Back in early February, when Brandon Inge was signed, I raised the question of whether Pedro Alvarez should be a platoon player. Not much has happened between that article and now, other than eight regular season at-bats against left-handers. In those at-bats, Alvarez has gone 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts today against left-handers.
I’m not suggesting the Pirates should suddenly platoon Alvarez. As I pointed out yesterday, there shouldn’t be any major decisions made after one week’s worth of stats. But the bad start against lefties does bring up the topic of when the Pirates should consider Alvarez a platoon option.
A lot of the negative reactions to the idea the last time around revolved on where Alvarez was drafted. He was a second overall pick, and was given just over $6 M, which was a franchise record at the time. The arguments were that you don’t turn a guy like that into a platoon player. That’s probably true when you’re drafting him. But there’s a difference between the time you draft a guy, and several years down the line after he’s had a chance to develop. Not all players reach their ceiling. Alvarez was seen as a guy who could be a game changer — hitting for average while crushing 30-40+ homers per year. That was the best case scenario. I’m not saying that’s out completely, but I am saying that’s looking more and more unlikely at this point.
The question now seems to be whether Alvarez can be an everyday player or whether he should sit against left-handers. As I pointed out in the last article, Alvarez has seen his power against lefties go up in each of the last two years. Last year he posted a .172 ISO. If he improves on that again this year, he could have value against left-handers based on his power alone. If that happens, Alvarez could be a Carlos Pena type player at third. The average will be low, and there will be a lot of strikeouts, but he’s going to have a shot at that 30-40 home run range each year.
But how long should the Pirates give Alvarez to prove he can play everyday? Do they give him the entire 2013 season and wait to see if he shows improvements again? Do they cut back his time against lefties if he’s not showing improvements, or regressing, by mid-season?
I wasn’t calling for Alvarez to be a platoon guy then, and I’m not saying that now after eight more at-bats against lefties. I do think that possible future outcome has to be on everyone’s minds, and considered as a realistic possibility. The dream is that Alvarez will figure it out, start hitting for average and power, and be the key that the Pirates need in the middle of the lineup. I think it’s more likely that Alvarez doesn’t figure it out against lefties. But he’s got two years of improvements under his belt. Plus the Pirates did invest a lot in him, so it would make sense to give him every shot to get the most value out of him. But there’s only so long they can wait. Alvarez is moving beyond the point where you’d expect to see major improvements to this part of his game. He has been showing improvements the last two years, but if those annual improvements stop, it would probably be better to think that he’s reached his ceiling against lefties, rather than continuing to send him out there to be over-matched.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5. Get them both to use throughout the 2013 season.