Pedro Alvarez is quietly having a good offensive season. After hitting his 22nd home run of the season tonight, Alvarez has a .770 OPS, which ties his 2013 mark, and falls just behind his 2010 and 2012 totals. The results this time around are a bit different than the 2012-13 seasons, even though they lead to the same result.
Alvarez struck out about 30% of the time in his first four seasons, before dropping that to 25.4% last year, and seeing a slight increase to 26.6% this year. He doesn’t have as many home runs in counting numbers, but his 17.0 AB/HR ratio is in line with 2012, when he hit 30 homers, and just behind 2013, when he hit 36 homers. The key difference this year is that he’s not getting everyday playing time, which lowers his counting totals. But despite the limited playing time, he is seeing a lot of doubles, with his current mark of 17 falling eight shy of his career high, and five shy of his 2013 totals, which came in his best year for power.
Despite all of this, Alvarez remains a streaky hitter. It was only a little over a month ago that Pirates were exploring an upgrade at first base, when Alvarez was hitting for a .744 OPS on the season. He had an .852 OPS in August, with six home runs, and now he’s suddenly looking like the hitter he was a few years ago, and it’s looking like he’s the guy for the job.
In the last month, I’ve also noticed a trend with how Alvarez is perceived. Around the trade deadline, Pirates fans wanted him gone for a bag of balls. By the middle of the month, I made a comment about how he might end up building some trade value if he continued what he was doing in August. The reaction? A lot of comments about how you can’t trade him, and that he’d make a perfect stopgap until Josh Bell arrives.
This reaction is probably stronger now that Alvarez has carried his hot month into September. And that’s really the best indicator that Alvarez is approaching a sell-high situation. You never want to see a guy leaving when he’s a sell-high candidate, mostly because he’s going to be at his top value. At that point, you start to dream about whether he can keep this up, or possibly get better.
That’s what happened last year with Travis Snider. He had a strong second half, which didn’t match up with his career, but gave some hope that he was finally breaking through as a starter. The end result was that he struggled and regressed back to a bench player, although the risk was that he might have actually found lasting success which would have made that trade look a lot worse.
Alvarez is a bit of a different situation. His numbers this year are in line with his career. If you look at the last four seasons, this year doesn’t really look like an outlier. In fact, his 2014 season is the year that looks like an outlier. The downside to this is that he’s still a streaky hitter, and doesn’t have any defensive value at first base, making him a replacement-level player. But if teams are willing to pay for the offense, then his numbers this year might give him some value.
The situation is a bit complicated for the Pirates. They need a first baseman for at least the first half of the season in 2016. The current version of Alvarez would be great during that time, with the hope that he has a prolonged hot streak during the first half. Then again, they could go with Michael Morse and try to deal Alvarez away. The risk would be assuming that Morse can bounce back to his 2014 success, while hoping Alvarez doesn’t find the big breakout elsewhere. There’s also the popular idea of making Neil Walker the first baseman, although Alvarez has better offense, there’s no guarantee Walker would have better defense to make up for that offense, and Walker projects to cost $10 M or more through arbitration, which would be well beyond what he would be worth at the position.
The big question is whether Alvarez would have any value with a strong finish to the year. I’d think he would. It might not be huge value, but it might be enough to get a Snider-like return. The Pirates could then roll the dice with Morse for half a season until Bell arrives. But if Alvarez doesn’t have any value, then it wouldn’t make much sense to deal him for nothing, when he could give them a second option at first base until Bell arrives, allowing the Pirates to play the hot hand for when Alvarez runs into one of his slumps.
**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Walks Five in Shortest Career Outing. Not a good start for Glasnow, who I wrote about last night, saying that he’s not ready for the majors.
**Pirates Place Casey Sadler on the 60-Day DL to Make Room For Call-Ups. Almost all of the expected moves, with Pedro Florimon expected to join the group tomorrow.
**Pirates Sending Seven to Arizona Fall League, Including McGuire and Meadows. There’s a good class going to the AFL, and I’m hoping to cover them live this off-season.
**Garcia and Suchy Take Home SAL Honors, Diaz Named Top IL Catcher. Yeudy Garcia finishes his breakout year with a few SAL honors, including top pitcher.
**Morning Report: Tyler Glasnow, Yeudy Garcia and Some Baseball History. A very interesting history note from John Dreker.