Let me try to understand something here.
Pedro Alvarez is playing horrible this Spring. I don’t think anyone can deny this. He’s also coming off a down year last year.
Matt Hague had a good year in Triple-A last year, which was mostly carried by a strong six week stretch in June and early July — the only part of the season where he was better than an .750-800 OPS guy. He’s now having good numbers in another six week stretch: Spring Training.
Pirates fans want to send Pedro Alvarez down to Triple-A because of his Spring numbers. The justification for this is that they can start Casey McGehee at third base, and either platoon Hague and Garrett Jones at first base, or give Hague the starting job, depending on how they look at Jones.
Let’s break down the logic of all of this, step by step.
Sending Pedro Alvarez Down
It makes sense to send Pedro down. Look at his numbers from last year. He hit for a .223 average. He only got on base at a .280 rate. He had an OPS of .626. Those aren’t the numbers you want from your starting third baseman.
But wait a minute. Those aren’t the numbers that Alvarez put up. Those were the numbers that Casey McGehee put up last year. Alvarez wasn’t better. In fact, he was worse, with a .191 average and a .561 OPS. But when you’re down in this range it doesn’t matter. Both sets of numbers are bad.
Bringing Matt Hague Up
I’ve mentioned several times in the past about how Hague isn’t a guarantee. You can’t look at his minor league numbers and assume that he’s going to hit .300 with 12-15 homers in the majors. And I’ve pointed out in the past what a good Spring Training means. Hague is unproven. You’re not making a choice between a struggling Alvarez and a guy who is a strong bet to be a solid contributor. You’re making the choice between a struggling Alvarez and a guy who was largely inconsistent in 2011 at the Triple-A level, and is no guarantee for success in the majors.
Splitting Up the Jones/McGehee Platoon
Let’s make this easy. If you’re suggesting that the Pirates demote Alvarez and go with McGehee at third base, then you’re basically saying that McGehee isn’t a problem. Right now his role is half of the platoon at first base. So if you’re comfortable with him being a full time starter at third, then you’re probably comfortable with him getting time against left handers at first. You’re probably just looking past his 2011 season, and focusing on his 2009 and 2010 numbers.
If that’s the case, then you’d probably agree that McGehee would be fine in the first base platoon. And it’s hard to argue that Garrett Jones would be the weakness of that platoon, since he has a career .838 OPS against right handers.
So here’s the logic behind sending Alvarez down:
1. You send him down, and replace him with someone who also had a horrible 2011 season.
2. You split up a platoon with a track record of success against their respective assignments in the platoon.
3. You replace the platoon with a guy who hasn’t seen a major league pitch, and had an inconsistent year in Triple-A last season.
When my brother was younger, he used to “clean his room” by shoving everything under the bed. He wasn’t interested in solving the problem. He just didn’t want to see it. So he hid the problem, and at the end of the day he felt that solved the problem. Of course that didn’t solve the problem. The room wasn’t cleaned. The mess was just shoved under the bed.
Right now Pedro Alvarez’s game is a room full of dirty clothes, baseball cards, dishes, and video game controllers. Sending him down to Triple-A is basically shoving that mess under the bed. The mess hasn’t been cleaned up, but you feel better about the situation because you don’t have to look at the mess.
In this case the mess is Alvarez’s hitting in the majors. That mess isn’t going to be cleaned up by shoving it under the Triple-A bed. No matter what you do, eventually that mess is going to have to be cleaned up, and that’s impossible to do while the mess is under the bed. Eventually you have to drag it all back out and take care of it.
I don’t think the problems for Alvarez can be solved in Triple-A. He came up in 2010, he looked good, then the league adjusted to him and he’s yet to adjust back. He’s not going to make that adjustment to major league pitching in Triple-A.
I also don’t think the Pirates should downgrade their first base situation just to fix this problem. Alvarez is far from a guarantee. But Casey McGehee is no guarantee. And Matt Hague is no guarantee. Yet for some reason there’s no chance of Alvarez having success, and no one wants to entertain the possibility that McGehee might not rebound from his 2011 season and Hague might not make the successful jump to the majors.
Are the Pirates really that much better off going with McGehee and Hague/Jones over Alvarez and McGehee/Jones? Maybe the chances are slightly better in favor of the plan that doesn’t include Alvarez. But the upside is way better in the plan that includes Alvarez.
That’s the thing that matters. The Pirates need Alvarez to turn things around. He’s not doing that in Triple-A. So rather than play it safe by going off the comfortable, but ultimately meaningless, Spring Training results, they should go with the high-risk, high-reward move of playing Alvarez. Give him some time against major league pitching, and let him try to make the adjustment.
Worst case scenario, you send him down after a month and a half of struggling. You might worry about the Pirates’ record in that month and a half. But what about their record over the next several years? That’s the record that could be impacted if Alvarez somehow finds a way to turn things around.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 5-4 to the Phillies. Game story here.
**Daniel Moskos worked over the off-season on consistency and improving his breaking ball.
**Prospect Notebook: Recapping today’s starts from Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and a good performance behind the plate from Carlos Paulino. Also check out Wilbur’s blog for another recap from the day.
**Pirates Notebook: Eric Fryer added a leg kick over the off-season.
**With the baseball season right around the corner, don’t forget to join the Pirates Prospects fantasy baseball league. The winner of it all gets a free Pirates Prospects combo pack next year.