Pedro Alvarez's career has been weird. Why was such an impressive rookie season followed with such a disaster?
There were a number of people who predicted this, based on his high K numbers in college and the minors. I was less concerned because his K rates didn't increase as he moved up the ladder (college, A+, AA, AAA were all comparable)
As a major leaguer, he has K'd in 30.7% of his ABs. That's not good, but it is workable. His K rate was constant between 2010 and 2011, what changed was that his BABIP and power disappeared. He stopped hitting the ball hard.
K numbers a concern but they stayed constant as he moved through the minors. During the three month stretch of July, August and September of 2010 he put up a 272/344/502 triple slash. That's quite good for a rookie.
As a rookie, Alvarez had the following Plate discipline statistics (I'll show the league averages in parentheses)
O-swing%: 29.7% (29.3%)
Z-swing%: 61.2% (64.4%)
O-contact%: 47.5% (66.5%) ****
Z-contact% 83.1% (88.1%)
The stats were similar in 2011.
Here's what those stats mean to me:
He has an average eye (his probability of taking a strike or swinging at a ball are league average). He can't make contact with pitches out of the zone worth a crap. He makes contact with pitches in the zone decently.
Here are my own observations from watching 30-50 of Pedro's ABs last season:
He looks at a lot of elevated pitches on the outer half that he should be swinging at. He also tries to pull a lot of outside pitches leading to whiffs and GIDPs and generally weak contact.
Here is what Hurdle said about Pedro in a fangraphs piece linked here
"On Pedro Alvarez: “Pedro Alvarez is still learning. The success he had in 2010 obviously caught everybody’s attention; it put Pedro in the public eye. He’s got a chance to have a run-producing bat. I really believe that hasn’t changed, regardless of what happened last season.
“One of the biggest challenges for hitters in the major leagues is that after being up for three months, the league has pretty good intelligence on you. Information travels quickly. What you are doing well, they find a counterpunch for. They counterpunched Pedro early in the season and he never really got himself to a position to throw a counterpunch back. He got away from his game. I think he maybe became a little too passive.
“We don’t want him to work on having a perfect swing; we want him to have a dangerous swing, an impact swing. He was vulnerable this past year to soft and spin. The year before, he hit soft and spin. He also didn’t miss many fastballs in the zone.
“Everything starts with a thought. There are things that paralyze young hitters. It usually takes some experience and I think it usually takes more than 500 at bats. It’s closer to 900 minor league at bats and 1,500 big league at bats. It’s the ability to not focus so much on everything the pitcher has. They put too much emphasis on the four pitches the guy throws and not enough on the one they want to hit. That’s a transition I try to take good young hitters to.
“Say that a pitcher has a go-to pitch for when he’s behind the count, a strike-one pitch, and a kill pitch. Well, let’s identify what we want to hit. We want to see the ball up; that’s number one. All right. And we want to see it either in or out. Don’t try to hit all of them.
“I think that one of the things Pedro did last year was get into the trap of trying to hit every pitch somewhere, instead of being more selective and looking to do damage in the strike zone.”"
That sounds to me like he is looking for middle-in fastballs. He definitely wasn't looking middle-out because he sure didn't seem to ever swing at those.
IMO, Hurdle's advice is somewhat counterproductive in this case. Being extremely patient for a pitch middle-in is bad advice for a guy like Pedro who has contact problems. It causes him to wait until he has two strikes to swing at hittable pitches that aren't exactly where he wants them. As a result, he gets in lots of 0-2 and 1-2 counts. In those counts, pitchers like to throw pitches out of the zone and, as noted above, Pedro can't make contact with pitches out of the zone. All hitters do worse when behind in the count; however, I'd wager that contact hitters are less affected by it than power/strikeout guys like Pedro. IMO, this new approach at the plate was the cause of his collapse last year and I don't think Hurdle has identified the true cause here.
Also, and this is a stretch, but Pedro's extreme selectivity for meatballs middle-in might cause him to want to pull everything, too.
Go to the plate looking to pound anything that is elevated and in the zone, especially on the first two pitches -- who cares if it isn't perfect. You're not going to get perfect in the majors.
Go with the pitch. Pedro has the ability to go with the pitch, he just didn't do it last year for some reason.