First Pitch: Alvarez Crushing Off-Speed Pitches

Pedro Alvarez hit two home runs today, both of which came on off-speed pitches. That’s been the case with all of his home runs this year, with three homers coming off the changeup, and one coming off a curve ball. On the flip side, Alvarez has struggled against fastballs this year, with a late swing always putting him behind on the pitch.

You would think that teams would pound the strike zone with fastballs because of this trend. In fact, I had a few people suggest that on Twitter. But that hasn’t been the case. It’s been the exact opposite.

Heading in to today’s games, opposing teams have thrown Alvarez a fastball 41.9% of the time. That’s down from 52% last year. The most common secondary pitch? The changeup. Alvarez has seen a changeup 22.3% of the time.

The good news is that Alvarez hasn’t looked overmatched against the off-speed stuff. That’s the only thing he’s hitting right now. And he’s hitting well lately.

At the start of the season, Alvarez was 1-for-20 with 12 strikeouts. Since that point he’s 6-for-25 with six strikeouts. Both are small sample sizes, and saying one is legit and the other is not wouldn’t be a fair assessment. However, moving away from the numbers, and going with the eye test, there are some encouraging signs with Alvarez.

For the last week, Alvarez has been hitting the ball hard. He has three home runs in that 25 at-bat span, and has been hitting the ball hard even when he’s not hitting homers. Today he missed two other home runs. His double almost went out, and a fly ball to the left field warning track in game one probably would have been a homer in any park other than PNC.

On the season, Alvarez has a 47.6% fly ball percentage, which is almost double his 25.3% rate from last year. His ground ball to fly ball ratio last year was 2.18. This year it is 0.90. Even in his 2010 season he didn’t have that good of a ratio, with a 1.15 mark.

Alvarez is hitting the ball hard, and putting it in the air. That’s leading to home runs, currently one every 11.25 at-bats. He’s on pace for 405 at-bats this year, and that current home run pace would put him on target for 36 homers on the season.

The power is great, but Alvarez still needs to answer some questions. He needs to get on base more often. His 2.6% walk rate is low. He doesn’t have to put up an unreal rate. His career 9% walk rate would be an improvement.

Then there’s what Alvarez is doing when he isn’t drawing walks. He’s cut down on the strikeouts in the last week, and his average has gone up a bit. He was never going to maintain his extremely low BABIP. Throughout his career his BABIP was around the .330-340 range. Even if he jumps up to his .272 mark from last year, that’s a major improvement.

A .272 BABIP this year would have given Alvarez a .222 average at this point. That’s not exactly good, but it’s better than his .156 average. If his strikeouts would have been around 30%, rather than 42%, that average would have jumped up to .255. His 25% rate from the last week would have put that average at .269.

Alvarez needs to keep up his pace from the last week, limiting strikeouts, adding a few walks, and continuing to hit for power. He could have a shot at a Carlos Pena type season, which would be huge for the Pirates with their pitching staff pitching the way they have been at the start of the season.

The power would be the key part of his game in that scenario. That brings us back to the fastball discussion. Why is Alvarez crushing off-speed pitches, but struggling against fastballs? His bat speed has been brought in to question, which would explain why he is late on fastballs, but hasn’t had trouble with off-speed stuff. But what if it is the amount of off-speed stuff he is seeing? What if the heavy dosage of off-speed stuff has him late on the fastball?

It’s something to watch going forward. If he keeps crushing off-speed pitches, we probably won’t see them thrown almost 60% of the time. Then, when pitchers are throwing more fastballs, we’re going to get our answer. If it’s a bat speed issue, Alvarez will continue to struggle. If it’s an issue of being late because he’s adjusting to off-speed stuff so much, then it will be easier to make that adjustment once he starts seeing more fastballs.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates split a double header with the Rockies today. James McDonald pitched a gem in game one, but didn’t get any run support. The bats broke out in game two.

**Prospect Watch: Gerrit Cole was a victim of poor defense, while Zac Fuesser pitched a gem in West Virginia.

**There’s a new promotion on the site which gives discounts on the Pirates Prospects books, based on how well the prospects perform. The details can be found here. Gerrit Cole struck out five batters, which means that today you can get $5 off the Pirates Prospects books by using the code “COLE”. The code is only active for one day.

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About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • nickmid13

    Tim, after seeing those HRs today, I don’t think it’s a drop in bat speed.

  • Lee Young

    We can only hope that Pedro is going to be hitting ALL types of pitches.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Keep it up Pedro.  You’ve got a lot of stench to wipe away.

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

       I still don’t understand exactly why everyone was as down on him as they were.  It wasn’t just a matter of people feeling let down, people have been downright angry.  Starting last year he hadn’t even had an entire season of AB’s, but because he had a big month to finish 2010, everyone expected Ryan Howard in 2011.  I feel as though people would have still been down on him last year if he had a relatively healthy season (which he didn’t) and hit 20 HR.  There’s no reason he deserves to be booed every time he strikes out.  Yes, this is a big year for him to show that he can get over last year, be consistent, and be closer to what everyone expected him to be coming out of Vandy rather than the loser he was last year.  However, I’d rather wait and see what happens while pulling for him, instead of riding his ass and waiting for him to fail.  I have enough on my plate in my real life that I want my sports fan-dom to remain as positive as possible. 

      No one ever broke out of a slump by letting it dominate their existence. 

      Btw, John Lease, this isn’t really directed at you, just simply responding to what I perceive as a day-to-day attack on ole-Pedro.  He may not pan out, but I’m failing to find a reason why I should be rooting against him.

  • Mexpirate

    Well a positive sign from the second game was that his double came from a 95mph fastball and against a lefty. lets go Alvarez, lets go bucs!!!!!

  • jfffrsn

    Is it just me or has Pedro just started doing that full swing thing between pitches like he used to do?

  • salempirate

    Could this just be a hot streak?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Wozniak/636028904 Steve Wozniak

    For ALL batters with at least 40 PA, Pedro has faced the lowest percentage of fastballs.