Is Alex Bregman still great?
It may seem unfathomable to even pose that question about the star third baseman of the Houston Astros. Especially when the resume includes a Silver Slugger Award, two All-Star honors, an MVP runner-up finish, a pair of World Series titles and numerous clutch playoff moments.
Not to mention, Bregman always possessed a youthful cockiness that perfectly rode the fine line between egotistical jerk and endearing folk hero. A quality that made him a star.
Jose Altuve may be the heart of the Astros but Bregman was THE guy that stirred the drink for a team that went to six straight ALCS. He was great and was teetering on superstardom and being mentioned in the same breath as other B’s — Biggio and Bagwell.
Yet, even though the drink that is the Astros may still be pretty good, the time spent by the man who was stirring it may have expired.
Bregman is in the midst of a fourth straight subpar season — or at the very least a fourth straight pedestrian season compared to the standard he set in the first four years in the big leagues.
How average has Bregs been this season?
His batting average (.240), on-base plus slugging (.725) and home runs (14) is ranked 14th in Major League Baseball — among third baseman.
FanGraphs has his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as a staggering 1.8 which is the 109th best in MLB. Yes, he is not even a Top 10 player at his own position.
Bregman has been so off that his average is only three points higher than Jose Abreu who began the season in a career-long slump — and had fans calling for him to be traded or cut or punched in the face.
To be clear, Bregman’s numbers aren’t exactly terrible. He is not having a Tim Anderson-type of crater season but he has been mostly average. While that would be acceptable for a player like Chas McCormick or Cody Julks — it isn’t what we expect from Bregman who established himself early as one of the best young players in baseball.
The meteoric rise started at LSU where he checked most of the boxes of becoming a purple and gold legend — All-American honors, Golden Spikes finalist and leading his team to the College World Series.
He then became the highest drafted position player in LSU history — selected No. 2 overall — until Dylan Crews joined him on Sunday night.
Bregman quickly rose up the ranks riding the bus in the minors and was named USA Today 2016 Minor League Player of the Year and ESPN.com Prospect of the Year. Despite starting his MLB career with a miserable 0-for-18 start, Bregman soon adjusted to playing in the big leagues.
He helped Team USA take gold at the World Baseball Classic — the youngest member of the team mind you — and then helped the Astros win their first World Series in 2017.
Bregman was his best in the big moments during that magical postseason run.
There was the Game 4 home run off of Chris Sale in ALDS, throwing out Greg Bird at home against the New York Yankees in the ALCS and then the walk-off single off of Kenley Jansen in Game 5 of the World Series.
It was also during this time that Bregman also developed his widely popular home run celebration — “The Dugout Stare.”
Bregman’s career continued to soar the next two seasons as he became a guy that drew more walks than strikeouts and feasted on left-handed pitching. He was named an AL All-Star back-to-back years, took home the MLB All-Star Game MVP in 2018, received the Silver Slugger Award in 2019 when he led the AL in walks and WAR and finished as runner-up to Mike Trout in the MVP race.
All of which is why the Astros agreed to give him a six-year, $100 million extension in 2019.
But in the three-plus seasons since then he has been a shell of himself.
He hasn’t hit higher than .270 in any of the seasons, he hasn’t even come close to hitting 30 home runs and driving in more than 100 runs. The closest being in 2022 when he hit 23 homers and had 93 RBI. Not terrible but not great either.
Need some nerd-centric stats? After posting a WAR of 8.0 and 8.2 in 2018-19, Bregman’s value plummeted to 1.2 in 2020, 2.1 in 2021 and then rose to 5.5 in 2022 after a strong second half.
Bregman is on pace for eclipsing 100 RBI this season which is good but he is also on pace for 90 strikeouts, which would be the second highest of his career. That’s not so great.
Remember when Bregman stepped up and helped carry the team when former teammate Carlos Correa was injured with that weird massage rib injury — even playing shortstop for the team? Yeah he did that. So when Altuve started the season on IL and then Yordan Alvarez went on there and Michael Brantley has been seemingly trapped in it like it is the phantom zone, it was easy to expect Bregman to put on a cape and carry the team. He hasn’t.
Thankfully, the Astros had other guys do that like Kyle Tucker and unbelievably Mauricio Dubón.
So what happened?
There was the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, then the oblique injury in 2021. But one could also point to the fact that Bregman hasn’t been the same caliber of player since the Astros were busted for illegally stealing signs using trash cans in 2017 and 2018.
Whether or not you believe that the sounds of trash cans in a deafening ballpark actually helps a player or not, Breg’s struggles — which are nearing a presidential term in length — have seemingly begun since the public outcry by fans and media folks about the scandal.
Could the three-plus seasons of average play be a mental thing for Bregs and he is just pressing? Absolutely. And he is still only 29 so plenty of time to turn it around.
But can Bregman still be the guy who was on the verge of being considered one of the best Astros of all-time? That is not something anyone can confidently state anymore. At least not right now.
Raymond Partsch III is the co-host of “RP3, D-Loh & Meche” which is broadcast weekdays (11-1) on ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.