I admit it. I have a weakness for patient hitters. I thoroughly enjoy watching a hitter take control of an at-bat and torture a struggling pitcher by refusing to chase anything out of the zone. At times, I even tend to place too great an emphasis on an individual player’s plate discipline, overlooking his hitting ability in the process. Having said that, I think Pedro Alvarez could greatly improve his production by being more aggressive at the plate.
If you have regularly watched Alvarez bat, you probably get a feeling of dread deep in your stomach any time the count gets to two strikes. There is good reason for that. Alvarez only makes contact on 67.9% of his swings, well below the league average of 80.8%. For a point of reference, Mark Reynolds (62.5%), Miguel Olivo (66.0%) and Russell Branyan (67.1%) are the only players with 400+ plate appearances to post lower contact rates in 2010. With that swing-and-miss tendency, Alvarez is in trouble in every at-bat in which the strike total approaches three. As you might expect, his two-strike stats are abysmal.
Considering the extent to which Alvarez has struggled with two strikes, it seems logical that he should make every effort to avoid getting to that point. A player with a high contact rate can afford to fall into a two-strike count. Alvarez is not that type of hitter. He needs to maximize the potential of all three available strikes in every single at-bat. I am not sure he is doing that.
O-Swing% - Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone
Z-Swing% - Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone
Alvarez swings at pitches inside the strike zone a bit less often than the average hitter does. There is nothing wrong with that in a vacuum, but the majority of hitters who take a high percentage of strikes have high contact rates. Guys like Brett Gardner and Joe Mauer can afford to patiently wait for their pitch, because they have a low risk for strikeout as they get deep in counts. The more successful low-contact hitters, such as Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard, offer at strikes at an above average rate. Staying away from two-strike counts should be a priority for these types of hitters.
Texasleaguers.com gives us the ability to view Alvarez’s pitch locations in each count. Here are the locations of every pitch Alvarez has taken to start an at-bat. As a reminder, these are from the catcher’s point of view.
Compared to your typical hitter, this is not that unusual of a graphic. Alvarez often takes the first pitch, including many within the strike zone, as most hitters do. However, from this data, it appears that he is looking for a pitch on the inner half of the plate early in every at-bat. This gives pitchers the freedom to start him off with a strike on the outer half, causing Alvarez to fall behind in the count immediately. If you look at Alvarez’s charts for 1-0 and 2-0 counts, you will see that they look fairly similar. Pedro has shown that he is perfectly willing to watch that first strike, eliminating a valuable opportunity to put the ball in play.
In Thursday night’s game against the Mets, Alvarez doubled to left-center in his first at-bat. The solidly struck hit came on a fastball on the outer half of the plate, early in the count. As Pedro grows and evolves as a hitter, hopefully we will see that type of swing more often.