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.
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.