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Pedro Alvarez and Kyle Seager and Degrees of Bad

Pedro Alvarez and Kyle Seager entered the season ranked 19th and 13th, respectively, in the Rotographs consensus rankings back in March. Although neither were likely to be your first choice to occupy third base on most fantasy teams, injuries to Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez, Aramis Ramirez, Brett Lawrie, David Freese, among others, likely thrust Alvarez or Seager into lineups with fingers crossed.

So far, Seager hasn’t been useful at all, and Alvarez has been an unmitigated disaster. But I think there are signs that the former might yet prove to be useful, although the vultures are starting to circle on the latter.

Seager is currently “hitting” .208/.276/.340 with no home runs and no stolen bases — of which he was projected to be in the 15/15 range. His BABIP sits at .250 while his expected BABIP says it should be somewhere in the .283 range, so he’s had a bit of a raw deal on the bouncing ball angle.

Reasons to be optimistic about Seager? Walks are trending up and strikeouts are trending down:

seager

Yeah, sample size cries and all, but you’re no doubt familiar with the Pizza Cutter republished post here at Fangraphs that found walk rates and strikeout rates stabilized (at .70 or higher) at fewer than 40 plate appearances. He updated that study in July of last year which bumped K rate up to 60 plate appearances and walk rate up to 120 plate appearances. Seager sits at 58 PA’s, which obviously doesn’t reach the new threshold, but it’s not nothing. Which makes it something. At the very least, he’s being more selective and he’s striking out less as a general trend. We’ll know more by the end of May about whether it’s sticking around.

Some additional good signs amidst the complete and total lack of production:

O-Swing% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2012 27.9% 90.6% 8.3%
2013 20.8% 94.6% 6.7%

This kind of confirms the walk and strikeout rate, but Seager is swinging at few pitches outside the strike zone and he’s overall swinging and missing very little. When the ball is in the zone, he’s making contact. When he’s making contact, he’s simply not getting many balls to drop. His hit trajectory numbers don’t particularly worry me, and his infield fly ball rate ought not stick at above 15%. Looking at where the ball is going, we can borrow from TexasLeaguers.com. Here is 2013:

seagerhits2013

And here’s 2012:

seagerhits2012

So he’s not pulling a Dustin Ackley and merely rolling over the ball to the second baseman all day, as if it were some kind of  drill for defensive purposes and he’s the stand-in bench coach. He’s still spraying the ball fairly well, although it’s worth noting that Seager was a much more productive hitter in 2012 when he pulled the ball (evidenced by all those greenies on the right).

This doesn’t add up to “Kyle Seager is about to break out,” rather, it’s more “Kyle Seager doesn’t seem to be this bad.” So if there aren’t any particularly attractive options on the waiver wire and you’re still in dire need of a third basemen, I’d say wait this one out a few more weeks. My money is on an uptick in production.

I’m not so sure about Pedro Alvarez, however.

Alvarez currently stands at .073/.174/.073 with no home runs and a singular RBI. He has three singles in 46 plate appearances. He needed a BABIP over .300 last season to eek out a .244 batting average given his particular set of skills. So even if we can expect a degree of better luck on a .120 BABIP, it’s going to have to really take off to avoid a black hole in one of your categories.

The thing that strikes me about Alvarez so far are his ground balls and fly balls, which if we’re going to use the Russell Carleton study, stabilize at 80 balls in play (so we have a fair ways to go with Alvarez). Right now, Alvarez is has had 64% of his contact classified as a ground ball. He has a career 48% ground ball rate. Just 16% have been classified as fly balls. Fully 25% of his fly balls have been of the infield fly variety, so he’s reached beyond the infield precious few times in the air. I guess the optimist in me might say those infield flies are just a few millimeters away from becoming fly balls. The pessimist says look at his contact rates.

O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2012 34.0% 55.6% 82.3% 13.6%
2013 36.1% 48.6% 64.7% 19.7%

He’s swinging at more outside the zone, making contact on less than half of those swings and when the ball is in the zone he’s making awful contact at 65%. His overall K rate isn’t anything we should be surprised about with Alvarez, but that damn near 20% swinging strike rate is the worst in baseball.

I don’t think Alvarez is this bad, but he’s been dropped from fourth to fifth to sixth in the lineup — even getting the “mental health day off” after just eight games. The Pirates are really struggling to hit as a team, and if Gaby Sanchez or Josh Harrison had done anything with the bat themselves thus far, we might see more pine for Alvarez. The club doesn’t have much in the way of ready talent for third base in the system, so it’s likely they give Alvarez a pretty long leash. But it seems like a platoon is the next logical step, and that would pretty much kill his value on most rosters. He’ll need to show something in the next few weeks to have any fantasy relevance whatsoever.