts of three seasons with Texas and hit just .192.
One reason that Alberto has hit for a high average is a low number of strikeouts. He never struck out more than 49 times in a year in the minors and this year has fanned just 43 times in 484 plate appearances and leads the majors with 11.26 plate appearances per strikeout. If he finishes the season with 50 or fewer strikeouts and at least 500 at-bats, it would mark the 18th time in Orioles history that an O’s batter recorded 50 or fewer strikeouts with 500-or-more at-bats, the last coming by Deivi Cruz in 2003 (49 strikeouts in 548 at-bats).
Alberto said all of this not striking out is simply the norm for him.
“It has just been forever like that,” he said this afternoon in the Orioles clubhouse. “I try to put the barrel on the ball and do that pretty often. That’s me. Always been like that. At times in the past, I tried to take more walks and I lose my aggressiveness a little bit. Then I go back to my natural form - being an aggressive hitter.
“Here in the big leagues, pitchers don’t make many mistakes. Sometimes you can get that pitch early in the count. Then I try to put a good swing on it. I don’t even hit many foul balls or swing and miss much. The ball always seems to go in play.”
Said O’s manager Brandon Hyde: “I love the fact that Hanser puts the ball in play. Something that is not talked about very often anymore is the guy that has the ability to force action and to make defenders make a play. We are so used to strikeouts that I love the fact that Hanser does make it important to cover the plate and does make every effort to not try to lift or go deep with two strikes, but wants to put the ball in play. Think he’s seen a lot of hits because of that.”
Best strikeout rates among major league qualifying hitters (percentage of strikeouts per plate appearance)
8.9 - Hanser Alberto, Orioles
9.3 - David Fletcher, Los Angeles Angels
9.7 - Joe Panik, New York Mets
10.4 - Michael Brantley, Houston
“I don’t worry much about striking out,” said Alberto. “Even with two strikes, I am looking for something up and hanging, and I’m always thinking the pitcher will make a mistake. That keeps me ready and fresh. They will make a mistake, so be ready. I see something up, I try to put the ball in play.”
In addition to his batting .418 against left-handers to lead the majors and .337 since the All-Star break, Alberto has some other impressive stats in various counts.
When the count is 1-0, he bats .477, and when it’s 2-0, he hits .444. Here is a something impressive: Per Baseball-Reference.com, the major league average this year on an 0-2 count is .151; for Alberto, it’s .320.
The guys swings, puts balls in play and gets hits. Even on 0-2 counts. He added that not only does he look up in the zone with two strikes, he often swings at pitches that are not strikes, but yet are pitches he feels he can handle.
“A lot. A lot of times,” he said with a big smile on his face. “Especially against the Red Sox and Tampa Bay, and even the Yankees lately, those guys pitch me up. You know, I am always ready for that pitch. Try to get on top of the ball and hit a line drive.”
And he’s done that a lot in the 2019 season. Only six times in team history has an Orioles hitter finished at .320 or better. Alberto is shooting to make that seven.
.340 - Melvin Mora, 2004
.330 - Miguel Tejada, 2006
.328 - Ken Singleton, 1977
.327 - Eric Davis, 1998
.323 - Cal Ripken Jr., 1991