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.
16.5% of all Pirates plate appearances have been resolved on the first pitch of at bat. League average heading into today is 11.3%.
— David Manel (@DavidManel) April 13, 2015
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.
**All Of The Key Moments In The Pirates’ Home Opener Win. A look at some photos from David Hague, reviewing the key moments from the home opener.
**Francisco Liriano Reinstated From Paternity List, Sadler Optioned To Indianapolis. One expected roster move out of the way. As for the other upcoming moves…
**Chris Stewart And Jaff Decker Close To Completing Their Rehab Assignments. I’d expect Stewart back this week, and Decker to eventually go down to Triple-A. Well, in an official capacity, and not in a rehab assignment way.
**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.
**Elias Diaz’s Value Doesn’t End With His Excellent Defense And Improving Bat. Ryan Palencer takes a look at the other thing Elias Diaz excels at: his chemistry with the pitching staff.