Is Alvarez a Bust? No – at Least Not Yet

As much as I would like to see Pedro Alvarez sent down in order to get himself straightened out, I would like to see him succeed that much more. I do not believe that he is a bust. I think we are a couple of years and several hundred ML at bats away from being able to declare something like that.

How would you define a bust? How would I define a bust? I figure that an early first round pick should be able to help change the course of a franchise (or if the franchise was heading in the right direction, contribute to the continuation of winning baseball). The all-time Bucco leader in home runs among third baseman is Richie Hebner with 129. Pie Traynor collected over 2,400 hits while playing primarily third base for the Bucs back in the 1920s and 1930s. My belief is that Pedro should surpass the tater mark for Pirate 3B. I also believe he should accumulate at least 1,500 hits. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say 150 homers is the bust/not bust mark. I don’t think many people would be all that thrilled if that (in the vicinity of 150 homers) is where he wound up for his career. But if he hits fewer than Hebner, then I’m calling ‘bust’. And I might be late to the party.

To get some historical perspective on the start to his career, I ran some numbers at baseball-reference.com. I took a look at any player since the advent of the free agent draft that hit less than .220 in any one of his first three years in the Bigs in which he appeared in at least 75 games. There are about 300 such cases (for non-pitchers, obviously). Pedro’s 2011 season qualifies him. The group can loosely be broken down thusly:

Guys who could slug but do little else and had long enough careers to hit a lot of homers (Gorman Thomas, Dave Kingman)

Guys who were/are good defensively and offensively but had a slow start (Gary Carter, Mike Schmidt, Boomer Scott, Brandon Phillips)

Guys who lasted a long time primarily on the strength of their defense (Jim Sundberg and several other catchers)

Guys who were expected to slug, didn’t and washed out quickly or slowly (Doug Frobel, Jim Lindeman, Brad Komminsk, David McCarty)

Guys who are still active but have struggled (Justin Smoak, Pedro)

Next I ran a new report looking for players who belted 150 home runs over the same time frame (1965 to the present). So, who and how many players had a rough go of it at least once in their first three years and yet managed to club 150 career homers? By my count, there are 28. Plus Brandon Inge and Brandon Phillips would seem to have a great chance at breaking the 150 HR barrier (maybe a couple more active players that I missed). The players who spent time in the minors during the season they struggled or the season right after are in bold.

In alphabetical order:

Brady Anderson

Tony Armas

Adrian Beltre

Jay Buhner

Gary Carter

Rob Deer

Adam Dunn

Damion Easley

Ron Gant

Larry Hisle

Todd Hundley

Charles Johnson

Jeff King

Dave Kingman

Ron Kittle

Paul Konerko

Jim Northrup

Dean Palmer

Lance Parrish

Bill Robinson

Mike Schmidt

George Scott

Sammy Sosa

Mickey Tettleton

Gorman Thomas

Jason Thompson

Greg Vaughn

Matt Williams

Like Alvarez, a handful of these guys played third or came up as third baseman – Beltre, Easley, King, Palmer, Schmidt, and Williams. Plus Kingman and Scott played some third early in their career. Nearly half of them spent time in the minors in the time frame of their struggles.

So, I’m not ready to make the case that Alvarez is a bust. I believe there is still time. Hopefully he gets going soon.

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  • salempirate

    Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it appear like so many of these guys listed were purely HR hitters with low BA? If Pedro ever gets to 150 HRs, isn’t it likely he’ll be a low average hitter too? To me, I expect him to be about a .230-.240 hitter with around 15-20 HRs a year. That’s 7 years more at 20 HRs a year. For those in the know, what kind of WAR would that be? What I’m getting around to is, what kind of numbers does he need to project to be above average and is it reasonable to expect him to reach those numbers?

    Nice work and I’d imagine a lot time went into it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

       I could see him being a Carlos Pena type guy if he works out.  Still holding out for him putting it together and being more of a Ryan Howard…..fingers crossed. 

      and yes, you do tend to get light-headed up in fantasy land.

      • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

        According to baseball-reference.com, his most similar player through age 24 is Steve Buechele – a 3B who spent parts of two seasons with the Pirates in 1991-92. Players who show up as being similar to Buechele for his career include Pedro Feliz, Ed Sprague the younger, Mike Pagliarulo and Scott Brosius. Those guys all played about a dozen years. Career WAR numbers varied from 6 to 15. 

        Buechele posted a .245/.316/.394 line for his career. Good for a 94 OPS+ and 17 HR and 66 RBI per 162 games.

        If he winds up like Buechele, I would say he is a bust. Of the guys who show up in Buechele’s similarity list, most that were drafted were 5th through 7th round. Sprague was first round. Brosius was 20th. 

        Over the last five years Pena has averaged 30+ homers and 90+ walks to go along with a pedestrian batting average. I’ll take that. 

        • burgh_fan

          I actually took a short look at Alvarez’s top 10 compareables through age 24 on my little blog: http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/alvarez-comparables/

          The short story is there was one great player on the list Gil Hodges, he had an 11 year stretch where he averaged over 30 HR a year (He had an .877 OPS over that strecth). One player whop had two very good seasons, Nick Esasky and then must have gotten injured because he basically just vanished.

          Of the other 8 there were 3 players including Buechele that had avergeish careers, 3 who manged to stick around for a while despite being below average and 2 players who were just simply poor players.

          Obviously we would all love to see him become a Gil Hodges type.

          • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

            Thanks burgh_fan. Appreciate the link to your site.

            Reds fans liked to call Esasky ‘Swingin’ Nick’ because of his frequent whiffs. After his big year in Boston, he signed as a free agent with the Braves. He came down with vertigo and had to quit baseball. So, had Esasky not had to retire prematurely and assuming he had played well in 1990, I think Atlanta wouldn’t have pursued Sid Bream following the 1990 season. Perhaps 1992 would’ve ended differently. In my head, I still kind of blame Esasky and his vertigo.