At first glance, it looks like Pedro Alvarez is doing exactly what we thought he would this year. He’s hit 8 long balls and is sporting a Mendozian .210 average, which somehow falls below his pre-season expectations of being in the .230 range. Most fantasy baseball outlets are sounding alarms and wondering aloud how much longer owners can live with his team killing average. In reality though, Pedro is producing a familiar stat line but is getting there in a very different way and mostly through bad luck.
It still feels early in the season but there are already some stats that have stabilized and are now significant for evaluating how players are performing. For when statistics stabilize I’m using this terrific post from 2011 (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/525600-minutes-how-do-you-measure-a-player-in-a-year/) which is definitely worth a read on its own. The cliff notes needed for this article are that when statistics stabilize, they start to tell us more about a hitter’s current season than league averages do. Statistics regress to the mean but when a statistic stabilizes we equally weight an individual’s performance with the league average when creating future projections.
Pedro is at the 150 plate appearances plateau and three key statistics have already stabilized and are now telling us more about his performance this year than league averages or his career stats, they are swing percentage (swing%), contact rate (contact%), and strikeout rate (K%).
2014 Pedro is swinging at 44.4% of pitches. This is down from swinging at 50% of pitches last year and is close to being a career low (in his call up season his swing% was 43.7%). This doesn’t tell us all that much by itself. You can get yourself in bad counts by watching strikes go by just as much as you can by swinging at balls. But, Pedro is making contact with 73% of pitches, four points above his career 69.3% average and almost a full 7% higher than last season. A hitter’s swing% first stabilizes at 50 PAs and contact% stabilizes at about 70-75 PAs, and this shows Pedro turning into a more patient and more selective hitter. He’s actually swinging less often than the league average and while the league average contact rate is 79% this year, Pedro has much more power than your average hitter.
The third stat I want to look at is the big one, strikeout rate. In each of Pedro’s first four seasons in the majors he has posted a K% north of 30%. The league average K% ranged from 18.5% to 19.9% during that time, so Pedro really excelled at striking out. Pedro’s K% through 150 PAs this season is only 21% though. Now it just stabilized, so there will probably be some regression towards his career norm but this is 9% lower than his career rate and is only .4% higher than the league average this year. I’m expecting this to regress, at least somewhat, because a 9% drop in K% is too good to be true but Pedro has definitely improved in this area and even regressing to a 25% or 26% strikeout rate would be a significant improvement.
All of these stats might look good but Pedro is still batting an abysmal .210, what’s up with that. The biggest culprit is his .209 BABIP. BABIP doesn’t every stabilize, if Pedro’s reverted to his career average (.292) he’d have a batting average of .267, if it reverted to last year’s rate (.276) he’d be batting .256. Home runs are BABIP-proof, there’s nobody to field them, and Pedro’s is off to a great start with 8 already. More of the non-homers are going to start falling for hits and barring injury, Pedro looks to be good for 35+ HRs and closer to a .250 average. Every fantasy team can use that guy. So before his bad luck starts to end, run out and buy low on Pedro.
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