Photo Credit: David Hague

Alvarez Becoming More Complete Player with Work on Defense

Pedro Alvarez has been heating up at the plate in recent weeks and has entered the discussion for a spot on the National League All-Star team thanks in large part to the work he has done with his bat.

Photo Credit: David Hague

Pedro Alvarez is “doing what a professional third baseman needs to do when he’s on defense,” according to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Photo Credit: David Hague

Pirates fans have come to know this side of Alvarez during his career in Pittsburgh. Until this season the perception about his game was that he could hit the ball a ton but his defense left a lot to be desired.

That has not necessarily been the case so far in 2013.  There have been a handful of great plays to go with the plays he is making that you expect a professional third baseman to make and that has come with the part of the equation we don’t see — the work put in during the offseason and in practice situations to improve.

“Pedro has an intense desire to be a third baseman. He works very hard, everyday, early,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after Pittsburgh defeated San Francisco on June 11. “He’s never taken his bat to the field. He wants to play third and he works extremely hard at it and you’re seeing the work play out and not just on plays but on big plays. He made a play on (Alfonso) Soriano the other night on a backhand stop with runners at first and second with a strong throw across the infield. He’s doing it. He’s doing what a professional third baseman needs to do when he’s on defense.”

Taking a look at the numbers you can see some improvement in Alvarez’s defense over the course of his career.

In 2010 he made his Major League debut and played in 94 games (totaling 814.2 innings) and was worth -15 runs saved above average (per 1,200 innings – abbreviated as Rdrs/yr, from Baseball-Reference), with a -5.6 UZR/150. In 2011 Alvarez appeared in just 66 games (549 innings) and was worth -24 Rdrs/yr with a -3.2 UZR/150. In 2012 he had more playing time than at any point prior to that in his career (145 games, 1,273 innings) with a -5 Rdrs/yr, and a -9.1 UZR/150.

So far in 2013 Alvarez has played in 68 games (595.2 innings) prior to Friday’s game against Milwaukee. In that time he has 0 Rdrs/yr and a 4.6 UZR/150.

“Those are things he expects himself to be able to do and we’re seeing more and more of it,” Hurdle said. “It speaks to his perseverance and his want to. No man wants to be the weakest link in the lineup offensively nor do they want to be the weakest link when they’re in the field carrying the leather around.”

While a Gold Glove is still probably out of the question (he makes way too many errors), there is no denying that Alvarez has put in work with his glove that has saved runs and helped the Pirates win games during the club’s current run to being tied for the best record in Major League Baseball.

“What’s nice about Pedro is not only that he hits home runs, but that he’s really talkative on the field,” Gerrit Cole told our James Santelli. “When he had those fast lefties or righties like (Yasiel) Puig, we talk about… how much space he’s gonna give me down the line. Then he definitely relays that to the rest of the infield. We’re kind of all on the same page about how we’re gonna attack this guy.”

When I took notice of all the great plays Alvarez had been making I wanted to dive a little deeper into the subject and see what prompted the improvement we can all see and also if the statistics back that up. The conclusion I came to after combining what I’ve seen with both the statistics and accounts from teammates and coaches is this: Pedro Alvarez is always going to be known for his bat, and rightfully so. What he contributes on defense will always take a back seat to his offensive production but it should not be unappreciated. He is a long way from being an elite defensive third baseman but he certainly contributes and is not a liability in the field.

This season he appears to be making more difficult plays and certainly has made more memorable plays but when you look at the statistics he projects to be slightly below average among other players at his position. That’s OK though. The Pirates do not need Alvarez to be the best defensive third baseman in the National League to win. They need him to be a hammer in the middle of the lineup and not cost the team any games with his work in the field and he has been doing exactly that.

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Tom Bragg

Tom Bragg is a beat writer and analyst for PiratesProspects.com. He is the former sports editor of the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and has worked at the Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the (Ashland, Ky.) Independent. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers all over West Virginia and he has written for The Associated Press with stories posted to several major media outlets (ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com, FoxSports.com). Tom graduated from Marshall University in May 2010 with a degree in Print Journalism. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomBraggSports

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  • leadoff

    Since I don’t pay much attention to numbers for defensive players, lets face it a lot of stats come from scorekeepers decisions and what do they know, just look at some of their decisions. The shortstop for the Brewers would have had about 4 errors if I were grading him out yesterday. I will say that Alvarez has improved a great deal from the time he was called to the majors, but there is still work to be done. I think his improvement must come with more concentration, he clearly has the skill level to play 3rd base, but until he stops making errors and easy plays he will not be a complete 3rd basemen.

    • Cato the Elder

      The defensive metrics sited in the article do not rely on the “error/hit” rulings of official score keepers, which is good. Unfortunately, a full season UZR scores is about 1/2 as reliable as a full season OPS, so in other words Pedro’s UZR/150 this season is about as representative of his “true talent” as his OPS over the last 40 games, i.e. not very. I know that makes quantifying his putative improvement difficult, if not impossible, but it is worth keeping in mind when examining defensive metrics that they require very large sample sizes (2 years+) to stabilize.

  • BostonsCommon

    I’d like to see him become a little more consistent. There are times when he gets rid of the ball quickly, and others when he takes a slide step to unleash his cannon. His arm is big enough that he doesn’t need that slide step. In fact, it seems like when he does take it, his throws are less accurate…. Just field the ball and get rid of it baby. If he does, there aren’t many people in the league who are going to beat his arm.

    • BostonsCommon

      Anyone notice that slide step, double pump right before Pedro airmailed his throw to first in the top of the 14th yesterday that allowed Segura to reach?

      That’s the exact play I was talking about. Just Mr. Martin made sure it had nothing to do with the outcome of the game..

  • buster09

    I saw Pedro in AA ball. I just watched Miguel Sano for several games,in AA also. If you want to see a third baseman who has a long way to go towards looking like a professional infielder,Sano is your man. He made Pedro at that level look like Pie Traynor ! I can’t imagine this guy was actually talked about as a SS originally.

    • BostonsCommon

      His bat is probably gonna put him in the bigs even if his defense isn’t quite there yet. Kid is putting up numbers that make you look past any defensive issues.

  • leadoff

    Sano is probably still in AA because he needs to improve his fielding..

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