First Pitch: Is the Old Pedro Alvarez Back?

Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the best offenses in baseball. This was despite the fact that Pedro Alvarez struggled throughout the year. The Pirates finished with the fourth best wOBA and the fourth best wRC+ in baseball. Meanwhile, Alvarez struggled at the plate, seeing his power go way down, dropping from a .240 ISO in 2013 to a .173 ISO in 2014. He also saw his home run rate cut in half, from 36 to 18.

The Pirates returned much of the same offense this year, and projected to have another strong group. Alvarez returned, with the hope that he’d bounce back to the 2013 version, and give the offense a further boost. But that hope seemed slim. Now? Alvarez is off to a hot start, surprising everyone, and getting people wondering “What if?”

What if he bounces back to his 2013 form? What if he can be that big middle of the lineup bat the Pirates need? What if he goes beyond that and gets close to being the hitter he was expected to be when he was drafted?

Well, let’s hold up. So far it has been 24 plate appearances and three homers. It’s a nice week, but it’s also a small sample size. And if we’re going to take the home runs and the power seriously, we’d also have to take the strikeout rate (37.5%) and the walk rate (4.2%) seriously, and neither number points to his .304 average or his .739 slugging percentage holding up.

What we can say is that Alvarez is off to a great start, and the hope is that he could at least just get back to the hitter he was two years ago.

“He’s given us some really consistent at-bats early in the season, and by far and away his best Spring that we’ve ever seen,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said. “To have that year [in 2014], that’s a challenge to every player, because he’s trying to dig in and become a very productive Major League power hitter.”

If we want to blow this small sample size up into a big thing, we might want to look past Alvarez and notice a trend today. Alvarez stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning and crushed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Josh Harrison walked to the plate to lead off the game, seeking out the fastball, and also hit a homer on the first pitch he saw. Corey Hart saw a ball in the dirt for his first pitch, then hit the next one in the seats.

It appears the Pirates are attacking the strike zone. In his first two home runs, Alvarez connected on a 1-0 pitch and a 3-0 pitch. It seems that, like others on the team, he’s being aggressive around the strike zone. And that’s only supported by this bit of research from David Manel.

Hurdle said that it’s too early to label a team when asked if this team is a home run friendly club. Maybe it’s too early for any kind of labels. Perhaps this is more about the specific pitchers they’ve seen in the first week, rather than a specific trend. But right now the Pirates look like an aggressive team at the plate that attacks early, hunting the fastballs. They’ve been a very boom or bust offense so far, which can be a side effect of an aggressive offense.

If that is the team they’re going to be, then they’ll need to find a way to be a little more boom like the last two games, and a little less bust like the first few games. And if Alvarez can at least bounce back to he hitter he was in 2013, then that’s only going to help boost this offense, and keep them one of the best in the game once again.

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**Prospect Watch: JaCoby Jones Shows Off Power And Speed, John Sever Looks Strong In First Start. Sever is one of my guys to watch this year.

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First Pitch

  • No….Alvarez is taking the fastball away where it is pitched, which is a good thing. However, the pitchers haven’t been attacking him with changeups like they did last year, but they will, and when they do, a 2 strike count on pedro is a strikeout 70% of the time

  • I am not sure that the old Alvarez ever left. It seemed like last year he experimented with just trying to place the bat on the ball to improve his OBP. This year he seems more committed to just letting it rip, which I think much better suits his skill set. I think the best career comp for Pedro is Dave Kingman. Consider Kingman’s lifetime stats over a 16 year career:
    442 HR (27.6 / yr)
    1210 RBI (75.6 / yr)
    Line: .236/.302/.478
    SO% = 24.7%
    K% = 9.2%
    Doesn’t that look like Pedro?
    Now Kingman’s AB looks like he was platooned often, as Pedro might well be (or at least should be). Yet Kingman was a valuable player, when batted down in the lineup.

    I think the best strategy for the Pirates may be to let Pedro play out his contract while Bell spends 2014 in AA, 2015 in AAA learning 1B, and then expect Bell to take over and perhaps put up better production at initially lower cost.

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  • From a blog: The start of Pedro Alvarez — three home runs in 23 at bats and a 1.072 OPS — understandably is cause for excitement. He has spectacular power. But let’s not forget he had five home runs in his first 35 at bats and a 1.027 OPS last year. Of note, in those first 35 at bats, he had six walks and six strikeouts. In his 23 at bats this season, he has one walk and nine strikeouts.

  • The worries of Pedro’s offensive demise were exaggerated due to his truly putrid showing in the field from the start. It *seemed* like his season was a complete disaster at the plate, but fact is he was less than 10% away from peak production in 2012/2013.

    Power is spiky, always have to remember that. How many deep flies into the Northside Notch that ended up as out would’ve been home runs in most other parks? At least three, four, maybe five? While his average fly ball distance did drop, it was still around Top 20 in all of the game. The power was always there. The problem is that he just doesn’t do enough otherwise to make up for it when the luck portion doesn’t work out.

    I think the lower hand positioning is really helping him keep the barrel in the zone longer, and pitchers are getting awfully close to becoming too predictable. Even a flawed hitter like Alvarez will eventually adjust a bit when he knows every pitch is going to be off the outside corner. Eventually, Starling Marte will not strike out every other at bat and will start getting on base. When that happens, we could really see Alvarez take off due to seeing more fastballs. He is who we thought he was, but when you factor in Corey Hart, that’s at least average or better production out of the position. 1B won’t be an issue with this club.

  • Do I want 36 homeruns and 100 rbi back, the answer is yes, you can keep the month long droughts and the airballs to the seats. All in all I think I will just settle on the new pedro anyone who wants the old pedro is welcome too him.

  • I’m happy. With .250. 30 hr. For el toro

  • Pedro has always been a streaky hitter. I doubt we’ll see him remain anywhere near a .300 hitter for very long. However, if he remains healthy, he’s a legit 40 HR threat.

  • pantherfan83
    April 14, 2015 1:08 am

    I noticed the agressive batting from the very first inning of the year. I recall their only being about 7 pitches to get out of that inning. Gone are the days of getting the pitch count up.

    • Is this the difference between a young, inexperienced team and now a team with experience and success? If you look at the W/K numbers, it is definitely a more free-swinging bunch right now, and opposing teams are going to have to adjust away from expecting the Pirates to take that first pitch.

      IMO, I hope we are seeing the new Pedro rather than the old Pedro. His HR’s have been to RC, C, and L which means he is trying to make contact, seeing the ball longer and better, and not trying to pull everything. And thankfully, the speedup rule has eliminated that slow motion golf swing-like thing he did after every pitch.