Since it's a lot more difficult to actually watch video for hitters on MLB.tv and make any use of pitch f/x with them, I haven't ever really done scouting reports for hitters, ours or theirs. Also, I'd say I feel less comfortable assessing hitters, since I was a terrible one of those, whereas I was a pretty decent pitcher. But, like, who cares right? Sack up and such.
For my first foray into something resembling a scouting report, I decided I'd watch Alexei's last 10 bombs and to see what there was to see. Prior to actually checking the video, I had him pegged as a mistake hitter with what Steve Stone calls a "slider speed bat". To me, Alexei could hit a single off pretty much anybody, but when he really did damage, a pitcher had to screw up.
So that's my hypothesis. Let's turn to the evidence, reverse chronologically:
- 5/22 - Hiroki Kuroda started him off with two heaters. The first one at 90 mph coulda been a bomb, but went foul. The second 90 mpher was yanked down the line, again foul. After a slider low and a way that missed, Kuroda hung one middle in that Alexei crushed.
- 5/15 - Trevor Cahill (again, but y'know reverse chronology...) executed a classic hanging curve in the middle of the zone and up. Alexei recognized, waited and dumped it into the seats.
- 5/9 - Ervin Santana throws a meatball 89 mph thigh high first pitch fastball.
- 4/12 - The game winner off Bobby Cramer, who's since gone back to work for CNBC. He missed with two curves and then with a fastball. Finally got a strike with his 87 mph fastball on 3-0, but Alexei launched the 3rd consecutive heater into the seats.
- 4/12 - Cahill, the first time. He got a curve for a strike low and away and then missed with another curve in the dirt. After a bad sinker, he hung a curve on the inside half and Alexei didn't miss.
- 4/8 - First pitch curve low and away off James Shields, gone.
- 10/3 - First pitch 90 mph fastball off the illustrious Luke Carlin.
- 9/16 - After he missed with a slider low and away, Carl Pavano came back with a 91.5 mph fastball inside and thigh high. Alexei put it over the wall.
- 9/1 - Carlos Carrasco followed up a down and in curve with a 94 mpher that split the plate above the belt. Seemed like Alexei was looking for it. Kinda looked like his swing started before the ball was out of his hand.
- 8/28 - David Robertson went to three consecutive sliders, none especially good, after a fastball missed up. Alexei hammered the last one. It was in the zone, splitting the plate at the bottom of the zone, after the previous two had been farther inside.
- 8/19 - Glen Perkins left a fastball up that coulda been parked but went foul and then hung a slider that juuuust cleared the wall for a grand slam.
All were righties except Perkins and Cramer. 4 HR were off fastballs, 4 off sliders and 2 off curves. Just one was substantially faster than the average major league fastball. Considering he sees breaking pitches some 20-30% of the time and fastballs more than 50%, it's pretty clear where he does the vast majority of his damage. As for the style, it looks like he knows he's got good slider/curve recognition skills, so he'll even sit on it at the expense of the fastball. That plus the slow-ish bat leads to a decent number of pop ups. On the other hand, when he gets what he's looking for early in the count, he really stings it. And he still doesn't strike out much because he controls the bat well and gets it on plane, even when he's behind the pitch.
On top of that, I don't think he just hit mistakes out. There were some pretty decent spots there, particularly Shields' curve. With his fairly small strike zone and the kind of loopy way he gets the bat through the zone, sliders have to dip either out of the zone or hit almost exactly low and away on the black to stay off Alexei's barrel.
As for weaknesses, there's the big RHP fastball. But also there were very few instances where he was tested inside, which I take as a hint. Just looking at his swing and the way he lunges at the outer half, I would definitely attack him on his hands. Sure, he might beat you if he guesses right, but with a big enough fastball, he's not much of a threat to hurt you badly. Even if you've got a below average fastball, I think there's more margin for error up and in than with the slider. If you can't be sure you'll miss off the plate with the breaking ball, you'll end up getting taken yard. Assuming he's taking more walks because he's being more selective on the slider off the plate, he could finally have a significantly above average season with the bat. Combined with his defense, that could be the makings of the best shortstop season on the South Side since Jose Valentin left the club.