First Pitch: Pedro Alvarez is Currently Posting the Best Numbers of His Career

The discussion surrounding Pedro Alvarez in Pittsburgh never seems to be a fully rational one. There are probably a lot of good reasons for this, starting with the fact that he was the first big pick of their rebuilding efforts under Neal Huntington, the first big prospect who was expected to lead the team to being a contender again, and he hasn’t exactly lived up to those expectations.

Alvarez isn’t an MVP candidate, but when he’s on, he isn’t a bad player. The problem is that when he’s on his game, a lot of fans don’t appreciate that game. And when he’s off his game, things get ugly.

To that first point, Alvarez is having a good season this year. After this weekend, he is hitting for a .233/.322/.473 line in 149 at-bats. He has a career high 12.1% walk rate, a career low 24.2% strikeout rate, and his .240 ISO matches his career high, set in 2013. Those numbers represent your classic three-true-outcomes hitter, where most at-bats end in a walk, a strikeout, or a home run.

Yes, if Alvarez keeps this up, then the Pirates basically have Adam Dunn at first base. That makes me wonder why certain arguments keep creeping up this season, under-valuing Alvarez and his future.

First, there’s the demand to rush Josh Bell to Triple-A, and eventually to the majors, all because people are tired of seeing Alvarez as the starting first baseman. This, despite the fact that Alvarez currently ranks fourth on the team in wOBA, wRC+, and ranks third in OPS. Josh Bell is definitely the future at first base, but Alvarez is there right now, and is playing well. At what other position would you see fans calling for the replacement of a player who is producing and under control for this season and the next? And all while rushing a top prospect in order to replace that player.

Then there’s the creative solution of moving Neil Walker to first base next year and trading Alvarez. This is despite the fact that Walker currently has a .688 OPS, and while he has a higher WAR than Alvarez, that’s mostly due to his performance and positioning at second base. Moving him to first would negate the positive value he has going right now, not to mention it would replace a productive hitter with a much more expensive and much less productive hitter.

Granted, the last time I saw the Walker-replacing-Alvarez call was about a week ago, when Alvarez had his numbers lower, and Walker had his numbers higher. Even at that point, Alvarez was ahead on the stats sheet.

There is a legit argument to be made that Alvarez can’t be counted on for consistent production, even if he does have a big year this year. He had similar numbers in 2013, then struggled in 2014. I will point out that he actually increased his walks, decreased his strikeouts, and his power stayed at a good level, although nowhere near the elite level he needs to be at to justify the low average. Still, the offense wasn’t enough to mask the poor defense, which really set the tone for his season, and probably led to a lot of the issues fans have with him today.

This would be a concern, but it’s a concern with every player. It’s also not nearly a guarantee that Alvarez struggles. And considering that he’s in a contract year next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up having another big season like he’s starting to have this year, rather than seeing his numbers slump.

For now, Alvarez is putting up some of the best offense on the team. Any discussion of speeding up Josh Bell’s timeline, or moving Walker to first base next year need to consider that this would currently hurt the Pirates a lot more than it would help.

**Prospect Watch: Big Night For Josh Bell, Garcia Continues to Dominate

**Sunday Notebook: Roster Configuration, Infield Depth and Jose Tabata

**Neal Huntington Discusses the Upcoming Draft

**Stephen Tarpley Joins West Virginia, Will Start Monday

**The Pirates Could Add to Their Catching Depth With Taylor Gushue

**Morning Report: Two Intriguing Arms, But Will Either Fall to Pirates?


  • Alvarez is currently on the “good” of his good and bad swings which rival any manic depressiion patient. He is being patient, and hitting the ball where its pitched, making contact on some of the offspeed pitches……. but in two weeks it’ll swing back.

  • More impressive to me than the overall rate stats is that his underlying plate discipline skills appear to be genuinely improving, and quality of contact clearly isn’t an issue.

    Easily has seen the largest improvements in laying off pitches out of the zone (-5.4% O-swing), Contact Percentage (+4.2%), and Swinging Strike rate (-3.6%) of all Pirate regulars. Also posting career high batted ball rates of line drives and home runs per fly ball while averaging more than 300′ on flies and having the 6th highest average exit velocity of any hitter in baseball. Biggest flaw he has right now is the number of ground balls he’s hitting.

    Pedro isn’t going to be a star and will always be an incomplete hitter, but he most certainly is improving and he most certainly is an asset to this club. Not exactly lavish praise, especially for a guy we all wanted to be much more, but this club would be doing a heck of a lot better if every guy could say the same for themselves.

  • I guess the stats in the game have passed me by. I am 63 years old and I do understand terms such as WAR, ERA, BA and others from the past but for the life of me I have no idea what WRC+, WOAb and others of that kind are. Perhaps you can explain them for us old timers. When I try to read the analytic articles I am lost before I get past the first sentence. I know there are others out there that are like me, so come on and provide a user guide to the new terms. Who knows maybe I will be able to appreciate the meaning of them.

    • wRC+ looks to quantify total offensive value while controlling for things like park effects and league (AL vs NL).

      wOBA, by contrast, measures a hitters overall offensive value in looking at relative value of certain offensive situations/events. It basically takes batting average (which takes all hits as basically equal) and doesnt treat all hits as equal or all walks as equal etc. Im no expert so anyone with tweaks to this can be more exact.

      Depending on how big into it you wanna go, FanGraphs has a glossary section in the top right part of its webpage that lets you select certain stats such as wRC+ and it gives a usually lengthy rundown of what it is and what it looks at specifically.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 25, 2015 10:13 am

    He is just very inconsistent, and the overall production is below what should be expected given where he was drafted, his pedigree, and his obvious physical attributes. He keeps you yearning for more than what you get with him. When he is on, the Pirates offense is as good as any. When he’s not and he’s leaving runners on base in bunches, the team struggles.

  • Wanting the Pirates to promote Bell to AAA has nothing to do with Alvarez. Bell has 245 ABs at AA level, Polanco had 243 AB when he was promoted from AA to AAA. Bell has a higher BA and OPS in relatively similar sample sizes. At AAA, Hunter Morris hitting under .200 and Osuna and Simpson are blocked at lower levels. The Bucs should promote Bell to begin June.

    • Red: Good points; the tie to Alvarez is that Bell is the heir-apparent eventually. Leads the team at AA in batting average, RBI’s (29) even though he only has 1 HR, and also very impressive is the 21 Walks to only 14 K’s.

      I think playing up with the AAA team with guys who have been in the majors and others on their way up, will be very good for his personal and defensive development – the talent level in Indianapolis this year is exceptional. You are kind saying that Morris is under .200 – he is also under .150, and Morel has not been much better.

  • No mention of the -.7 dWAR which basically completely negates his offensive value?

    • Even with Pedro being not great on defense, arguing that below average defense completely negates offensive value at 1B wont get ya far. 1B is always gonna be an offensive first spot, so unless you are muffing plays left and right the offensive value is the majority. Hit 30 HRs at .230+ and you can play below average defense.

      • Won’t get you far… Ok so his -25.7 uzr which is at least accurately “descriptive” so far and is not even close to the second worst 1b in mlb doesn’t matter because only offense matters at 1b??? Got ya

        • Argument was “only offense matters” thats a false argument that ignores the point. While his poor defense has hampered his overall value, at 1B defense matters the least of any position. Thus, even a poor defender (like Pedro early on) can generate plenty of value via hitting well.

          No player that hits .240 with 30 HRs and a decent, say .320, OBP will be called a bad overall value player at his position because of defense unless he is the worst 1Bmen in a decade. Pedro is rough on defense, and a net gain for this team thanks to some of his best offense of his career so far. Defense ta 1B will not kill all of your value if you hit well.

  • Pedro is a poor man’s Adam Dunn. The problem is Pirates fans had an expectation Pedro was going to come in as the Savior of the franchise.

    He’s an important complimentary piece to the team, just like Walker, Marte, and everybody else not named McCutchen. Best to just appreciate him for what he is.

  • Pedro on is really on, pedro off is really off, pedro at first is fine for now, nuff said.

  • I mostly think too much ink or bandwidth is spent on Alvarez, for the reasons Tim identified, 2nd overall pick, Scott Boras, wears his hat funny, didn’t want to work with Kevin Young, and the throwing errors title belt. However I’m a hypocrite so I’ll add my contribution.

    Going into the season if the Pirates received overall production near Alvarez’s 2010, 2012-13, solid fielding, and a platoon partner they might have solved the proverbial 1B hole.

    They currently have one of those things, Alvarez overall line looks great but he is also facing fewest LHP of his career, and I have to wonder about that walk rate when half the walks came against Mathney’s Cardinals, who no one would consider a tactically astute manager.

    If Alvarez continues this offensive pace, dramatically improves his fielding, and some semblance of a platoon partner is found the Pirates might climb from 30th in overall production from 1B.

    • Andrew: Scott Boras is reason enough that Pedro will be available during or immediately after this season. That he is or will be available is one of the worst kept secrets in sports. If the Pirates get what they think is adequate, they will make the trade; if not, he will be playing 1B again in 2016 for the Pirates.

      I am rooting for him to do well to help the team effort to make the playoffs again, and also to enhance our trade negotiating position.

      • I hope he does well too, he can be a power threat lower in the lineup and has the tools to be at least an average fielder at 1B.

        The unnecessary stuff that always falls in, I try to ignore.

  • Tim: First, promoting Josh Bell to AAA is not rushing his development. Second, being in AAA does not mean that he has to be promoted to the majors in 2015, or prior to at least June 2016. His hitting has never been in question, although some think it is necessary to hit more HR’s, but he has some work to do at 1B defensively. We have NOBODY at 1B in AAA and he should be there playing right beside Alen Hanson, Jaff Decker, and Elias Diaz – three others who I think will be in Pittsburgh eventually.

    • One 325′ HR in AA , and you think he is ready for AAA ? I root for the kid, he is well spoken, bright, and from what I hear, is working hard. Hopefully he finds the power and defense to succeed at higher levels, but right now he is exactly where he needs to be.

      • I couldn’t have said it better. Until he hits 10 homers in AA, I don’t want to even HEAR talk about him getting promoted, its ridiculous.

  • michaelbro8
    May 25, 2015 4:23 am

    I think most fans view Alvarez for what he potentially could be; not what he is. I know the Cardinals would love to see him shipped off to the AL, so that’s good enough for me. I personally would love to keep seeing him hit baseballs into a boat in a Bucs uni

    • My problem with Pedro is the inconsistency. Two years ago, Pedro would go on a tear and be the teams best hitter for a week and then be pretty bad for two weeks. Last season and so far this season, we havent seen that and he has been mostly bad. Granted, he is being more consistent in not having hot streaks and cold streaks but just lukewarm hitting doesnt cut it for me. Im not saying to rush Josh Bell either because Id rather him be a more finished product ready to contribute than struggle more than Pedro is now. Its not that I want to see Pedro completely off the team, despite my twitter bashing of him when he Ks in a big situation. It is more that I want Pedro to finally learn how to hit a little better. Give me a .250 30 HR guy and Im happy.

      • In this day and age, a .250 30 HR guy is tough to find…and expensive

        • I agree 100% but thats all I want from Pedro and he disappoints more and more each year. I guess expectations are too high for him. Sad but the Pirates need a big bat who can also hit for decent average.

      • Pedro on pace for a 25-30 HR season with .230-.240 avg and one of his better OBP’s of his career. 114 wRC+ and a slightly lower than career level BABIP. So the guy is putting up good power, better than usual OBP, and a quality wRC+ with lower than normal BABIP….and he has been mostly bad?

        Pedro may still be streaky to a certain degree, but overall through 2 months he is having a fine year. Less Ks, more BBs, 30 HR pace power.

        • Yes. He is a bad hitter, Id almost say poor at this point. For Pedro having a “career” year, doesnt mean its a good year. His highest HR total was 36 and he isnt projecting to match that. Close but not there. His walk rate is higher and K rate is lower but are they still good enough for the team or better for Pedro. This is where the real argument comes in to play. Is he playing well enough to contribute to a team that is contending or is he doing better than he has been doing which is great for him but is it still good enough for the Pirates team?

          • Yes. Yes, he most certainly is good enough to be contributing to a contending team.

            This isn’t a difficult question.

          • Alvarez is currently hitting significantly better than the First Basemen of four Division-leading clubs; Cards, Rays, Astros, and Nationals.

            I truly do not understand how one could watch these first 44 games and conclude that Pedro Alvarez is not contributing to their success. If this guy was named Joe Smith folks would be slobbing all over him.

            And by the way, 2013 HR/PA rate? 17.03. 2015 HR/PA rate? 17.0. #projecting

          • .240 with 30 HRs and a .320 OBP is a bad hitter. Gotcha, 121 wRC+ to this point. No big whoop, not like he is being a crucial hitter and helping the team win games.

            Of all the years to be like “yeah, Pedro is bad” this is the dumbest time to be vocal about it. Pedro is a big help to a team trying to contend for a division title, particularly since this team doesnt have a hitter with his pure power. Its a skill set that, when playing like he has been so far, changes the bottom of our order. Dont get to pitch around the 5 man and get to Pedro, because Pedro is hurting other teams.

      • I’m definitely not wanting to rush Josh Bell- I think he needs a lot of work before i’d even put him on a diamond in the majors. a lot.