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Pedro Alvarez Powers Way Into Top 10

I have made it very well known that I wasn’t particularly optimistic about Pedro Alvarez‘s fantasy value this season. We all figured him for a poor batting average, so he would have to make it up with immense power to truly benefit his owners. And boy did he ever. He upped his home run total and boosted his ISO, fueled up by a slight nudge in his HR/FB ratio. Despite hitting just .233, the power output was enough to make him the ninth most valuable third baseman in fantasy leagues this year.

In 2012, the former top prospect showed the type of power we knew he was capable of over a full season. He hit 30 long balls with an ISO of .223 and posted a hefty 25% HR/FB rate. While those power numbers were strong, they were fully supported by his average batted ball distance of 307 feet, which ranked sixth best in all of baseball.

As you are likely aware, I develop my own player projections. Under normal circumstances, I would observe the batted ball distance matching up with the near league leading HR/FB rate and project similar performance moving forward. In Alvarez’s case though, we were dealing with a limited Major League performance sample of just 582 at-bats before 2012. Over that time span, he managed HR/FB rate marks of just 10.3% and 17.6%, so it was difficult to ascertain his true talent HR/FB skill when also throwing his 2012 mark into the mix. Simply based on the forces of regression and playing the percentages, I felt confident that projecting a healthy amount of power decline was the right move. I was wrong.

Instead, all his power metrics headed upwards once again. Even more impressive was that Alvarez was clearly not satisfied ranking sixth in average batted ball distance. To remedy such a disappointing performance in his eyes, he whacked the ball even further, driving his distance up to 311 feet, and ranking third in baseball with that mark. He has now posted batted ball distances of 307+ feet and HR/FB rates of 25%+ for two straight seasons. While it still makes sense to project some slight regression, he’s looking more and more like the new Adam Dunn. However, Dunn has always been an extreme fly ball hitter, routinely posting FB% marks in the 45% to 50% range. Alvarez sports a career FB% of just 35%, so without pushing that up significantly, he’s unlikely to breach the 40 home run plateau.

So we can now be fairly certain we’ll get 30-40 home runs annually from Alvarez. But what’s on fantasy owners’ minds is whether he’ll ever be of help in the batting average department or if he’ll forever be a black hole. In 2012, he posted a BABIP of .308, but that fell to just .276 this season. The good news is that his xBABIP was .307, suggesting upside to perhaps the .250-.260 batting average range. But Pod, you say, doesn’t Alvarez face the shift, which we know hampers BABIP marks? Yes, indeed he does.

According to data provided by Jeff Zimmerman, Alvarez actually hit into the shift eighth most often in baseball. Oddly, his BABIP on balls hit into the shift was actually higher than away from the shift and his overall BABIP. I have to assume this was simply good fortune, but it does tell us that we cannot blame the shift for his BABIP struggles in 2013. He obviously has little speed, but he’s done a good job avoiding pop-ups these past two seasons, hits enough line drives and more grounders than flies. That’s usually a recipe for at least a league average BABIP, so the seeds are there.

Unfortunately, there remains one troubling issue. Pedro Alvarez is left-handed and he has been helpless against southpaws throughout his rather short career. Dave Cameron reminded us yesterday when discussing outfielder Chris Young that

it has become all too common to look at a player’s platoon splits and decide that they can’t handle an expanded role, because people simply don’t regress observed platoon splits enough when projecting future platoon splits.

As such, we can’t put too much weight on his struggles versus left-handers, but we can still voice our concern. Alvarez posted just a .244 wOBA against them this season and sits at .269 for his career. Without providing any value at third base with the glove according to UZR, at some point you have to wonder if he will continue to get the opportunity to play every day.

Assuming he doesn’t suddenly become a strict platoon player in 2014, then it looks like more of the same is on tap, with some batting average upside to perhaps .250-.260. But power is typically overvalued during fantasy drafts, so it’s hard to imagine Alvarez coming at a fair price.