A good deal of teeth-gnashing has gone on among Pirate fans regarding Pedro Alvarez’s performance so far this season. Rather than taking a step forward, he has seemingly imploded with a mind blowing 10 K’s in 16 AB’s so far in 2012. His lone hit so far was a typically long majestic home run of the kind that pulls out the optimist in every die-hard Pirate fan at least until his next flailing at bat.
A good bit of press has gone into the question of whether Pedro can get back to what appeared to be a promising rookie half season in 2010, when he hit .256/.326/.461 for a .788 OPS. However, there’s a huge problem with those numbers, which on the surface still aren't all that great. That is, he never in any sustained stretch brought his K/AB percentage down below 30 percent, even when hitting well, and his BABIP for that year was an unsustainable .341.
In order to get inside the numbers, I have broken down his 2010 season in stretches when he was getting good results and when he wasn’t. His 2011 performance was pretty much equally poor, so I just broke it up into stretches of around 100 PA’s. Let's see if we can discover his true ability inside these stats.
Stats from BBref with links provided...
(PA | AB | R | H | 2B | 3B | HR | RBI | BB | IBB | SO | BA | OBP | SLG | OPS | BAbip)
Jun 16, 2010 to Jun 27, 2010
39 | 35 | 3 | 4 | 2 | 0 | 0 | 5 | 3 | 0 | 17 | .114 | .179 | .171 | .351 | .211
K/AB% = 49%
Jun 28, 2010 to Jul 23, 2010
89 | 81 | 13 | 26 | 4 | 0 | 7 | 15 | 8 | 0 | 25 | .321 | .382 | .630 | 1.012 | .388
K/AB% = 30%
Jul 24, 2010 to Aug 25, 2010
119 | 103 | 6 | 21 | 2 | 0 | 3 | 15 | 16 | 0 | 39 | .204 | .311 | .311 | .622 | .295
K/AB% = 38%
Aug 28, 2010 to Oct 2, 2010
139 | 128 | 20 | 38 | 13 | 1 | 6 | 29 | 10 | 1 | 38 | .297 | .345 | .555 | .900 | .376
K/AB% = 30%
Apr 1, 2011 to Apr 30, 2011
97 | 90 | 7 | 18 | 4 | 0 | 1 | 7 | 6 | 0 | 31 | .200 | .258 | .278 | .536 | .293
K/AB% = 34%
May 1, 2011 to Aug 8, 2011
105 | 93 | 9 | 20 | 4 | 0 | 2 | 8 | 10 | 0 | 33 | .215 | .298 | .323 | .621 | .310
K/AB% = 35%
Aug 9, 2011 to Sep 28, 2011
60 | 52 | 2 | 7 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 4 | 8 | 1 | 16 | .135 | .250 | .250 | .500 | .171
K/AB% = 31%
As most readers of Bucs Dugout understand, most all hitters gravitate toward a .300 average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP is generally a product of speed and line drive percentage. If you take a look at last years’ HR leader board, you'll see these are the only players with an abnormally high BABIP:
Matt Kemp (.380 BABIP), who is a center fielder and had a 23.2 LD%
Ryan Braun (.350 BABIP), also possessing better than average speed and 20.9 LD%
Jacoby Ellsbury (.330 BABIP), also a center fielder 22.9 LD%
So, all of this should indicate that Pedro Alvarez, who is a slow third baseman with a 16.7 percent lifetime MLB line drive percentage, should not have even close to a .341 BABIP like he had in 2010. In fact, his .272 BABIP in 2011 is more like what we should expect to see, which is, by the way, pretty close to what Albert Pujols put up last year (.277 BABIP).
So, if we look at Pedro's 2010 stats, he had two good stretches. One where he hit .321/.382/.630 (.388 BABIP) and one where he hit .297/.345/.555 (.376 BABIP). Now, ALL hitters go through stretches where they have elevated BABIPs. That is to be expected. But when good hitters have a .388 BABIP for a stretch, they don't hit .320. They hit .350+.
Why doesn't Pedro have higher production when he gets into a groove? It’s simple, really. He strikes out in over 30 percent of his at bats, even when his hits are falling in. When you do that, you either have to hit a very large number of home runs, or you are going to be victim of the mathematics of possible HITS/BALLS IN PLAY.
When you take a look at the stretches where he had a normal BABIP over the past two seasons, you find that Pedro’s current ability leads us to believe he will hit around .200 with an OBP of .280 or so.
What is the only remedy for Pedro Alvarez? He must strike out less. A lot less. Like around 25 percent, which he has never been able to do either in MLB or in AAA.
As everyone who has been on Bucs Dugout since 2009 and knows, I have been extremely skeptical of Alvarez’s ability to put the bat on the ball since his days in the minors. Contrary to what many here suggest, that Alvarez “doesn’t have anything left to prove” in AAA, I have said from the beginning that Alvarez really never achieved the sustained level of success in AAA to give me confidence that his poor ability to contact the baseball wouldn’t spiral completely out of control in MLB. Well, sadly, this exact scenario has played out before our eyes in the last year or so.
Everything that I have seen in these past two years has just reinforced for me that AAA K/AB percentage should be no higher than 20% to ensure MLB success. If you can't contact the ball at at least that rate in AAA, there's a huge chance of complete failure in MLB. Alvarez’s K/AB% in AAA in 2010 before his callup was a whopping 28 percent. Last year when he was sent down, it was an atrocious 34 percent in AAA.
It’s painfully obvious that Alvarez’s big problem in MLB is just that he’s not very good at hitting the ball unless he knows exactly where it's going. This is a skill that absolutely can be worked on in the minors. And he might need to go down to AA even to start. That's pretty much where his level is currently when it comes to that most important skill of hitting. I see practically no chance that Pedro will learn to hit MLB pitching while in MLB until he learns to strike out less in AAA.
Sadly, the Pirates mishandled his development two years ago, and now we are stuck watching the Pedro dirigible go down in slow motion while everyone crosses their fingers that gravity might be reversed for just one day. It’s time to send him down and use his last option. The longer they wait, the less time he will have to get things turned around because next year, he will have to sink or swim in MLB.