Bobby Dalbec Could Make History
In recent years, baseball has been flooded with stories about how the three true outcomes—strikeouts, walks, and home runs, so named because the defense has no effect on the play—are taking over the game. Gone are the days when a player could hit .330 with a sub .800 OPS and be considered a star. Players like Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers have been successful with huge amounts of plate appearances resulting in walks, strikeouts, or homers. Gallo, for example, hit his 100th home run before he hit his 100th single. But even Gallo pales in comparison to what has been happening with a certain player in Fort Meyers this spring.
Bobby Dalbec is the human incarnation of the three true outcomes. At least, that is how he has played thus far in his career. He made his debut in 2020, and in 23 games hit .263/.359/.600/.959. In 92 plate appearances, Dalbec homered in 8, walked in 10, and struck out in 39. Now, this wasn’t a huge surprise—Dalbec has always been known as a player with tremendous power, coupled with a tremendous proclivity for strike outs. Still, no one saw him striking out 42.4% of the time and still managing to OPS over .950. Numbers like that are completely unheard of. Keep in mind, that was only a 23-game sample size. Let’s say Dalbec had played in 150 games in 2020, keeping his same rate statistics. If that were the case, the 25-year-old first-baseman would have hit 53 home runs, and would have struck out an MLB record 254 times. That’s ridiculous. What’s even more ridiculous is that he would have been a fantastic offensive player despite striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances. A .959 OPS isn’t simply good—a .959 OPS is absolutely awesome. It would have tied for 14th in all of baseball! Of course, striking out that much is extremely worrisome. If you take his 2020 season and remove even a little bit of his power, his numbers start to get ugly in a hurry, and striking out 250 times seems more likely for a rookie than hitting 50 home runs. So it was fair for people to wonder about Dalbec entering the 2021 season. Would he be able to sustain his power? Would he cut down on his strikeouts? Would he draw more walks? Personally, I was extremely excited to watch him get a full season worth of at-bats, but knew that the possibility for disaster existed.
Fast forward to Spring Training, 2021, and Dalbec has changed—but in none of the expected ways. He’s hitting for more power this spring than he did in 2020, a season in which he hit 8 home runs in 23 games. He’s also striking out more than he did in 2020, which is remarkable since his 2020 pace of 253 strikeouts would have shattered the previous record. Dalbec has 18 at bats so far in Spring Training. He has 2 walks, 9(!) strikeouts, and 4(!!) home runs. He’s slashing .313/.389/1.063/1.451. In 2020, he averaged exactly 4 plate appearances per game, good for 600 in a 150 game season. 600 plate appearances at the rates above would have Bobby striking out 300 times, and hitting 133 home runs. He’d walk 67 times, and hit 33 singles. That’s it. That’s the statline that Dalbec is putting up in Spring Training so far.
So, what does this say about Dalbec’s potential in 2021? It shows that we may see the single season strikeout record destroyed this year. The player who breaks it, however, might hit 50 homers and OPS close to or above 1.000. Basically, Bobby Dalbec is on pace to be an All-Star, potentially the Rookie of the Year, despite being a bat-first first-baseman who strikes out in 50% of his plate appearances. That seems impossible, and if you’d have told anyone about Dalbec’s statline 20 years ago, you would have sounded insane. But Bobby is the natural progression of what’s been occurring ever since sabermatricians determined home runs are worth more than the negative impact of a strikeout, and players decided to try to hit the ball as hard as possible every time they stepped up to the plate. We could witness history this season. Dalbec could very well do things on a baseball field that had previously seemed impossible.