The education of Pedro Alvarez

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.

Background

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

































































Year Team Age AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SO AVG OBP SLG
2009 Lynchburg (A+) 22 241 38 60 14 1 14 55 70 .249 .344 .490
2009 Altoona (AA) 22 222 42 74 18 0 13 40 59 .333 .419 .590
2010 Indianapolis (AAA) 23 238 42 67 15 4 13 53 66 .282 .369 .542

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





































Year Team PA ISO BB% K% wOBA
2009 Lynchburg (A+) 282 .241 13.1 24.8 .347
2009 Altoona (AA) 258 .257 13.2 22.9 .416
2010 Indianapolis (AAA) 274 .260 11.7 24.1 .382

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:



















































G H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
June 14 7 0 5 .152 .216 .196
July 25 24 7 16 .255 .333 .521
August 27 24 3 16 .25 .339 .396
Sep./Oct. 29 34 6 27 .306 .355 .577




























































PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wOBA LD% GB% FB%
June 51 7.8 47.8 .043 .280 .192 12 48 40
July 105 10.5 30.9 .266 .293 .370 15.4 40 44.6
August 109 11.9 41.7 .146 .396 .329 21.4 50 28.6
Sep./Oct. 121 7.4 25.2 .270 .359 .395 10.7 46.4 42.9

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:













































































































































Starting Pitcher Team
RHP Homer Bailey Cin
RHP Johnny Cueto Cin
RHP Edinson Volquez Cin
RHP R.A. Dickey NYM
RHP Dillon Gee NYM
RHP Tommy Hanson Atl
LHP J.A. Happ Hou
RHP Livan Hernandez Was
RHP Dan Hudson Ari
RHP Tim Hudson Atl
RHP Ian Kennedy Ari
LHP John Lannan Was
RHP Barry Enright Ari
RHP Kyle Lohse StL
RHP Derek Lowe Atl
RHP Jason Marquis Was
RHP Adalberto Mendez Fla
LHP Trever Miller StL
RHP Brett Myers Hou
RHP Jenrry Mejia NYM
RHP Bud Norris Hou
RHP Mike Pelfrey NYM
RHP Jeff Suppan StL
RHP Chris Volstad Fla
RHP P.J. Walters StL
RHP Jake Westbrook StL
LHP Tom Gorzelanny Chi

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.




























PA BB K AVG OBP SLG
vs. LHP 129 13 45 .228 .302 .342
vs. RHP 257 24 74 .270 .339 .519

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:

imageimage

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.

Projections

According to our THT Forecasts, we have the following projection for Pedro Alvarez in 2011:























PA H HR RBI K BB AVG OBP SLG
623 141 29 93 171 60 .254 .326 .474
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Comments

  1. Brad Johnson said...

    Alvarez was the most impressive player I ever played against as a kid. He was a nasty 3b for the Bayside Yankees.

  2. Vince Caramela said...

    Realizing that is a whole other article, I was afraid to come to any concrete conclusions since we are dealing with small sample sizes but I do like Alvarez’s ability to handle the fastball (esp. from RHP). 

    With that said, I will expect him to struggle early on since scouting reports will be calling for opposing pitchers to throw a lot of offspeed pitches at him. However, patience isn’t one of his virtues… looking over each month of his MLB career he has averaged a P/PA of 3.96 in June, 3.68 in July, 4.05 in Aug., 3.86 in Sep./Oct.  It’s possible the 4.05 is an outlier so we could be looking at someone (at least early on in his career) who doesn’t take enough pitches in the first place to counter some of the offspeed and secondary pitches designed to fool him and get him to swing outside the zone.

    I still love the power.  It’s just going to take us another full season to get a better understanding of his benefits/limitations.  He can, however, be a very – very streaky hitter.

  3. scott said...

    When I watch him play, his bat is too slow for a good fastball. He can tear up an 88 mph fastball, but he cannot get around on 93+ heater. I think he will have decent home run power, but not among the elite home run hitters. Add to that, the fact that he will never be surrounded by any legit power hitters, I don’t think that he will put up big career numbers. The only positive I see – if Andrew gets on base often, pitchers will be throwing from the stretch. That will drop their mph a little, which could allow Pedro to drive the ball better. I see him with 28 hr and 82 rbi for 2011. Sorry that I can’t be more optimistic. I certainly hope that I am wrong.

  4. Neither Scott Nor Pirate said...

    While I’m not saying Alvarez can’t turn around 93+ heat, pirate’s clip of the magical walk-off home run doesn’t prove anything.

    According to the graphic, that pitch clocked at 83 mph. Clearly an offspeed pitch per the video, too.

  5. pirate said...

    yeah, apologies, my wording of that made it seem as if I was trying to say that the walk off was on a 93+, I only referred to that HR as a good example of his overall power ability. Bad wording, my bad.

    But as was kindly mentioned by justin, pedro has numerous highlights where he turns on some serious fastballs.

  6. pirate said...

    @scott. I dont know where you are getting any of this from. He can and has gotten around on 93+ mph heat. Let us not forget his magical walk off home run. Second, you dont know he will be in pittsburgh his whole career. Third, you dont know if pittsburgh will get more power hitters in a couple years. This sounds like a line of reasoning from the 1950’s.

    Pedro is going to top 30 this year, the thing that will take him from good to great will be his ability or inability to learn how to hit lefties at a semi-decent rate.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=10738065

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