Pedro Alvarez was supposed to be a middle-of-the-order force by now, threatening to sink boaters in the Allegheny River with each mighty cut and working walks with his keen eye. Instead, the second overall pick out of Vanderbilt in the ’08 draft was the second-most valuable infielder named Pedro on his own team in 2011 (Ciriaco: 0.2 Wins Above Replacement, Alvarez: -0.8 WAR). Through a little less than 650 plate appearances in the majors, Pittsburgh’s $6 million man has a .230 average, a .304 OBP and a .392 slugging percentage. The main reason is his resemblance to another, albeit fictional Pedro. Pedro Cerrano.
Like the cigar-smoking, Jobu-worshiping slugger from Major League, Alvarez can crack fastballs but his bat is afraid of anything that bends or dips. The lefty slugger swings through plenty of fastballs, with a 10 percent whiff rate that’s nearly twice the MLB average, yet he at least makes loud contact when he connects. Not so on breaking and off-speed stuff, and his whiff rates on those pitches are staggering (numbers from TexasLeaguers.com):
Curveball: 12.4%, 11-12% MLB average
Slider: 19%, 13-14% MLB average
Changeup: 21.2%, 12-13% MLB average
Those huge whiff totals go a long way toward explaining why Alvarez has struck out in about 31 percent of his PAs over the past two seasons, which ranks behind only Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn and Jack Cust among batters with 600+ PA over that time frame.
But, it’s not just swings and misses on breaking and off-speed pitches that plague Alvarez. The whiffs might be tolerable if he at least crushed what he managed to connect with and laid off junk pitches. Instead, he also shows poor plate discipline and rarely hits for power against the soft stuff.
Looking at the pitches he swung at from 2010-2011, it’s apparent that he chases a boatload of changeups (purple), sliders (green) and curveballs (blue) off the plate:
Lunging at pitches below the knees and off the outside corner, Alvarez hasn’t been the polished hitter he was billed as in college and in the minors, where he walked in nearly 13 percent of his trips to the plate. His 31 percent chase rate is actually slightly above the MLB average over the past two seasons, and his 9.4 percent walk rate isn’t much higher than the 8-8.5% average. Those sloppy swings on breakers and changeups may also be the reason that Alvarez has hit so many ground balls:
Changeup: 52.1 GB%, 49% MLB average
Slider: 54.5 GB%, 45% MLB average
Curveball: 74.2 GB%, 50% MLB average
It should come as no surprise, then, that Alvarez has abysmal run values against those offerings. He has a positive value versus fastballs (about +0.4 runs per 100 pitches seen), but he has been a scrub against sliders, curves (-1.2 runs/100 each) and changeups (-1.7). Don’t think pitchers aren’t taking note: Alvarez’s percentage of fastballs seen dipped from 57.1% in 2010 to 51.9% this past year.
Right now, there’s little reason for pitchers to challenge Alvarez with a fastball when he seems to intent on getting himself out on curves, sliders and changeups. Not only are his whiffs on those pitches contributing to a strikeout rate that just about no hitter can succeed with (among batters with at least 2,500 PA over the past decade, Reynolds, Russell Branyan and Cust are the ones with a K% north of 30 and an above-average wRC+), but his chases and grounders on soft stuff are also precluding him from showing the elite power and OBP skills necessary to compensate for so many swings and misses.
At age 25 and with at least passable projections for 21012 from Bill James (.252/.332/.429) and The Hardball Times’ Oliver (.244/.314/.441), Alvarez isn’t a lost cause. But he has a potentially fatal flaw against breaking and off-speed pitches that he’ll have to address if he’s ever going to make good on his former top-10 prospect status. Some players eventually figure it out, such as Carlos Pena. Others, like Joe Borchard, don’t. It’s too early to say which camp Alvarez will join, but it couldn’t hurt to offer Jobu some rum or get hats for bats.
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