First Pitch: The Logic Behind Sending Alvarez to AAA

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.

**Eight players were released from the Pirates’ minor league camp.

**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.


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.
  • eeee12

     We don’t want to send Pedro down because of his ST numbers. We want to send Pedro down because he cannot currently hit major league pitching. You (very) conveniently ignore Evans/Navarro/Harrison/Mercer/D’Arnaud/Fox as options.

    I also think you overestimate the worse case scenario. When the FO commits to him starting the season in the bigs, 6 weeks is not enough to send him down, regardless of his results. Worst case scenario is we are in this same position 1 year from now with no more information than we currently have and Pedro being out of options.

    We need to give him the best chance to succeed long-term and that plan includes him starting the season at AAA.

    • Tim Williams

      First, I ignored all of those guys as options because I don’t think they’re strong options. Suggesting that group to start over Alvarez is desperation.
      In your worst case scenario, how are they supposed to get information by sending him down? What will be answered if he goes down and hits AAA pitching?

      Also, why is AAA the best plan? It’s popular to say, but why will that help him hit major league pitching?

      • azibuck

         Because it’s easier to hone his approach, swing, and confidence against lesser competition.  It’s why we go to high school before college.  It’s why we learn whole notes before sixteenth notes.  I trust the FO so I’m not going to say it’s the wrong decision, but I don’t think you make a strong case here in your article or comments.

        • eeee12

           Yes, why do we send anyone to AAA? Why isn’t Marte in CF now? Tim, you are right that they are not good options but I don’t think Pedro is either atm.

      • azibuck

        The decision on Pedro should be made on Pedro, not on other options at other positions.  Yes, the decision affects those things, but those things should not affect the decision.  As for your reply to st1300b, obviously you talk to and hear from other people, but I think the process has seemed just as poor as the results this ST.  He’s taking strikes and swinging and missing.  That points to approach and a flaw in either talent or mechanics.  All those can be worked on in AAA.

        • Ross

          Tim, do you happen to have any videos of Pedro at the plate during Spring Training?? whether it be in the cages, batting practice, or in games? i’d like to see in game footage…..because from what ive seen from the Spring Training at bats on root sports, I can see a few noticeable mechanical flaws in Pedro’s swing that can definitely be the reasoning behind his struggles last year and right now during Spring Training. they are simple ones to change to say the least, but I can definitely see the correlation between the flaws and his inability to hit the pitching last year and this year…mainly the high number of swings and misses on fastballs and just no simply catching up

  • st1300b

    I’m a HUGE fan of the site, and of your articles (Even this one, if you’re trying to stir the pot it’s working!) however I’ve usually come away from reading your posts feeling like you see both sides of the equation. This time I don’t get your position, or your dramatic characterization of the options available.
    For once, I applaude Neal for bringing in a solid major league talent as a viable option in case there are continued developmental issues with Pedro. I am a huge fan of Pedro, because someday he will be an important part of this lineup. It’s all conjecture on what the future actually is for Pedro, but for this season – how about a dose of reality. I disagree with Neal starting Pedro at the show: Pedro continues to have difficulty with pitch recognition – this is something he definately can work on at AAA.
    To say that McGehee would not benefit this team right now at 3b? I have to question your logic there.  McGehee has a pretty nice track record in the majors, and has passed the eye test with some real nice defense and a solid approach at the plate this spring. I see him, at this time, as a clearly superior player to Alvarez. 
    If Matt Hauge is ready to contribute / or if say Fox or Evans is your platoon with Garrett then you get an opportunity to evaluate them for your team. Using McGehee at 3b rather than 1b doesn’t ruin the platoon option – others are competing for that opportunity. Reward them for their hard work and clear improvement and successes. Hauge has 4 HR’s this spring – How many does Pedro have?
    My comment is that Pedro is really a rare talent, anyone who says otherwise is retarded. The guy can plant balls in the Allegheny and is a pretty decent glove – saying that those of us who believe putting him at AAA is better for him and the big league club at this time don’t have a legitimate argument strikes me as a bit arrogant. Just my two cents…

    • Tim Williams

      I guess my big problem is that everyone is trying to make this decision based on Spring Training results. I’m not putting a lot of weight on those results. I’d rather see what happens during the regular season.

      • Edmund

        First, thanks for filling the void left by local media. Love this site. Second, this spring would be of no concern if it weren’t for the last regular season.

  • piratemike

    The thing that gets me about Pedro is that he is so horribly bad, Its not like he goes 0-4 with 3 hard hit flies and a hard grounder up the middle that the ss makes a good play on. You could start to see those balls start dropping in eventually but he is totally lost at the plate. He is constantly sitting at 0-2 every at bat and he either freezes on the next pitch which is usually on the outside or he flails at it half-heartily

    I don’t have a clue as to what is the best way to go I see both sides.
    I think everybody is worried about the Bautista syndrome
    It would be hard for me to complain whatever the Pirates decide, Its not like they are out to just  piss off fans.



    • mikez09

      oh yes they are!!!

  • Lee Young

    Tim…as WHYGAVS pointed out, his ST stats can’t be
    considered a vacuum. They are a continuation of his abysmal 2011 season. He is
    having trouble with a new stance designed to close some holes. His confidence
    is also at a low. Sending him to AAA to work on his new stance AND get some
    confidence is viable, imho.



    Casey is NOT a long term 3b option, but for now, he is
    better than Pedro until (if?) Pedro gets his mojo back.

  • MaineBucs

    I would prefer to send Alvarez to AAA to try and find his stroke.  According to all accounts, Alvarez, like many players, is a streak hitter.  That said, I can’t remember any time last year when he went on a tear.  While I have only seen him in 10 at bats or so this spring, most have not been pretty.  He continues to look indecisive at the plate and regularly falls behind in the count.  If a pitcher can work him away, it is like there is no contest.

    For Pittsburgh to succeed I believe they need a productive Alvarez in the line-up.  At present, I don’t believe he can be productive.  Thus, I would rather he find himself in AAA and should he start to hit – power, plate recognition, driving the ball, less strike-outs, et al, then I bring him back up.

    In the interim, I go with Harrison and McGehee at 3rd and some combo of Jones/McGehee/Hague at first.  Lastly, I am not living in some fantasy word that the above platoons will suddenly be pounding the ball with regularity, but I present, I believe that all are reasonable options to a lost looking Pedro.

  • Ross

    For everyone on here, just up on my sports blog “Captain Insano”, i did an in-depth break down and analysis (with video) of how Pedro Alvarez’s swing from his years at Vanderbilt has evolved and completely changed over the years to his very current swing in 2012 Spring Training and the mechanical flaws in that swing he has now…..and my reasoning behind why those mechanics are leading to his high number of swings and misses and why hes struggling…. i then conclude on what he can do with his mechanics to improve at the plate NOW…… I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read the entire thing eventually. its sort of long with all videos in it and my analysis, but see it all through because it will be a great read and try to get it to go viral/public to get it popular because I think I did a very good job doing it. and its all my thoughts and analysis and nobody elses. Here is the link to my article so you guys can read it

  • mikez09

    Well written Tim. I think Alvarez has to start the year with the ML squad. 2012 is not the year we are going to contend and we need to find out sooner rather than later if he is the future at 3B. Let him start everyday at 3B (exceptions against tough leftys) for the first 1.5-2 months. If he is still putting up Mendoza-like stats then he obviusly needs to go down. I don’t put a lot of value in ST stats but I can’t totally ignore them either. Pedro’s stats obviously get magnified because of his struggles last season and his decision to not play winter ball. His confidence is at an all time low. I truly believe that is one of his biggest problems. He needs to relax and attack pitches in the zone and stop laying back especially early in the count. All he needs is to get a hold of a few of those first pitch fastballs and he will cause pitchers to change their approach. Hopefully that will lead to more hitter friendly counts where he can find pitches to drive! But, regardless of what any of us thinks the Pirates will do what they think is best for the player and the team. I have to believe that they know a lot more then the rest of us….

  • salempirate

    For those who suggest starting PA at the ML  level, why do you then suggest sending him down if he doesn’t work out? If he is indeed the future he doesn’t need AAA time.

    Again, if the Pirates had a decent hitting instructor, he’d take care of this situation.

    • piratemike

      With that logic there wouldn’t be a bad hitter in baseball.

  • salempirate

    You either play him or don’t. If you argue that you’re not sending him to AAA in April, why send him down in 6 or 8 weeks? To me, that doesn’t hold water. As far as S.T., it isn’t only that he has a low BA and is hitting weak grounders, but that he is consistntly behind in counts and striking out a lot. If he was even average at 3rd and cranking out lots of HRs, he would be a little more tolerable, perhaps even passable.

    Wherever he goes, as bad as he is now, he’ll grab hold of a hot streak and look like he’s about to explode. But, S.T. isn’t a lie and shouldn’t be overlooked, just as it shouldn’t be shrugged off. It’s a continuation of the past.

    As far as McGeehee, I have no idea what he’s done in S.T. But he has had 2 solid years and I haven’t heard any complaints about him K’ing left and right or being a mess at 3rd in S.T. At worse, he’s a fine bench addition.

    Hague has to goto AAA if Alvarez is a ML roster guy. There’s no room for Hague.  If he ever gets the opportunity, he’ll be an improvement over Overbay, which is a pretty low standard.

    The Pirates absolutely have to have a hitting coach, something that was totally lacking last season and has been of no help thusfar in ’12. I was totally surprised there wasn’t a change made there in the offseason. And I’d like to add my displeasure toward Hurdle too. Isn’t he supposed to be someone who “helps” hitters?

    Where does PA and his career go? If he continues to fizzle what will his future beyond this year hold? If he hadn’t gotten $6MM or so, I’d feel sorry for him. As it is, I’m hoping for the best. No one, except maybe the Matt Bush’s of the baseball world, should see their baseball futures kerplunk w/o some fulfillment.

    Best of luck Mr. Alvarez.

  • Edmund

    Let us remember the Bucs were in first place in July without Pedro. Can’t blame long-suffering fans for wanting to see the lineup with the best chance to win on the field from Opening Day onward. 

  • scrappy2499

    Tim, when Pedro was sent down last season didn’t he have issues hitting AAA pitchers consistantly?  I think I remember during or after his rehab stint he was having issues.  I don’t know what will be the best for Pedro to get on track, but if he is having issues hitting AAA pitching then it probably isn’t the best thing for him to try and right the ship against MLB Starters.  Is there anyway to revisit what his numbers were during that point last season when he was down in AAA?

  • Tim Williams

    If he’s playing horrible for the first two months of the season you send him down. I’m not saying that’s automatic. Just throwing out a hypothetical.

  • Tim Williams

    They were in first place with Lyle Overbay. They were in first place without Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett. Should I keep going?

  • Tim Williams

    The first time he was sent down he almost immediately started hitting. He had a .365 average and a 1.054 OPS. The second time he was sent down his hitting was horrible, with a .145 average and a .548 OPS. Both trips had about the same number of at-bats (62 and 63).

  • scrappy2499

    Oh ok small sample sizes.  Who knows I guess either he starts adjusting to pitchers or he doesn’t.  Sink or swim time.  Keep him up for a few months and give him a chance to figure things out.  If he doesn’t then send him down and see if he can make a change then.

  • Mark Cerny

    That was a thought provoking, well written peice on Alvarez.  I am now a smarter man for reading it, well done.

  • Edmund

    You miss my point. Let’s see if their addition contributes to an historic collapse.