First Pitch: When Should the Pirates Consider Pedro Alvarez a Platoon Player?

When should the Pirates consider Alvarez a platoon player? Photo credit: David Hague

When should the Pirates consider Alvarez a platoon player? Photo credit: David Hague

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

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**Prospect Watch: Pimentel Has Strong Debut, Polanco and Allie Hit First Homers.

**The Most Impressive Thing About Gregory Polanco.

**Minor League Schedule: 4/8/13.

**Pirates Release Jeremy Farrell.

**Pirates Notebook: Locke Looks to Stick Around After Making Roster.

**McCutchen Homer Only Respite as L.A. Completes Sweep 6-2.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Manaea Throws Six Shutout Innings.

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://www.facebook.com/john.lease.7 John Lease

    At what point do the Neil Huntington supporters give up on him and face reality? I saw a lot on this website that this was the year. Or will it be pushed back yet again?

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    When should the Pirates consider Neil Walker a platoon player. He had a .602 OPS against right-handed pitching last year. Alvarez’s was .648.

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

      Walker is .675 in his career vs LHP. Better than Alvarez. He also showed some promise in 2010 with an .809 OPS, although it’s been two seasons since then and he hasn’t come close to that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

        I think Walker should be given more time, but if he doesn’t improve, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a right-handed hitting 2B who could hit lefties at a better rate.

      • jg941

        I know it’s crazy, but has switch-hitting Walker ever just stood in there as a LH batter against a LHP?

        His split against lefties as a RH hitter begs the question as to whether he is truly a switch-hitter anymore.

  • Alexdesilva

    In my opinion, Alvarez needs to learn to accept the line drive singles he will get if he just waits back and hits the ball to the left side. He pulls on EVERY swing. And lefty pitchers will continue to throw him soft away until he learns. I feel like its every pitch. And it’s like he isn’t even trying. Maybe it’s just me, but it just makes me frustrated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

    No disrespect to Tim (I understand why he almost *has* to write this article for his readers), but these types of ‘suggestion articles’ are more of the Post Gazette/Tribune type columns. “I don’t think Alvarez should be platooned after one week, but man he’s been awful, maybe we should platoon him after one week.” Gene Collier/Bob Smizik/Ron Cook have all made livings (incredulously) at doing about the same thing. If you all remember when Bay and McClouth and Sanchez and Maholm and Duke were all running up 90-loss seasons, those same columnists were killing them (and by extension, Pirates ownership) for how bad they were. Then, when the FO had to trade them, those same columnists were bashing them because they didn’t get anything in return.

    It’s having it both ways, without taking a stand. It’s pretty simple regarding Alvarez: If we make him a platoon player (w/ *Brandon Inge*, mind you), then we are conceding defeat for this year and perhaps the next couple. The way our roster is constructed, Alvarez needs to play, needs to play everyday, and needs to be good. If all of that can change in a week’s time – or even have the discussion raised – then the Pirates FO would be guilty of reacting like fans to small sample sizes. They won’t, thankfully, because NH knows how important Alvarez is. And, surprisingly, the Hurdle (with all his faults and stupidity and mounting disbelief that he is a big-league manager) also said as much yesterday.

    This article is, “Let’s not overreact over one weeks games, but, if we were to overreact, this is what needs to be done.” Only accepting the premise of this very article is an overreaction….

    2 months in, and he still can’t hit LHPers. Ok, let’s talk. 6 games….No.

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      Good points. It’s still awfully early, and I’m sure we’d all be piling on Hurdle and the FO if they decided to play Inge against left-handers and put Alvarez on the bench.

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

      Here’s the problem with your theory. You’re basically saying that any writer who points out an obvious flaw with a player is taking all of those other stances. By pointing out the fact that Alvarez is bad against LHP, I’m automatically in a group of writers that you say won’t take a stand, and will argue both sides of the debate.

      You say the article is “Let’s not overreact over one weeks games, but, if we were to overreact, this is what needs to be done.” That’s not the article. The article is “Alvarez has been bad in his career against lefties. I pointed out before the season that despite this, he’s shown improvements over the last two years. If he continues to show improvements, he could be a good everyday player. But if he continues to do what we’ve seen in the first week, how long should the Pirates give him before platooning him?”

      I’m not just making a simple argument and doing it for shock value or to rip the team/player. I’m pointing out a fact (Alvarez is bad). I’m adding in analysis (Despite being bad, he has improved the last two years). I’m also asking a valid question (At what point does he become a platoon player?). And you answered that question with two months in, if he still can’t hit LHP. That’s pretty much what my answer was in the article.

  • Blue Bomber

    Alvarez can’t field, can’t run, and is in terrible condition for a professional athlete. At times he looks like he’s sleep walking through his ABs. What he has shown is the ability to get red hot for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, destroy the ball, and carry the team. The questions are: Is this good enough? If not, what his value and when do we get rid of him?

    Pedro bashing is cyclical. It will all go away when he gets hot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

      And, though Alvarez “can’t field, can’t run, and is in terrible condition” – in your opinion – he still had a higher OPS than Neil Walker and was almost as valuable overall.

      Alvarez will be a divisive guy going forward, especially to those that place an irrational value on batting average, strikeouts, and body type. To more stats-oriented fans, they’ll realize that you can live w/ the Ks as long as his walks improve slightly and his plate-discipline (not swinging at balls out of the zone) in general.

      Will he? That’s the question. But, in finding the answer, we need more data, not 6 games.

      • http://www.facebook.com/john.lease.7 John Lease

        It isn’t an opinion that he is fat. Just look at him.

        • Y2JGQ2

          He ISN’T fat, unless you are watching games from 2011…..he’s actually in pretty good shape

      • jg941

        Andrew – no one who is analyzing this player thoroughly is doing so on the last 6 games – theay are looking at the entire body of work, as should you.

        Despite Tim’s allowance for Pedro improving slightly in 2012, I might even disagree with that. His K% rate in his career hasn’t moved one iota – 30.8% to 30.5% to 30.7% – and his walk rate is equally stagnant – 9.6 to 9.2 to 9.7.

        Every hitting stat he has is heading in the wrong direction. He does one thing – he can hit a home run, which, based on all of his other batting indicators, means that he basically runs into one every once in awhile, in a way that he he doesn’t seem to be able to repeat in any controlled way.

        And he doesn’t just strike out in an “irrational” way, Andrew – he strikes out in a league-leading kinda way, in a win-killing, rally-killing, embarassing kinda way, which is exactly the opposite of the kind of home run hitter that this kinda team needs.

        And, to follow up that body of work to date, he’s been truly awful in Spring Training, and truly awful-er in the first two series.

        And, yeah, he’s not a good fielder (check those metrics, too, and THEIR downward trend), and he is a mediocre baserunner, at best.

        IMO – if anything, Tim was trying to call Pedro out for what he has become in a more analytical and polite way. I’ll be happy to call him out for how pathetic he’s become, as a former #2 overall pick and a $6 mil bonus baby who can’t seem to put in the effort to correct his glaring, repetitive mistakes.

        Andrew – what, exactly, are you railing at, and what in Pedro’s game are you defending at this point?

        This is NOT a first-week-of-the-season issue.

        • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

          I’m arguing that he was worth a little over 2 wins last year and Walker was worth a little more. I’m arguing that he’s 26, has huge power, and, in two seasons out of three, has been roughly 10% better than the average hitter and at a position that is seemingly getting harder and harder to fill. I’m also arguing that there isn’t any better options, Brandon Inge or a platoon isn’t the answer, and after 6 games, this discussion shouldn’t even be raised. If you then say that it’s been more than six games, I want you to then explain how he had a higher OPS and was only slightly less valuable than Walker….and why that doesn’t mean Walker is “awful”, also, in your words.

          • jg941

            Andrew, this is your overall #2, bonus baby, power-hitting corner infielder.

            The fact that he’s generating anywhere near the same OPS as your typical middle infielder would be part of why he’s considered to be “awful” at this point, not an argument in support of him.

            The fact that your second baseman generates more WAR in less PAs and has virtually the same OPS, wOBA and wRC+ as your power-hitting 3rd baseman is a relatively bad thing as it relates to said 3B.

            Plus, Pedro is a much worse fielder……and I’m giving Pedro the biggest benefit of a doubt possible by using the 2012 numbers above.

            Do you want to compare the true entire body of work for both Walker and Alvarez? Didn’t think so.

            Look, he does one thing and one thing only well at this point – he runs into one every once in a while – and that one thing is NOT acceptable when offset by 180 Ks and his awful other numbers – just isn’t.

            His only other plus quality in my eyes at this point is that – despite the bonus out the window – he’s cheap for what he CAN generate. Come first year of arbitration, though, he’s got no cards left in his hand.

            Hurdle aint gonna platoon you, Petey, so please barrel up and try to make him and us a little happy, K?

  • La Pirate

    Pedro has looked terrible against lefties but its way too soon to platoon him. In fact just about everyone has looked terrible except Cutch and Marte. And I worry about this bench of Snyder and Tabata. I dont see these guys being effective on the bench or frankly starting. I would give more rope to Pedro than these guys. I hope Presley continues to hit the ball. Finally, I dont see Inge adding anything to this club and I still cannot figure out why the Pirates invested in him.

    • cdubb7

      Inge is on the DL and they might let him go when he comes back. I think they kept him for depth, but there’s a chance he won’t step foot on the field.

  • http://twitter.com/twster twster

    I don’t follow the stats so much and didn’t know how bad Alvarez was against lefties in particular. The thing that bothers me more than the excessive strike outs is he never seems to hit in the clutch. Is there a stat for that? Seems to me he kills more rallies (i.e. lets the team down) by striking out instead of getting that hit when needed to change or continue momentum. He chokes; can’t handle the pressure. And it doesn’t seem that all the defensiveness and pampering from the FO is helping him. Simple as that I think and I’ll be waiting (hoping) for him to prove me wrong as long as he’s on the roster.

  • emjayinTN

    Everybody on the team has looked bad, and I thought your best take was that it is too early to start this dog and pony show. This team was poorly prepared for the start of the season, and the buck stops at Clint Hurdle. You cannot fire 25 players and especially a former #1 Draft Pick who had 30 HR’s last year, but you can send the Manager down the road for not prepping these kids properly both mentally and physically. I know that is not where you wanted to go this early in the season, but it is what it is – you could have taken out the name Alvarez and put in any number of other names including Walker, Jones, Martin, and others. Reminds me of a kid we used to have at 3B who could not field and was less than expected at the plate and was getting paid $3 mil a year (ARAM). Alvarez is making just a little bit more than the MLB minimum, and we know that if he is traded, he will be this generation’s ARAM.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelVelaTTU MichaelVelaTTU

    That’s why they brought in Brandon Inge and another reason Gaby Sanchez was taking reps at third base. He is another Steve Pearce in terms of getting reps around the infield to increase his value.

    He should be considered a platoon player when the rest of the team has stopped doing terrible and he still struggles heavily against lefties.

    As we all know, pitchers have the bigger advantage towards the beginning of the season. I wouldn’t start worrying just yet. Pirates are notorious for starting off slow.

    On the other hand, he hasn’t stood a chance against any lefties so far this season. He’s looked absolutely terrible. He’s 0-11 this year against LHP with seven strikeouts. On the flip side, he’s 3-11 against RHP with three strikeouts. Either way, everyone is struggling. Let’s not focus on one player just yet.

    • http://twitter.com/MichaelVelaTTU MichaelVelaTTU

      2-11 against RHP, my bad

  • quikclipze

    The Pirates can’t have a platoon at every position besides CF. Some of these players need to step up and be consistent hitters, even if it’s not at a “great” level. I’ll take a guy who goes 1-4 every game over a guy that goes 0-18 and then goes 6-6 over the course of 2 games.

    It’s frustrating to watch a team like St. Louis year in and year out produce players brought up in their own system that constantly outperform the Pirates “stars”…. Who is it this year? 13th round pick Matt Carpenter? Something tells me he’ll end the season with better numbers than both Alvarez and Neil Walker.

    Frustrating

    • quikclipze

      Also, Russell Martin… 0-14 with 3 BB

      Please don’t tell me this is another “Here we go again” situation with a FA veteran

  • leadoff

    IMO, Alvarez like the rest of the Pirate lineup will start hitting soon and the first couple of weeks will be forgotten. I have blogged here several time during and after ST that this team was no where near ready, but what I saw then is slowly changing and I see improvement.
    It almost looks like they are not coached at times, Alvarez, when he is hitting, takes the outside pitch to left field, when he is not hitting he does not. Alvarez is also a victim of umpiring as are a lot of the Pirates, if he gets called out on a call 3rd strike that is out of the zone, he will swing at it the rest of his at bats and try to pull it if he is in a slump, and pitchers know this and will keep going further outside, the Pirate hitters will still swing.
    And for some reason the people on blog sites have this ridiculous notion that everytime Alvarez does not do well he is fat, get a life, he is not fat if he was who cares? He goes to the ground at third, bounces up like a rubber ball and makes his plays, that is what he is supposed to do. He runs as well as any big man around. Stand beside him once and tell me he is fat.
    The Pirates also fall under the category of we can’t hit with 2 strikes on us! This is an approach problem and this is where a coach would come in handy.
    I do not like what they are trying to do with Marte, he is up to the plate to hit first and get a walk 2nd, they want him to take pitches, that gets him in a hole and then he swings at anything, he has the tools to be a leadoff hitter, but he is not, I realize that they don’t have anyone else for that job, but why ruin him? He is easily the most talented player they have.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Here’s the thing Tim- We have noone with more upside at 3rd than Pedro currently has. Throwing at bats away to someone like Inge who shouldn’t even be on a major league team is a joke- and we have noone better waiting in the wings who can hit, or whom has the ability to play third well on a ML level. So, i mean its fine to talk about platooning him, IF we had someone worthy of those at bats. Since we don’t, I think it’s kinda a pointless article quite honestly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mike.Adamson75 Mike Adamson

    The Pirates need to go after STL 1B Matt Adams. He’s blocked by Craig and has a great bat. Nothing to do with Alvarez but not impressed with this lineup at all.

  • piratemike

    This is a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation.
    as much as I dislike this front office they have to play Pedro as long as they control him. If he goes to another team and becomes the player the Pirates thought they drafted it is an indictment of this whole organization if he fails the fans will ask why did the Pirates take so long to see this guy is a bust.
    .
    I never said this before but it is time for this owner to understand that this front office is inept and I wonder for the first time since 2008 if Bob Nutting is sincre about winning I know what he has done in the DR and the money that NH was allowed to spend in the draft and internationally but his attitude seems to be ….I put a good FO team together and I gave them plenty of money to spend it is not my fault if the team sucks….I did my job….Well if Mr. Nutting if you are a good businessman why would you let this continue? I think I can speak for the majority of fans who if they controlled the P

    • piratemike

      CONTINUE……Pirates they would have recognized that this FO is inept and would have made sweeping changes a long time ago.
      .
      note* sincere