Pedro Alvarez’s Cardinal Destruction

The Cardinals must be glad they won’t be seeing the Pirates again this season. Not because the Pirates were a particular thorn in the Cardinals’ side — the Pirates won the season series 8-7, but the Cardinals have had greater struggles against the Braves (1-5) and, oddly enough, the Phillies (2-5). No, the Cardinals must be glad because they’ve seen the last of Pedro Alvarez, at least until a potential playoff matchup.

Alvarez closed the season series with a home run, a double and three RBI as part of a 2-for-4 night, bringing his line for the series up to 23-for-58 with four doubles, seven home runs and seven walks. All-in-all, Alvarez compiled a .534 wOBA throughout the assault. More importantly, with the Cardinals and Pirates separated by just one game in the standings, Alvarez made the damage count — in just 15 games, Alvarez produced a massive 1.7 WPA.

1.7 WPA over the course of 15 games is a staggering number. Only four times in major league history has a hitter put together a season with a WPA over 10. Three times it was Barry Bonds (+12.9 in 2004, +11.5 in 2001, +10.5 in 2000), the other time it was Willie McCovey (+10.1 in 1969); each time the subject posted both the league’s highest OBP and SLG. Alvarez set a pace of +18.4 WPA per 162 games against St. Louis this season.

Bonds’s 2001 produced a .539 wOBA, his 2004 a .538 mark, both nearly equivalent to what Alvarez did against the Cardinals. But Alvarez also sported an uncanny sense of timing. In eight plate appearances with a leverage index above two, Alvarez went 6-for-7 with two homers, a double and an intentional walk; in 15 plate appearances above 1.5 he went 10-for-14 with three homers, the double and the intentional walk.

The biggest moment — both by WPA and symbolic significance — came as the Pirates exorcised their 19th-inning demons back on August 19th. Alvarez blasted the game-tying home run with one out in the inning. More runs would score, but Alvarez’s bomb proved the decisive blow:

Given the depths to which Alvarez sunk in 2011 — a .098 ISO out of a man listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds; -0.8 WAR — it was fair to wonder if the Pirates would get anything out of their second-overall pick this season. But his resurgence has been one of the key stories to the Pirates’ contention for a Wild Card this year. With a 120 wRC+, Alvarez has started to live up to expectations.

And most importantly, with the Pirates clawing for every possible victory against their closest rivals for a playoff spot, the Cardinals, Alvarez came up big time and time again. His 1.7 WPA (and the resulting -1.7 for St. Louis) is the equivalent of 3.5 games in the standings, and it’s easy to find four games in the season series Alvarez directly swung in the Pirates’ favor. With single games now accounting for between seven and ten percent of playoff probability for Pittsburgh according to CoolStandings, Alvarez’s march of destruction through St. Louis this season effectively turns the Pirates from pretender to contender by itself.

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Article just reminds us that Barry Bonds was freakin’ amazing.