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
**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.