The education of Pedro Alvarezby Vince Caramela
February 25, 2011
On Oct. 1, 2010 Pedro Alvarez played his second to last game of the 2010 season on the road against the Florida Marlins. Alvarez led off the top of the second inning against Adalberto Mendez, a 28-year-old Chicago Cubs castoff recently called up to fill in the last few rotation spots. After getting ahead 3-1 in the count, Mendez tossed a 91 mph four-seam fastball that drifted over too much of the plate. Alvarez pulled it over the right field wall for his 16th home run of the season.
During the month of September, Alvarez was on fire hitting .306/.355/.577 with six home runs and 10 doubles in 121 plate appearances. Another stat that got a lot of baseball fans excited was his isolated power score (ISO) of .270 during his final 29 games. This is a stat that measures the “true power” of a hitter, and many believe Alvarez' to be a harbinger of great things to come.
When we do a quick Google search on Pedro Alvarez, we come across a few basics: He was born on Feb. 6, 1987 in the Dominican Republic; he and his family moved to the United States when he was only a year old, settling in Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican area of New York City. To make ends meet, his father juggled an assortment of jobs including mattress store delivery man and cab driver.
The story goes that as a young boy Pedro learned how to swing a bat in the basement of a neighborhood building. He and his father would go down there every evening before dinner and hit soft toss up against an old mattress leaning up against the wall. Sometimes the boy would be lucky enough to hit some real baseballs; other times he and his father had to settle on rocks and wadded-up paper. During these drills, his father tried to make him hit from both sides of the plate. Pedro would appease his father and move over to the right side and do it just enough to be proficient at it, but the lesson never took and the boy would eventually stay with his natural left-handed swing.
Alvarez put on a show in batting practice, hitting a couple balls out while showing professional level bat speed and loft power. He has an excellent load and coil and really gets his strength into his swing. During games, Alvarez looked very anxious to put on a show and was jumping out in front of the ball and hitting around it. He’ll learn with experience that he’s the type of hitter who can wait back on the ball and let it get to him and still be able to drive it hard to all fields. (2004 Underclass National Showcase)
Alvarez’s raw talent would eventually blossom during his time with the Bayside Yankees, an elite travel team that is followed closely by many professional scouts and college recruiters. In 2005 Baseball America would rank him among the top 100 high school players in the country.
After his senior year of high school, the Boston Red Sox took him in the 14th round of the 2005 amateur draft. The team offered him a signing bonus close to a million dollars, but Alvarez kept his commitment to attend Vanderbilt University.
At 6’2” and 225 pounds Alvarez has a Major League body that sits comfortably on a solid and bottom-heavy frame. His thick trunk and torso are the source of his lightning-quick bat speed and immense power, though it is also a concern for those scouts that think he will eventually have to move off of third base.
Swing Grade – A – The Vandy third baseman has a Major League-ready swing right now. He can drive the ball from pole-to-pole and has the work-ethic to continue tweaking and perfecting his approach. —Scouting report before the 2008 amateur draft.
After three years at Vanderbilt and two summers with Team USA, Alvarez gathered numerous accolades , solidifying his status as possibly the best amateur player in the United States. In June of 2008, he would be drafted second overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Signing Alvarez did prove to be a bit difficult but on September of 2008 he signed with the Pirates on a contract worth over $6 million.
The professional years
The entire offseason, I was shut down. ... It's widely known that when you shut down the running game, you do gain a few pounds. That's why I'm doing everything I can. —Pedro Alvarez responding to criticism about his weight during the 2009 minicamps.
During the offseason Alvarez suffered from tendinitis in both of his knees, which kept him from effectively working out; however, the earlier warnings from scouts about Alvarez’s frame and the possibility that he may have to move to first base or DH in the near future did manifest itself at the early stages of his career.
Regardless of his early weight issues, Alvarez performed well during his first spring training but was, as expected, told to report to High-A Lynchburg with plans to have him promoted to Double-A by midseason.
Minor league basic stats
Despite some signs of being streaky as a hitter, Alvarez consistently displayed enough power to counter any concerns about his high strikeout rate.
Minor league extended stats
Alvarez did began to show trouble against left-handed pitching in the minors (although his small sample size of 62 at-bats in Triple-A did make him look good against the southpaws; he hit a triple slash of .323/.408/.661) but the real story was what to make of his strikeout rate and how those numbers would translate at the big league level.
In 2009, Alvarez split his time between two levels and struck out 129 times in 540 plate appearances—one strikeout per 4.1 PAs. In Triple-A that number would remain at 4.1 in only 274 plate appearances. Former St. Louis Cardinals scout Anup Sinha, made the case that Alvarez stabilizing his strikeout per plate appearances should be seen as a sign of improvement, since Triple-A is a valuable stop for young hitters to learn how to handle junkball pitchers and veterans crafty enough to nip at corners.
June 16, 2010
To no one's surprise, Alvarez was finally called up to join the Pirates at home against the Chicago White Sox. He would go 0 for 2 with a walk and a strikeout.
Below is a breakdown of Alvarez's stats per month:
As for Alvarez’s hot streak last September: Many will warn not to make too much of a young player’s late season accomplishment. This reasoning is usually based many teams padding their rotation with Triple-A arms along with occasional long relievers to replace younger and more talented pitchers who are shut down.
Looking over the starting pitchers Alvarez faced in September:
To be fair, I don’t see a whole lot of “bottom feeders” populating this list, but Alvarez did have the advantage of seeing a lot of right-handed starting pitchers.
Looking at his splits at the major league level, we see a wide margin between his current abilities vs. right-handed and left-handed pitching.
In September, Alvarez saw exactly 130 pitches thrown from left-handed pitchers. Compare this to the 335 pitches thrown from righties.
Below are charts provided by Texasleaguers.com that show the location of pitches thrown to him by lefties during the final month of last season:
Obviously, sliders gave him the most fits from lefties: He swung and missed 46.7 percent of the time in September and 48 percent overall.
Among righties, change-ups scored the highest rate of swing and misses overall, coming in at 39.3 percent. However, after Sept. 1, he saw 74 change-ups averaging 82 miles per hour. Call it budding skill or small sample size luck, but Alvarez decreased his swing-and-miss percentage on these pitches to a more manageable 29 percent.
According to our THT Forecasts, we have the following projection for Pedro Alvarez in 2011:
Vince has his own blog, The League of Transparency, and has also written for SBNation.