Pedro Alvarez is a bust! He’s lazy. He has a horrible work ethic. His numbers have been awful in his early career. There’s no way he can ever bounce back from what we’ve seen in his first 522 at-bats. His horrible game yesterday was the sole reason the Pirates lost by 10 runs. His 6-for-16 performance in the previous four games can be ignored. Send him to AAA! No, send him to AA! Actually, he shouldn’t even be playing any sort of baseball at all. Cut him! Let’s put him on waivers and see if someone will give us something for him. He’s never going to be a major leaguer! He’s the reason the Pirates have been losing lately. The team has a losing record when he is in the lineup. Why hasn’t he cured cancer yet?!
That’s just a sample of the complaints that we see thrown Pedro Alvarez’s way. Well, maybe I exaggerated on one of those. I think you know which one. That’s right, the 6-for-16 performance argument. No one even noticed enough to actively ignore that performance.
There’s no doubt that Pedro Alvarez has been disappointing this year. His game last night was horrible all around, with the three double plays, and some poor play on the field. Alvarez isn’t the only person who has struggled on the Pirates this year. He’s just held to higher standards. People expect more out of him. From the time he was drafted in 2008, to when he made his debut last year, he was touted as the savior of the franchise. He was expected to be the Pirates’ version of Prince Fielder, hitting 40 homers a year.
It’s safe to say that, after a full season’s worth of at-bats, and at the age of 24, we can officially write him off. Correct?
That seems to be the approach in Pittsburgh when it comes to third basemen. Let’s just look at three of them in our recent history:
Player A: .239/.310/.408, 19 HR in 522 AB, 24 years old
Player B: .239/.290/.364, 12 HR in 561 AB, 22 years old
Player C: .225/.318/.376, 16 HR in 516 AB, 25 years old
None of these players have any chance of being a star hitter, as they’ve obviously set the pace for their careers after around 500 at-bats in the majors.
Player A is Alvarez.
Player B? Aramis Ramirez. You might remember him. If you don’t remember his time in Pittsburgh, just go back to the first paragraph in this article and replace “Pedro Alvarez” with “Aramis Ramirez”. All of the same arguments were made.
Player C is more recent: Jose Bautista. Say what you will about the Rule 5 draft in 2004, but he spent a full season in the minors in 2005, started off in AAA in 2006, and was brought to the majors, where he hit for a .235/.335/.420 line in 400 at-bats. Oh yeah. There were also complaints about his defense as well.
We know what happened with Ramirez. He had what looked like a breakout season in 2001. He followed that up with a horrible season in 2002 at the age of 24, hitting for a .234/.279/.387 line. A year later he was salary dumped to the Chicago Cubs, where he would go on to put up a .292/.353/.531 line in his career with the NL Central rivals, starting at the age of 26.
Bautista is almost a similar story. After his 2006 season he didn’t really do anything special. He combined for a .247/.328/.410 line in 2007-2008, and was traded mid-way through the 2008 season in exchange for Robinzon Diaz. The deal looked like an expensive bench player for a cheaper bench player at the time. No one questioned the deal in 2009 when Bautista hit for a .235/.349/.408 line. Then, in 2010, Bautista made the transition to the best power hitter in the game, hitting 54 homers to lead the league, and has followed that up with 33 homers this year. Perhaps the Pirates should have held on to him as a bench option, rather than going with guys like Eric Hinske who had no upside. No guarantee that Bautista would have made the adjustment he made in 2010 with Toronto, but they would have at least had some upside to work with.
Back to Pedro Alvarez. Fans want to see him sent down to AAA. We’ve seen what that does. He hit for a .365/.461/.587 line in 63 at-bats this year. When he was in AAA, I cautioned that we needed to see him performing at that rate for weeks, and not days. But there’s really nothing for Alvarez to learn at AAA. Leaving him down there is all about building his confidence up. His option year doesn’t play in to the equation, as he has one option remaining. He would get a fourth option year if he used his final option for the 2011 season. Either way he’s got one option remaining going in to the 2012 season. So there was no rush to bring him up before he was ready.
There’s also fans that are writing him off as a bust, as if it’s natural to assume that 24 year olds who don’t light the majors on fire right away will never have success. I could sit here listing all of the players who prove that theory wrong. I’ve already listed two players that have played for the Pirates. Alvarez isn’t a bust. He’s just a guy who has struggled in his first full seasons worth of playing time, and that’s totally natural.
There needs to be some perspective with Alvarez. Yes, he’s been bad. There’s no denying that. But the Pirates aren’t in the best situation when it comes to third base. Even during his horrible season, Alvarez has put up better numbers than Chase d’Arnaud and Josh Harrison. Brandon Wood beats him out offensively this year, but Brandon Wood’s current .670 OPS isn’t anything to write home about. It also looks like his ceiling. That might sound hypocritical when I’m talking about not writing guys off after 500-600 at-bats (Wood has 635), but Wood has a career .514 OPS. This is his first run over .559. He’s 26 years old. This isn’t a Bautista situation where a guy has been struggling with a .700+ OPS. But I digress.
The Pirates don’t really have any strong options internally, and definitely none that can arrive right now to help the team. The lack of options doesn’t mean that Alvarez somehow looks good. His season is still bad. The Pirates just don’t have a guy who can step in and take over for the remainder of the year, while providing a massive upgrade. That’s where we need perspective.
When it comes to Alvarez, there’s too much hyperbole analysis. It’s one thing to point out the facts and say that he’s having a bad year, or point out when he’s having a horrible game. But acting like he’s the main reason the team loses, and then saying that Chase d’Arnaud, Josh Harrison, or Brandon Wood are the solution is just silly. I like d’Arnaud. I like Harrison. I even think Wood is a good bench player to have. But none of them have the upside and potential that Alvarez has. We haven’t seen that potential this year. But that doesn’t mean we should write Alvarez off.
The best bet for the Pirates would be to stick with Alvarez. There’s really nothing Alvarez can learn about hitting major league pitching while he’s in AAA. We know he can hit in AAA. As for the Pirates, the alternatives to Alvarez aren’t going to boost the win totals, since Alvarez isn’t the sole reason the team has been losing lately. He’s just the scapegoat for now. Maybe the Pirates can’t compete with Alvarez starting every day. Personally, I don’t think that changes their chances of competing for the NL Central this year, as I think they’re closer to a .500 team than a contender. The upside is that giving Alvarez two months in the majors could help him figure things out, which would go a long way toward helping the Pirates compete for years to come. I’d take that possibility over starting Brandon Wood, and trying to win one or two extra games when the Pirates currently sit eight games out of first place.
Alvarez isn’t a bust. He’s just a guy that needs more time. He doesn’t need to be sent to AAA, and he most certainly doesn’t need to be booed every time he comes to the plate. After all, the people booing Alvarez right now are the people who complain that Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista were let go too early. Maybe if they take a moment to stop booing, they’ll realize that Alvarez is just going through the same struggles that we saw out of Bautista and Ramirez.