Pedro Alvarez is a Bust

Is Pedro Alvarez a bust?

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.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://twitter.com/jfredland jfredland

    Lt. Frank Drebin: Miss, I’m Lt. Frank Drebin, and this is Captain Ed Hocken, Police Squad.
    Busty Female Shop Assistant: Is this some kind of bust?
    Lt. Frank Drebin: Well… it’s very impressive, yes, but we need to ask you a few questions.

  • http://twitter.com/jrgsstuff Jerry Green

    I was following the #PedroAlvarezBust thing on twitter last night. And the one that really stood out to me was Mike Schmidt’s first 483 PA’s where he hit .197/.324/.367 with 19 home runs and made 18 errors in the 1972 and 1973 seasons.

    • Anonymous

      Of course, even though Schmidt was carrying a low BA, he was showing a lot of component skills, too: good walk rate, .170 ISO, excellent defensive range, etc. Right now, I’m hard-pressed to come up with any above-average game skills that Pedro’s showing in 2011. He’s got an above-average power tool, but his issues with pitch recognition/selection have almost entirely prevented him from making any real use of it.

    • Anonymous

      Of course, even though Schmidt was carrying a low BA, he was showing a lot of component skills, too: good walk rate, .170 ISO, excellent defensive range, etc. Right now, I’m hard-pressed to come up with any above-average game skills that Pedro’s showing in 2011. He’s got an above-average power tool, but his issues with pitch recognition/selection have almost entirely prevented him from making any real use of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1499407581 Neil D Korzun

    Better chance now of being a bust than an All Star

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Why?

      • Anonymous

        Every player has a better chance of being a bust. You’re spot on Tim! I get so tired of fans that bitch and moan just to bitch and moan. Pedro is far from a finished product. The uptight boobirds need to relax and just enjoy watching a team that is much improved from 2010, regardless of the current streak.

  • http://twitter.com/hemmist hemmist

    Best article i have read on Pedro. I have had the same conversation with other people since I have been in town. People do not have patience in this town.

    • http://twitter.com/MattGajtka Matt Gajtka

      People don’t have patience anywhere. But who gives a damn about the fans…as long as the front office has patience, that’s all that matters.

    • Anonymous

      Like fans in other cities are different ?

      I watch the Mike Francesa Show on the Yankee network and Yankee fans are always finding something to complain about.

      It is just human nature.

  • http://twitter.com/davemesing Dave Mesing

    Excellent post. All of the idiots who boo him should be forced to read this, although I’m not sure it matters, because I think you and others who were discussing this last night on twitter are dead on about a lot of Pirates fans out there who actively want Alvarez to fail (not to mention the Pirates, although that is much more bizarre because there’s really no endgame or point to being a fan or paying attention at all).

    I think all of this is a bit of a fallout of the success of the Pens and Steelers. Most younger sports fans I know, have sit around in games, etc. are extremely entitled and every bit as bad as a lot of the same people accuse fans in towns like Philly of being. 

  • Anonymous

    Pirates’ fans booed Aram. Steelers’ cheered when Turkey Jones drove Terry Bradshaw’s head into the concrete floor at 3RS.

    Aram = one of the best 3Bmen of his generation. Bradshaw = HOF quarterback.

  • http://twitter.com/davemesing Dave Mesing

    I should also add that although this entitledness is manifesting itself in very ugly ways thanks to this horrible streak, it was also present earlier in the season, even when the Pirates were in first place. For a lot of people, nothing is ever really good enough. To me, that kind of mentality makes it no fun to be a sports fan. I hate this losing streak as much as anyone, and I hate that Alvarez has continued to struggly, relatively speaking (I think his swing has looked better at times and also realize that over half of his sample size since returning from injury was against a collection of the best pitchers in the National League not named Lincecum or Cain).

    I hate that it’s no longer interesting or fun to see what the Brewers are doing on a given night, but more than anything, I hate that following the team isn’t enjoyable right now. It was extremely enjoyable for the rest of the season, even when we were battling the Cardinals. But the enjoyment factor, along with everything else, has fallen off a cliff. I’m inevitably going to watch tonight, hoping for some sparks that the old ways (or rather, new-old ways) are back again.

    I hope I haven’t driven this too far off topic, but I see all of this vitriol directed towards Pedro as sort of a microcosm of the Pirates’ season and many Pirates fans.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3G6S3MLR7RKSHPBY62TA5KKR4A michael

    Thanks for the excellent post.  Pedro Alvarez doesn’t show a lot of emotion when he plays, which I think makes some people think he doesn’t care, or isn’t trying.  Where in fact he’s probably trying too hard, which doesn’t allow his natural ability to take over and succeed.  I’m pretty confident he’ll come around soon, and all the naysayers will be going around saying “I knew it !”

  • John DiVito

    I hope Pedro knows that there are quite a few Pirates fans out there that want him to succeed… and will wait until he does.  Honestly, what do we have to gain with his failure?

  • Anonymous

    I think the idea that people want Pedro to fail is bogus. Everybody wants him to succeed.  It’s just that  he looks much worse at the plate than his terrible numbers.   I’ve been in the “concerned about Pedro”  camp all year and he’s done nothing to give me much hope.

    I also don’t think these comparisons to other players early career numbers are worth much.  Yes, Mike Schmidt was terrible when he first came up.  So was Brandon Wood.  These kind of comparisons are a misuse of statistics and don’t tell us anything about Alvarez.  Plenty of stats do tell us things about him, most of which are not pretty.

  • Matt Spicer

    I agree about everything except Brandon Wood. I don’t think his upside is a .670 OPS. At one point he was third best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. As recently as pre-2008 he was rated the 16th best prospect. At the age of 20, he hit 43 HR with an OPS of 1.054 in high A. He hit 23 HR with an OPS of .835 in AAA at just 22. The next year, still just 23, he hit 31 HR with an OPS of .970.

    I get that minor league success doesn’t guarantee major league success, but in each case he was young for the league. He was a highly regarded prospect, and anyone who can put up those kind of numbers at those ages has huge upside. If the Pirates didn’t think he had upside they wouldn’t have claimed him in the first place.

    Like you said, he is still just 26 with a little over 600 ABs in his career (basically a full season). There’s no way you can write him off yet.

    • Lee Young

      Matt………I agree with you and he has hit much better as a Bucco. I’d love to see BW get regular ABs.

      I am not on the “PA is gonna be a star” bandwagon, as some are here. I hope he DOES become a star, I just have my doubts and am pessimistic.

  • tom from st pete florida

    He is a bust, and the Pirates would be smart to unload this load, in the offseason. He will never , ever, be anything  as a major league player.
    The only thing is common player  A B and C have in common is they all sucked when they started. The only thing difference with El Burro is that he will remain a shell of a major league player, throughout his career, unlike A Ram and Jose Bautista.
    Seriously, get something for this guy in the offseason.

    • John DiVito

      What would we get in return? 

      And why would we give up on him when we have him under control for another few years?  It isn’t like he’s taking up millions on the payroll. 

      Wouldn’t Alvarez be more valuable as a bench bat over the next few years than giving up on him so quickly?

      Your suggestion makes no sense for the Pirates. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BGYM6GVSQIRDBQAW4HI7KS6GYM Zach Rodkey

    diagree with every one saying pedro alvarez is a bust he is going to be like JOSE BAUSITA trade him away they change one thing and he is a allstar!!!!

  • Anonymous

    My biggest concern with Pedro at this point is that the holes in his game (pitch recognition/selection, contact ability, defensive footwork on balls in front of him, throwing accuracy, etc.) are exactly the same problems he had when we took him in the draft. He was able to leverage his plus tools (power, arm strength, etc.) well enough to earn promotions without really addressing the weak spots in his game in any way, and now that he’s in the majors the competition is tough enough that he can’t do that anymore. That’s basically the Chad Hermansen story, isn’t it?

    I don’t see Ramirez or Bautista as particularly good analogues for Pedro’s situation, because both were promoted to the majors without any significant upper-minors experience. Under those circumstances, it’s entirely understandable that both would need a substantial amount of adjustment time.