A Look Back at Pedro Alvarez’s Career With the Pirates and a Look Ahead at First Base

Last night the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered Pedro Alvarez. Whether it came from a non-tender, or a trade later in the off-season, the decision to move on from Alvarez was pretty much set in stone. Nothing is different about this morning when it comes to the off-season plans for the Pirates. They’re still going to be looking at an upgrade for first base, and I don’t think they will be stopping at their current options. The only thing that has changed is that Alvarez is now officially off the roster, instead of expected to be off the roster.

I wanted to take a look at the first base situation this morning, and what the Pirates could do going forward. But first, I wanted to take a brief look back at the Pedro Alvarez era one last time.

The End of an Era

Alvarez was the first big draft pick by Neal Huntington, and he immediately represented a change. The previous General Manager, Dave Littlefield, actively avoided spending in the draft. There were a lot of bad decisions during Littlefield’s drafting tenure, and the one good decision — Andrew McCutchen in the first round in 2005 — was because his scouts begged him to take McCutchen.

The bad decisions all capped off in 2007 when Littlefield passed on top draft prospect Matt Wieters — a Scott Boras client who would demand a huge bonus — and went with a signability pick in Daniel Moskos, who was seen as a lefty reliever who could make the majors quickly. What made matters worse was that Littlefield then committed a lot of money to Matt Morris a month later to upgrade a team that had no shot of winning. That money would have been better off going to the draft.

The Moskos/Morris fiasco was pretty much the final straw for Littlefield. And when Huntington came along, he immediately showed that things were different, with Alvarez being the first sign. The Pirates didn’t make Hail Mary attempts at trying to win with the poor teams they had in 2008-2010. Instead, they increased the draft and international budget, and they weren’t afraid to go after the big bonus guys and enter some tough negotiations, even if they came down to the wire.

In hindsight, and maybe you could have argued this at the time, Buster Posey would have been the much better choice. But the Pirates were basically handcuffed by the Wieters decision the year before. Alvarez was the top rated prospect, represented by Boras, and expected to fall to them at second overall. If they would have taken anyone else, it would have been seen as the same old story, with the Pirates afraid to negotiate with Scott Boras, and unwilling to go for the best talent on the board.

This isn’t to say that Alvarez wasn’t expected to be a good player. He was the highest rated prospect in the draft, and he was expected to be a guy who could carry his team in the future as a middle of the order bat. He was arguably the most anticipated prospect to come through the system in many years. McCutchen ended up the better player, but there simply wasn’t the same hype with McCutchen, as he cemented his team leader ability after jumping to the majors.

On a personal note, Alvarez was so highly anticipated that he was a big reason I started this website. He was slated to play in Lynchburg, VA, which was about 40 minutes from where I lived at the time. I started this site in part to provide a place for live reports of seeing Alvarez.

I don’t really have much insight to give on Alvarez as a prospect. I saw him live maybe 6-7 times before he moved up to Altoona. I didn’t start expanding coverage and going to see other teams until late 2010, at which point he was already in the majors. The only thing I can recall was that he had some strikeout issues, had a tendency to roll over the ball and ground out to second, and I didn’t once see the amazing power that was expected out of him. He did show some power in Lynchburg, but I wasn’t in attendance for any of those games.

Maybe this was all foreshadowing the future, as those problems ended up being problems for Alvarez in the majors. He did improve in the minors, obviously, as you don’t make it far doing what he did in A-ball. But he never became that anchor in the middle of the lineup, or a guy who could carry a team. At his best, he was a good compliment to the lineup, and a guy who could change the game with one swing, but that didn’t quite make up for his other issues.

The overall time that Alvarez spent in Pittsburgh was a mess. He was one of the most polarizing figures that you could find. Either fans loved him because of the home run power, or they hated him for rational and irrational reasons. The rational reasons were that he had poor defense, didn’t quite live up to expectations, and was inconsistent in his career. The irrational reasons ranged from anger over him not playing winter ball or going to mini camp (which stems from the idea that those can do a significant amount to help a player develop), all the way to hating that he wore his hat over his ears.

There were also complaints from the media side because he hated doing interviews, and that probably helped fuel the irrational anger. I experienced that myself on many occasions, including one point this season when I was waiting to interview him following a game in which he hit a key home run. He never showed up at his locker, but was working out in the weight room, occasionally stepping out and looking at the slowly disappearing media group, only to step back in. I eventually left, as did everyone else.

From the media side, that kind of stuff can be annoying when you’ve got a job to do. That wasn’t a one time thing with Alvarez, and it led to a lot of the anger from the media side of things. I never let it impact me, simply because that’s part of the job. Alvarez wasn’t the first player to actively avoid an interview with me. He won’t be the last. In any of those cases, I just get my information elsewhere, and the player ultimately doesn’t have his input added to the story. But I also didn’t have to deal with Alvarez on a daily basis, and I don’t have the specific game-related story requirements that mainstream outlets have, so I can understand if other members of the media were more frustrated and impacted greater by this. Still, that was never a reason to change the perception of Pedro Alvarez, the player.

The best way to describe Alvarez’s time with the Pirates is to call it a roller coaster. On draft day, he was expected to be the face of the franchise. After he signed, there was controversy that he signed after the deadline, which was really just a ploy for Scott Boras to renegotiate his deal and get a better deal than Buster Posey received. He struggled a bit in Lynchburg, then took off in Altoona. He played well in 2010, and his debut provided a lot of hope, including this big moment in August that year, which had you dreaming about all the possibilities in the future, while suffering through a 105 loss team.

The 2010 success didn’t last, as Alvarez struggled in 2011, getting sent down to the minors on a few different occasions. When covering Spring Training in 2012, I can remember countless radio interviews and questions surrounding one topic: Should Alvarez go to Triple-A to start the year? The Pirates added him to the active roster out of Spring Training, which was controversial due to the struggles the year before. He ended up having a good year, and followed that up with another good season in 2013.

The 2014 season rolled around, and Alvarez once again struggled. The offensive struggles weren’t as drastic as 2011. He had a .717 OPS, which was down from his .770-.788 range when he was at his best, but not close to the .561 OPS in 2011. The big issue here was that he developed a case of the yips at third, and could no longer make the throw without putting the lives of everyone sitting in the stands behind first base in danger. This led to him getting replaced at third by Josh Harrison, and led to him moving to first base.

The offense bounced back in 2015. His .787 OPS was just one point below the career best he put up in 2010. Unfortunately, his defense at first base was so horrible that it made him a replacement level player.

The frustrating thing about Alvarez’s career is that there was never any clear reason for his struggles. He was good in 2010, and then horrible in 2011. The strikeout and walk rates were exactly the same in both years, but the power mysteriously disappeared in 2011. His 2012 season was exactly the same, in terms of strikeouts and walks, but the power returned. There was never any answer as to why he just stopped hitting for power in 2011.

Then there’s the defensive struggles late in his career with the Pirates. He was always a guy that was a risk to move to first base in the future, but that was due to his size and the potential for conditioning issues. No one would have guessed that his arm, which was a plus tool when he could throw accurately, would lead to the switch. And yet, mysteriously, he could no longer make the throw from third base once the 2014 season rolled around.

The struggles in 2015 were somewhat understandable, as he was at a new position, and didn’t handle it well. However, you have to wonder why he struggled so much. His issue at third base was throwing, and he didn’t have a problem fielding. His move to first base was a disaster all around, to the point where he couldn’t even make a toss correctly.

A temporary loss in power. A sudden throwing issue at third base. A total lack of any kind of infield fielding abilities. And none of them came with any kind of answers as to why the problems suddenly showed up.

That’s what makes the Alvarez era so frustrating. His upside was supposed to be huge, and he was supposed to lead the team. He fell short, which wasn’t an issue, because he was still a good enough player when he was at his best. But he was never consistent, and the problems he had could never be explained.

What made it more frustrating is that Alvarez was fun to watch when he was on his game. When he hit a home run, it was unlike any other home run you saw. The sound it made. The distance it traveled so quickly. It was like hitting a golf ball with a tree that you’re using for a bat. Other players hit long home runs, and hit a lot of home runs, but no one ever could replicate that dense wooden knock sound off the bat, where you just know it’s gone immediately.

The Pirates will now move on, and the Alvarez era is over. He wasn’t the leader of the franchise, although he certainly helped the last few years, highlighted by his impressive series in the NLDS in 2013 that helped push the Pirates to a deciding Game 5 against the Cardinals. It’s easy to point out why he didn’t reach his upside: the strikeouts. But there are no easy answers for the random struggles he had along the way. Without those, we’d have a much different story this off-season, looking at one final year where Alvarez is a below-average defensive third baseman who can make the throw to first, and whose consistent offense makes him a 2-2.5 WAR player. Instead, we move on to discuss a way to upgrade first base, now that Alvarez is gone.

The Future at First Base

The Pirates currently have Michael Morse, Jake Goebbert, and Josh Bell on the 40-man roster. Bell is the future at first base, but isn’t going to be ready at the start of the year, and won’t be ready until mid-season at the earliest. That’s not a Super Two thing, but due to actual developmental issues with his game. He is also learning first base, and like Alvarez, he has really struggled with the change. You can understand why he has struggled, since he’s never played the infield before. But there is still a lot to work on. He improved during the season, but only from a level of zero positional knowledge to being a bad option at first base. If the Pirates brought him up now, they’d be getting Pedro Alvarez’s defense again, in a best case scenario.

Offensively, Bell has a lot of raw power and some of the best pure hitting ability in all of minor league baseball (this assessment comes from multiple conversations about him with scouts) due to some amazing hand-to-eye contact skills. He is much better from the left side, where the swing is smooth and the power comes easy. As I’ve written many times over the last few years, there are some issues with the swing from the right side. The power doesn’t come easy there, and the swing is awkward, with a two part movement that leaves him too top half heavy at times, with no incorporation of the lower half in the swing. His hands are so good that this approach can lead to a good average, but he’d have a difficult time hitting for power consistently. I have seen flashes where the swing from the right side looks smooth, and shows some power potential, but that’s not consistent.

Bell made an adjustment to his swing from the left side in Indianapolis this year, and the results came almost immediately. He adjusted his leg kick — something he had been working on in Altoona earlier in the year — and the result was that he started hitting for more power. We’ll need to see more of that in 2016 to show that it wasn’t just a small sample size, but the results so far are an encouraging step.

Bell isn’t an option on Opening Day because his defense is a wreck and he still needs to fully tap into his hitting abilities from both sides. Fortunately, as we saw with the adjustment in Indianapolis, all it takes is the right change, and things can suddenly click. The Pirates will hope for that to happen next year, as they need Bell for the future at first base. This potential for a sudden improvement is also why I’m not worried about Bell’s fielding or hitting from the right side just yet. That’s why he’s in the minors, to develop those issues.

Until Bell arrives, the Pirates currently have Morse and Goebbert. They’re not limited to those options, since there are still two and a half months until Spring Training. I’d expect them to add more options this off-season, and a few interesting names hit the free agent market yesterday when Chris Carter and Ike Davis were non-tendered. I love the power potential from Morse, and feel he can bounce back from his down year. That said, I think a safe play would be to have another option available, in the event that Morse doesn’t bounce back.

Goebbert doesn’t project to be that option. Instead, he looks like depth out of Triple-A, replacing Andrew Lambo, who was lost to the Athletics earlier this off-season.

The truth is that it’s not going to be hard to upgrade over Alvarez. He was replacement level last year, so even if the Pirates got a bad hitting version of Morse as their replacement, they’re not going to lose much value. Still, you’d like to upgrade the position, especially when the Pirates could see some fluctuation at other positions. I’d be very surprised if the Pirates left their options at just Morse and Goebbert for the start of the year.

  • I wish Pedro never would of been in the home run contest. It really messed up his swing after the all star game in 2014. I think the Pirates gave up on him too early at first base. Flame away!

  • Pedro Alvarez, causing PP comment section heat, even pirate posthumously.

  • Tim, this is an exemplary article: thoughtful, factual, insightful, and even a bit personal. I appreciate the holistic and respectful view of Mr. Alvarez’s ups and downs with the Bucs. However checkered his career, he provided lots of entertaining moments and lots of discussion fodder. I’ve enjoyed watching him play, and I wish him well.

  • So, after Pedro starting most of the games at 1b last year, does anyone think Cutch was satisfied with the FO finally committing to a full time 1b?

  • That August game in 2010 is one of my best baseball memories. It was about a week after I returned from Iraq, I was on a date, it was a fireworks and concert night and Pedro blasted a massive walkoff homerun that that the whole place going crazy. It was the best game I ever went to until this season when Polanco walked it off against the Cards to send them into the All-Star break, that crowd was amazing to be in.

    • I was there too with my kids. I think it was George Thorogood playing afterwards. Great game and a great memory. That’s why I will never dog on Alvarez. He can do something special.

  • I hope different coaching gets his head right and he ends up in a few more HR derbies, so long as it’s not in a Cardinals uniform.

  • Spot on. Well done Tim! I’m going to miss those dingers, but nothing else. It would be nice if Morse could step up and hit for some power again. It’s most definitely there, he just needs to translate it to games.

  • The uncertainty surrounding Bell and when he will be ready makes it tough to know just how much of an investment they need to make in first. All the speculation is on Bell being ready come June but that is far from guaranteed.

  • I always felt Pedro played hard and gave his best between the lines but I have questioned his commitment to being great. From my vantage point a thousand miles away he never did anything above and beyond to make himself great. Last year when he knew he was going to play first he didn’t go out of his way to prepare. I did question him when he chose not to go to winter leagues when it was clear he needed more ABs against quality pitchers. He always chose to go back to Vandy and work out with his buddies. now its possible that Vandy has the best work out program for baseball players in the world but if I am Pedro and its clear I have issues I am working with the pros to get things right I am not going back to college. I really wonder if he truly ever was committed to his craft. I personally think he cost himself millions because I think he could have been great but he chose not to be.

    • Please provide me with reference supporting your claim he refused to play winter ball – or that he was ever asked to do so. I have been looking for this for at least three years and nobody has any – they just ASS U ME….

      When he was told he would be moving to first in 2014 Huntington on his Sunday pre game show commented on how much extra work Pedro was doing to try and improve at first base – coming in early taking hundreds of ground balls

      Hurdle commented on his post game in 2014 that they had asked Pedro to try and use all the field and drive the ball to all fields – that was after a game when he hit a HR to deep left Center.

      I would argue that this hurt his swing and his power. The man is strong – I thought he should try to hit 30+ HRs at PNC down the right field line – and put 5-10 a year in the river.

      • Do you actually believe everything Huntington says? He does his best to build up his players and the value of his players. It was widely reported that he was asked to go to winter ball after his disaster of a second season and he chose to rework his swing on his own. It was widely reported that he did not want to move to first base. After those reports came the reports that the Pirates were OK with him working on his swing on his own (I believe it was with Vandys hitting coach) and working on his defense on his own. What were they going to say? Were they going to trash him and his value by suggesting there player didn’t take his craft serious? Of course not. The pat answer was always Pedro is doing what we ask on his own. My answer to that was it didn’t work so what was he doing on his own? As I stated I didn’t follow him around during the off season so I can’t say for sure I know what he did however he chose not to work on his craft with the team and now hes not on the team after hitting 27 HRs and having his best BA year since his rookie season. Just an FYI I think it was a bad move at this time to dump him. I think he will have a good to great year. Very interested to see what players we replace Pedro with if any.

  • A real shame that things did not work out better all around, for Pedro and for the Pirates!!

    The walk-off HR that Tim has posted was really one of those symbolic moments when you could see the Pirates starting to turn things around – even from all the way over here in Australia.

    Too bad things did not work out better. It goes to show what high expectations go with being a No. 2 overall draft pick – but let’s all remember that that year’s No. 1, Tim Beckham, has not exactly set the world on fire. When you look at that year’s draft class, only Buster Posey has been a true star.

    All we can do is wish Pedro all the best for the future, when he was on his game he was electrifying.

    Hopefully he’ll land somewhere where he can focus on hitting only and not let the fielding issues be a distraction (obviously as a DH somewhere in the AL).

    And hopefully the Pirates can find a good and affordable option for 1b until Josh Bell is ready – based on what Tim has said here, given the work he understandably sitll has to do on his fielding, it may not be until some time after Super 2 in June…

  • I’m not entirely certain how WAR is calculated, nor do I particularly care. But it seems to me there’s something fundamentally wrong with a mechanism that concludes a player who hit 27 homers this season and has hit as many as 36 in the past is a statistical wash just because he also committed 23 errors in the field.

    I’m not saying that isn’t an appalling number. I’m just saying that without going back and figuring out exactly how many of those errors led directly to a run, I don’t see how they cancel out 27 dingers — each of which produced AT LEAST one run.

    Has Pedro lived up to expectations? Unquestionably not. Am I frustrated by his inability to consistently execute something as simple as an underhanded toss to the pitcher? Absolutely. But I also recognize the Pirates managed to win 98 games last season with him as their primary first baseman, and I fail to see how that number is going to be equaled, let alone exceeded, with him playing elsewhere.

    Mike Morse is a quality bench player, possibly even a platoon candidate. But he’s a step backwards from Pedro — even with all of his warts. And Josh Bell is undoubtedly the Pirates’ first baseman of the future. But he won’t even be a Major Leaguer until mid-season at the earliest, and who’s to say he’ll immediately be as productive then as Pedro is now?

    So what’s the answer? Spend the $8 million you would have paid Pedro on a starting pitcher who figures to be no better than Burnett and/or Happ were last year and still leave a gaping hole at first base? Use the money to sign a replacement first baseman knowing that $8 million on today’s market won’t buy you what Pedro would have given you for the same money? Or maybe you package some of your prospects and trade for a first baseman who’s either going to fall short of Pedro’s production or, if he exceeds it, block Bell’s promotion.

    Pedro is far from a perfect baseball player, and I’m willing to accept that maybe the Pirate brain trust has hatched a scheme to somehow turn this situation into chicken salad. But until I see it for myself, it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that the only thing standing in the way of the Pirates taking out a proven first base insurance policy at least until Bell is ready to replace him is 8 million of the dollars we were always promised they’d start spending when and if the team ever became successful.

    • I’m confused by your comment. You say you don’t care how WAR is calculated, but you’re asking (maybe inadvertently) to explain how WAR calculates certain values.

      I think WAR is a good guide. I don’t think it’s a stat that should be taken as the lone determination of a player’s value. But if I’m picking one stat to give a player’s value, I’m picking WAR over HRs. Both stats include homers, but WAR goes well beyond just one stat which tends to be over-rated from a value perspective.

      • I’m not necessarily singling you out. I think you’ve bent over backwards to present a balanced case. I’m really referring to people who just blithely cite Pedro’s low WAR number as evidence his production — errors and all — can be easily replaced. They can’t.

    • There has been a bit of research lately that suggests the positional adjustments – essentially value given or taken from a player based on position – undervalues sluggers, who typically play 1B or DH. So yes, there’s probably some play there, and WAR itself is an imperfect tool, but in the end the defense really was *that* bad.

      Regarding the salary, other options, and depth…the Cards did just tender Brandon Moss, projected to make almost exactly as much as Alvarez and be worth just .2 WAR better over the same number of plate appearances.

      It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision to move on from Alvarez, but money absolutely was a major factor.

      • Do teams take a players wRC and UZR and use that as some +/- like in hockey?

      • Buried under a slagheap of sarcasm, that was essentially my point. I recognize Pedro has significant flaws, but they shouldn’t blind us to the fact that he hasn’t kept the Pirates from becoming an elite team or to their need to have at least a moderately competent player manning first base until Bell arrives and begins to produce at a Major League level.

        We can argue over whether Pedro is that player, but it’s a fact that, having released him, we’re now in the market for a suitable replacement, at least in the short term. Unless, that is, the Pirates intend to open the season with a platoon of Morse and Goebbert, which strikes me as a recipe for precisely the sort of slow start that’s doomed this team the past three years. And it just bothers me that the only thing keeping us from throwing someone with whom we’ve already shown we can win 98 ball games back out there is the sort of money other teams wouldn’t think twice about paying to avoid such a dilemma.

      • Of course money was a major factor, but his defense was the real reason he was let go.

    • Valid question but …I would like someone to take the time to determine how many “games” Pedro actually cost. As a first baseman, the errors were just the tip of the iceberg.
      He was an unreliable fielder, so when the infield of bounced a throw to him, he would miss it or not have his foot on the bag – resulting in errors for his teammates but not him.
      He could never figure out when to field balls to his right, leaving him with the ball, Walker behind him, and the pitcher unable to cover first. These memory lapses aren’t counted as errors.
      Anecdotally, it felt like his errors and misplays resulted in unearned/earned runs that cost us many of the games that I watched. And the HRs resulted in a lot of meaningless runs that I can’t recall impacting the winner.

  • K. Time to move on. Cliff Lee anyone!? Never had surgery docs recommended when he imploded in 14 but did spend 18 months cashing Philly checks watching Judge Judy. Worked for AJ Burnett.

    Perfect 1 year $7m investment as trade for Pedro?

    • JoseGuillensArm
      December 3, 2015 4:39 pm

      37 year old with torn elbow ligaments…yeah he’ll pitch 10 more years no doubt

  • What you don’t mention about Pedro was that coming out of college in 2008 most of the scouts (70%) didn’t think he could stay at 3B. I don’t know what you saw defensively in Lynchburg, but it could not have been good. We also tend to think his throwing died in 2014, but he also led the league in errors at 3B in ’12, and ’13. Despite this, the Bucs waited until ’14 to switch him eve though we had no solution at 1B either. I do think he was handled poorly on the defensive side. Offensively, the only power he showed was out of the park with the bases empty. What a lot of people don’t realize is that he was 7th or 8th on the TEAM in doubles the last 3 years. Genuine power should men gap power and he never showed it. He gave the Bucs no choice.

  • Unless the Pirates go the trade route…sacrificing prospects until the arrival of Bell…or are satisfied with Morse, free agency seems the route.

    Aside from Chris Davis and, maybe, Napoli, every other name on the FA list is…for all practical purposes…either the retreads no one should feel comfortable with, or is carrying serious baggage.

    So, the heck with it, let’s kick the tires on Dae-ho Lee.

    • piraterican21
      December 3, 2015 4:43 pm

      There is always chance that he is brought back……If Corey Hart could get $5mm contract to provide the team with nothing, the Pirates could bring Alvarez back around the same price to be DH an Power bat off the bench

      • It’s time to move on from Pedro. The organization has done every thing it can to show its disinterest and I don’t think Alvarez wants to come back. Not knocking the guy, but he’s just not a good fielder. He belongs in the AL and the best way he’s going to maximize his earnings is to slide into a DH role…most likely, for the rest of his career. Sure, he’ll be required to slap on a glove once every two weeks to spell the regular first baseman, but…other than that…his days between the lines are over.

        As for Lee, he, most likely only is ever looking to get one contract. If the Pirates can get him for 4/16…I’m okay with that. He only needs to be adequate for a half to full season. After that, he’s bench depth for the rest of his career…or a nice trade piece if he shines in the limited capacity the Pirates will use him in.

  • Cool article. 6 degrees of Pedro Alvarez gave us P2. Makes it all worth it.

    I’m excited about Josh Bell and his potential as a hitter for average. Sounds like he can work a count, draw a walk too.

    • Unfortunately that AAA power “surge” (.157 ISO) was mostly built on doubles and triples. Still homered just once every 73 PA as opposed to once every 85 PA in AA.

      The swing path needs to change, plain and unfortunately not so simple. He’s got plenty of raw power, but it’s awful hard to hit the ball over the fence when you hit so few fly balls.

      • I’m good with doubles for now. Stack the hits, keep the OBP up and the Sons of Rene Gayo should knock him in.

        • Doubles power *sounds* fine, but for comparison, Gregory Polanco had 50 extra base hits last year. That’s a lot! He also only posted a .125 ISO, which would have been the worst from a qualified first baseman last year if not for the remains of Joe Maurer still playing baseball games.

          Maybe Bell turns into a huge OBP guy and it doesn’t matter, but this is a tough profile for a defensively limited first baseman. At least he’ll be free.

      • Since when is hitting line drives worse than fly balls?

        HR’s are overrated…look where it got Alvarez.

        The Royals just won the WS w a lineup full of contact hitters.

        • When the impact of the fly ball is more valuable than the line drive? This isn’t a foreign concept.

          I’m not saying Josh Bell should go all Chris Davis, but yes, absolutely, more fly balls with his power mean more extra base hits and home runs. Which is good!

          • I agree with your premis more fly balls equals more HR’s and XBH’s, but it also comes with more SO’s, too. Baseball seems to be going back in time to valuing the players who put the ball in play more than the Alvarez types.

            Of course, guys like Goldy, Votto, Trout, etc who can hit HR’s and spray line drives to all fields will always be most desirable, but how much of their game is God given compared to taught? As you said, not an easy task to learn to put more loft in your swing.

            • And see, that’s what frustrates me so much about Bell!

              He’s not Goldy or Votto or Trout, but the kid has an amazing hand eye skills for a human of his size. I truly believe he has the innate physical skills to still make above average contact. A few more k’s, sure, but when you’re starting from a base of barely striking out 10% of the time in your very first trip through AAA a few more k’s are just fine.

        • Also, a lofted swing trades grounders, not line drives, for fly balls. Paul Goldschmidt has one of the prettiest power strokes in the game and still sprays line drives to all fields.

  • I disagree even if they got bad hitting version of Morse they won’t lose much value. Morse had -.8 WAR last year in about 175 PAs before coming over from Miami. So if he replicated that in his time before Bell arrives that wouldn’t be good. He was -1.8 WAR in 2013. When he’s been bad, he’s been REALLY bad. And those #s are far off from replacement or slightly above replacement.

    • 1) It’s nearly impossible to hit HR’s in Miami 2) He hasn’t received consistent time since he was with the Nationals (and had a great year).

      The one thing I do agree with though, is that when he’s bad he is very very bad. Swing gets long at times, but as long as he doesn’t have 10 errors by June we are good.

      • I’m not going to let him off the hook in Miami because of homeruns. He had a nearly 32% K rate and an OBP of 276. He was really awful. I don’t expect that version of him but I’m merely pointing out it’s not impossible to get that version because he’s been pretty terrible 2 of the last 3 years(before he arrived here in 2015)

        • I don’t disagree. Just saying we only have to deal with the guy until June. Then he becomes a phenomenal platoon and bench bat.

    • The funny thing about that whole “should be easy to replace” deal is that they haven’t come close to actually finding that player since 2012 Garrett Jones.

      Not to mention Morse himself was the *third* string first baseman last year while Pedro the Terrible was on the team, you know, starting.

      • Yes but I give 60 seconds before someone starts typing “well we won 94,88,98 games with those first basemen so it’s nothing to really worry about”.

        • Ha. Too late.

          I’m with you. That narrative is getting old. Held them back more than anytjing,

      • We have had so few competent 1B over the years, it’s really pathetic.
        Jones had some decent years but played more OF than 1B.
        The last 1B with a WAR >1.0 for a season was Adam LaRoche (+1.3 in 2008).
        The last 1B with > 2.0 WAR was Kevin Young in 1999. Kevin freakin’ Young!

        • Hey, 1999 was a very good year…that was the season Al Martin posted a 1.9 WAR.

          Not sure who Al was married to that year, but that’s okay…don’t know that he’s aware either.

  • He just had to go. If we want to be an organization that consistently improves that man cannot be on the roster. There has to be at least 10 first basemen in the Dominican Republic that are just as good.

  • If Alvarez could have fielded even a little, he would still be here. 6 seasons, 683 games, 133 errors, or an average of an error every 5.1 games. Negative UZR every year, and a “best” season that still came with 27 errors. One of the worst defensive players I have ever seen.

    • To be fair, in 2014 he only committed ONE fielding error. All the rest were on throws.

      Had he not developed the yips, he’s probably still playing 3b for us.

  • I think you lose the clubhouse if you start the year with Morse and Goebbert. Unless the team spends some cash on players and/or meaningful extensions (ie Cole) there will be a problem with the clubhouse IMO.
    It may not be firstbase, but it had better be on players. We tend to often overrate our players in the burgh, as is often seen when they do little elsewhere when they leave. Pedro however could buck that trend. I can see something awful like Milwaukee signing him and having to watch his homeruns and that stupid slide thing…. Hopefully NH has something significant brewing…

    • Start of this post is silly.

      • Might not “lose” the clubhouse, but I’m sure guys won’t be thrilled either.

        • too bad…they’ll get over it…..I hear they shower well.

          • This is such an enjoyable subject to broach on a baseball blog, because there is no number or equation on Fangraphs that can quantify clubhouse mood and chemistry.

          • Almost as bad as ” Yinz need to put Walker at 1st. Problem solved.”

            Without any consideration to Neils pending free agency, the fact he’s never played there, or you moved your top hitting prospect to 1st already.

            No, everything’s fine. Pour more water in Cutchs glass.

            • The only thing I would say is that Walker had little time at second before starting there in the MLB so he has shown to be a quick study. If Kang is ready Harrison at second with Walker and Morse splitting first would be acceptable for a few months. The whole thing relies on Bell being ready come late June-July. walkers bat just isn’t good enough for a full time first baseman.

              • It’s amazing all the shuffling, trades, nontenders…all the assets they’ve spent half assing it over there, and we are still no closer to any surefire solution.

                • You like Bell that much, huh?

                  • C’mon. They’ve been screwing the pooch on 1b, before he was even drafted.

                    • Scott Kliesen
                      December 4, 2015 5:30 am

                      That’s true.

                    • Well put AD, Scott. Since the years of Kevin Young (mid-90’s), the Pirates have been a team where 1B has been a guess or a hope that somebody would step up. Or, we could pay two or three guys cheaply rather than draft or trade for a solid hitting and fielding 1B.

                      We have Catchers, Pitchers, middle infielders, and OF, but we just cannot seem to pull the trigger on drafting a 1B. The last opportunity I can remember was when we could have drafted AJ Reed out of Kentucky with our 1s pick the year he was selected as the College Player of the Year. Houston drafted him in Round 2. In 2015 Reed dominated Hi A and then did the same in AA with 30+ HR’s on the year. What position did NH play in college? 1B – go figure!

        • I think fans make far more out of that entire idea than players ever do. If they dropped Pedro+Walker+Melancon and didnt add anyone, sure. But thats really not going to happen in any scenario.

          If there is one area where this team hasnt really had any issues, its with chemistry. Credit the players for that, and credit Hurdle for keeping his guys focused on the goal.

          Losing games is what brings to focus clubhouse issues. Win 97 and its loose and fun and quirky. Win 82 and guys grumble and different personalities are suddenly the reason they lost.

          • “But thats really not going to happen in any scenario.”

            I hope you are right.

            • Idk why anyone would doubt that. You dont give away that much talent and get 0 potential ML contributors back.

              Even the most cynical, jaded fan cant actually see us trading Walker and Melancon and getting 0 useful ML talent back. Not a current ML player, but a guy likely to be used next year. Low value for those guys still nets useful product.

              • It goes back to our conversation yesterday on first. NMR listed several barely above replacement level players that have manned first base since NH has been around. All in the Morse/Goebbert mold.

                Sure they made add a left handed bat superior to Goebbert. But when it comes down to it, will he be anything better that’s been there recently?

                I can see where both fans and players can look at it, like “Been down this road before”. Meanwhile you’re burning up years of affordable Cutch, Cole, and Polanco.

                • While i think its clear they could try to upgrade, i dont think the notion that it wastes time for those guys makes any sense.

                  We really arent burning anything up, we are contending right now. Our not winning a WS or division titles has as much to do with timing of wins/injury/variance/poor play/good play/etc etc that i dont see it as a good correlation.

                  We’ve gotten 1 WAR, 0 WAR, half WAR, etc out of 1B to varying degrees of team quality. Last 3 years have been contending and not wasting any talent, but coming up short in big games. Game 5, WC games, etc. Blame Cole as much as anyone for some of that, which isnt to say he’s not up to the task.

              • I think the (rational) doubt comes down to timing.

                You know how risk averse these guys are with payroll, and Tim’s shown that even without Pedro’s arb they’re still over $90m. If they want to move Melancon or Walker’s projected salary before reinvesting it, they run the very real chance of missing out on realistic targets. Not like there’s a huge list of free agents that fit their constraints.

                And why exactly is it cynical and jaded to question how much ML talent Walker and Melancon will return?

                • I never said it was cynical to question how much, but cynical and jaded to question that they will get any ML talent.

                  Wondering the level of what they get back seems fair, but wondering if they’ll just go pure salary dump and only bring back AA talent seems clearly overly cynical. I see no actual reason why its likely they dump two somewhat above average players for 0 ML help.

                  They started last year over 90, so they are at a point right now where they could keep both and only slightly increase OD payroll from last year. Considering they’d be doing it due to 2 guys about to leave, not totally out of the question if the market return is 0 guys close to helping the ML team.

            • You make comments like it’s 2007.

    • The “lose the clubhouse” idea is very much fan generated, and not in reality with what actually happens in a clubhouse. In this case, that would be because the guys in the clubhouse view Morse as a better player than the way he’s perceived by Pirates fans.

      • I’ll take your word they view him as a better player than fans do(not sure what consensus of fans is). I do know Steamer views him as below replacement level.

        • Its not a great projection no matter how you slice it, but his WAR would come up if that projection had him playing more than 61 games.

          If he does well, he’ll play more than that. If he doest, id bet good money his wRC+ is worse than 97 or he got hurt.

          • Maybe. If you think about it 61 games should get us pretty close to bells arrival. Id morse is -.1 or -.2 in a 10 week span I guess I could live with it. I just don’t want to be giving up nearly a full game in that time span.

          • WAR is cumulative.

            Additional at bats and innings with a performance that yields a negative WAR will not make him more valuable, they’ll make him less.

            • I sort of thought same thing but wasn’t sure if that was the case. Thanks for clarification.

            • Wrong. Offensive WAR is cumulative, defensive WAR is a rate stat.

              • No, it’s not. Defensive WAR is based on UZR, and every play either adds or subtracts to UZR. If in 10 games your defense adds up to -1 runs, that same defense in 100 games will cause -10 runs. It absolutely does scale with opportunities, and therefore is cumulative.


                • It’s a rate stat, not a counting stat.


                  “How to calculate UZR: The baseball field is divided into 78 zones, 64 of which are used in UZR calculation. (As Lichtman explains, infield line drives, infield pop flies, and outfield foul balls are ignored. Pitchers and catchers are not included.)

                  Here’s what is calculated for each zone:
                  the out rate and the percentage of balls in that zone that turn into
                  outs. The league average out rate is then subtracted from the player’s
                  out rate — if this number is negative, it means the player is worse than
                  league average. If it’s positive, it means he’s better than league

                  That rate is then multiplied by the number of balls that
                  hit in that player’s zone. This yields a Zone Rating. To obtain the run
                  value, it’s multiplied by the Zone Ratings that are calculated for
                  each zone the fielder covers, and then summed. This sum is a simple,
                  unadjusted UZR.
                  It is then further adjusted for park factors, batted ball speed, which
                  side of the plate the batter was hitting from, the pitcher’s
                  groundball/flyball ratio and the number of baserunners and outs at the
                  time. The adjustments are made because each of these variables can
                  significantly affect the average out rate in a particular zone. Using
                  run expectancy charts, these rates can be converted to runs.Got all that? Yes, it’s rather complicated.”

                  • You are fundamentally missing the point:

                    NMR wrote “Additional at bats and innings with a performance that yields a negative WAR will not make him more valuable, they’ll make him less.”

                    Your argument that it is a rate state backs up NMR’s point perfectly. More opportunities times a negative rate means lower WAR.

      • He barely played! He’s been hurt a lot of the last 4 years!

    • Not sure I understand this.
      We Pedro a big clubhouse guy?
      Was he in Hurdes “inner circle”
      or whatever they call it?

      I was always under the impression
      that he was a very private person
      in the clubhouse.

      • Pedro was by all accounts a big bat as part of the lineup, for a relatively small cost.
        It wouldn’t be the first time that reports of players being dissatisfied with ownership support of winning was made public. Face it, McCutchen is in his window for leading this team and I’m sure he wants players to help him get to a championship level.
        There is still the chance the NH puts some solid/ improvement roster adds before the season starts – but if he doesn’t – if it’s all fix er uppers and risk taking then what message does that send to the clubhouse…. regardless of how Pedro was received in the room.

    • Steamer, didn’t they also predict Pirates would win 83 games last season?

      Steamer ain’t exactly the written word of God.