With 14 games under his belt in 2012, Pedro Alvarez has one of the weirdest stat lines you're ever likely to see:
|162 Game Avg.||162||614||555||58||125||27||2||21||79||55||192||.225||.296||.396||.691||88||220||17|
To summarize some of the more surreal aspects, Alvarez is on pace to collect just 63 hits in 2012, but he's on pace for 36 of them to be home runs. Of his seven hits this year, six of them have resulted in no more or less than one RBI. He's only drawn one walk in 46 plate appearances. In the entire history of baseball, only two players have hit at least 36 home runs with an OPS of below .750: Dave Kingman in 1982 and Tony Armas in 1983. If Alvarez finished the season on the same pace he's at right now, his OPS would be almost 100 points lower than either of theirs. That would certainly let Alvarez join the duo as the only two to hit that many home runs and finish the season below replacement level.
Of course, that's a pretty negative cast on things but the reality is that after 14 games last year, Alvarez was hitting .208/.276/.245 with no homers and 18 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances. In the first 14 games after his callup in 2010, Alvarez was hitting .152/.216/.196 with 22 strikeouts in 51 plate appearances. Alvarez only hit four homers total in 74 games with the Pirates last year. It seems weird to say this, but if you're being strictly technical about this, this is the best start to a season Alvarez has ever had. He does seem to be coming around at least a little bit, too. After he started out the season 1-for-24 with 12 strikeouts, he's 6-for-21 with six strikeouts and a walk.
That being said, all four of his home runs have come on off-speed pitches that were out over the plate and not far enough down in the zone. He still looks generally overmatched by fastballs that power hitters shouldn't be overmatched by. I don't know if that's because he's lost bat-speed, as the infamous "American League Scout" said in his report at Baseball America or if it's because he's still guessing way wrong a lot of the time and just getting lucky with a few mistake pitches this year or what. It seems pretty obvious that he's more comfortable in the box now than he was a week ago, but ten games is an incredibly small sample size to try and make observations on.
I guess for now the most I can say is that Pedro's hitting home runs, even if he's not doing a ton of other things well. Hopefully the Pirates' faith in him (manifested in them keeping him on the team) will pay off and eventually the other aspects of his offensive game will evolve, too, at which point it will be OK to start getting excited about him again. Until then, I'll be doing my best to remain cautiously optimistic.
Just a theory, but check out the pitch f/x pitch values for Pedro's three seasons on Fangraphs. In 2010, Pedro was fed fastballs (like most rookies when they come up) and he had no problem hitting them. In 2011, pitchers started mixing up speeds on him and he looked lost (less fastballs, more sliders and change-ups). His wSL and wCH were -8.0 and -8.2, respectively. Pitchers were abusing this weakness to the point that they threw offspeed pitches more than fastballs (or close to equal). Pedro knows that he needs to improve on these two areas and I think this year he changed his approach. Rather than sitting on fastballs, he's sitting on the offspeed pitches because he knows they are coming more often than the fastballs. When a fastball does come in the strike zone, his swing is too late because he's hanging back waiting for the offspeed. So far in 2012, Pedro's seen his wFA decrease from 1.8 in 2011 to -1.1 in 2012. But his wSL is -1.9 and wCH is 2.1, a huge increase from 2011. Eventually, if he proves to the league he can hit the offspeed pitches, pitchers will start throwing fastballs again and Pedro will have to readjust his approach again.
This history of slow starts by Pedro can mean only one thing: he's friended Adam Laroche on Facebook.
I totally agree with 'Cautiously Optomistic.' The Pedro that I've seen recently, as well as in part of Spring Training was the guy hitting balls hard, just at people. Eventually, some of these are going to drop in. Basically, make contact and put the ball in play. The other thing I find interesting was that Pedro hasn't hit into a Double Play yet. Wow. I thought he'd be leading the team.
When my family forces me to start my own blog because I've annoyed them by talking about the Pirates too much, I shall name the blog Cautiously Optimistic.