Mantle? Pujols? Alberto hangs with elite vs. LHP

August 21st, 2019

BALTIMORE -- The list is littered with legends, inner-circle Hall of Famers and those who may one day join them in Cooperstown. Then there is .

A Minor League journeyman before this season, Alberto has spent 2019 elbowing his way into the Orioles’ plans. He also has used this season to carve his name into the record books in a very niche way.

The latest example came Wednesday, when Alberto’s three-run sixth-inning homer off Tim Hill helped the O's run away with an 8-1 victory over the Royals. Alberto’s homer was the last of a quartet Baltimore belted to back winning pitcher and capture its first series victory this month.

, and also went deep on a night the Orioles matched some dubious homer history themselves.

But even as the O's tied the 2016 Reds’ all-time single-season record for homers allowed by coughing up their 258th on Whit Merrifield’s third-inning shot, Alberto’s was the most notable of the game, given who it came off of: a left-hander. Again.

“I’ve always been successful against them, but this year way more so,” Alberto said. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit lefties with the consistency that I have this year.”

Few have. A career .192 hitter entering this season, the right-handed Alberto is now batting .317 in 2019, and a whopping .404 in 171 at-bats against left-handed pitching. That’s the best mark in the Majors, and it gives Alberto a chance to join the handful of hitters this century to eclipse the .400-mark against lefties over a full season (minimum 170 plate appearances). The others are (.433 in 2012), (.411 in ’08), (.404 in ’04) and (.401 in ’06).

If the season ended today, Alberto’s .404 average would rank as the 11th-best single-season mark ever against lefties, with at least 170 plate appearances. Here is the full list:

  1. Buster Posey, .433 (2012)
  2. Mickey Mantle, .424 (1964)
  3. Elston Howard, .423 (1961)
  4. Mickey Mantle, .421 (1957)
  5. Tris Speaker, .415 (1925)
  6. Stan Musial, .414 (1948)
    7t) Albert Pujols, .411 (2008)
    7t) Joe Vosmik, .411 (1935)
  7. Mariano Duncan, .410 (1990)
  8. Roberto Clemente, .409 (1964)
    11t) Hanser Alberto, .404 (2019)
    11t) Ichiro Suzuki, .404 (2004)
    11t) Lew Fonseca, .404 (1929)

“I was very aware of what he’s doing against lefties this year,” said Kansas City starter Mike Montgomery, who held Alberto hitless with a walk over three plate appearances Wednesday. “He’s a good player, and he can hit lefties, for sure. You have to be a little bit more aware of which guys in the lineup you have to be smart to.”

Said Orioles southpaw : “I’m just glad I don’t have to face him. Weak contact hits, home runs -- every time he touches the ball it’s a hit.”

The dingers are a new development, Alberto has homered three times in his past eight games after hitting six in his first 100. The contact skills have been plain to see all summer -- 97 of his 126 hits have been singles. All told, Alberto’s .317 batting average ranks fourth among American League hitters. His .441 slugging percentage sits in the bottom 25. His 39 strikeouts? Lowest among qualifying hitters in MLB.

“I don’t waste time, you know?” Alberto said. “I go up there, see a good pitch and swing.”

In baseball’s current homer-happy, swing-and-miss climate, that makes Alberto an outlier. And gives him an outside chance of becoming the first O's player to hit at least .300 with fewer than 60 punchouts in a non-strike-shortened season since Cal Ripken in 1991.

“He’s really taking advantage of his opportunity to play,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s had some huge hits for us and has some sneaky power. He’s really fun to watch, comes with great energy, and I’m happy for him.”