Before the 2012 season started, Pedro Alvarez was pretty universally regarded as one of the keys to the Pirate offense in 2012. Pirate fans were mostly worried sick about the guy, whether they admitted it to themselves or not, because he had a terrible 2011 and an awful spring training and when Alvarez is lost at the plate he tends to look so far gone that you can't help but wonder if he'll ever find his way back.
After a slow start to the season, Alvarez hits the All-Star break with a .231/.307/.478 line. He's got 16 homers and 15 doubles in his 59 hits, his walk rate has edged up to 9.8%, and his strikeout rate sits just above the 30% threshold that we talk about so much (30.3%). Among the 16 qualified third basemen in the Majors this year, his 108 wRC+ is ninth and his 2.0 fWAR is tied for eighth. In simpler terms, Alvarez has been pretty much average amongst third basemen that are good enough to start every day, which means that he's been a little bit above average overall, as third basemen go. His identifying characteristic, of course, is his power. His .247 ISO is the best amonst third baseman by quite a bit (Miguel Cabrera is second a .233, Mike Moustakas is third at .221, David Wright and Aramis Ramirez are the only two others above .200) and as mentioned, more than half of his hits this year are doubles or home runs. When Pedro Alvarez hits the ball, Pedro Alvarez hits the ball hard.
Just these numbers by themselves in a vacuum are encouraging from Alvarez. Last year was brutal and this year's spring training was worrisome and his first 24 plate appearances this year (12 strikeouts, no walks, one hit/homer) were flat-out terrifying. It seems strange now that we freaked out over such a relatively small slump, but at the time the evidence against Alvarez was mounting. Now at the break, Alvarez is pretty much what he was at the end of his rookie season; a young hitter with incredible brute strength whose strikeout problem keeps him from being more than a pretty good player. This is fine as third basemen go, even if it's a bit short of what we all hoped to see from Alvarez.
It's tempting to look at Alvarez's season and say things like, "Well, since he hit his second home run, he's hitting .251/.331/.511 and his strikeout rate is around 28% and ..." but the reality is that you can't throw out any piece of data with Alvarez; he's prone to bad slumps. Throwing one out just because it came at the start of the season is cherry-picking. Not even a month ago, he was closing up a five-week stretch where he hit .148/.229/.226 over 34 games. Slumps are as much a part of Alvarez's game right now as his incredible hot streaks are.
His most recent stretch is a very interesting one to me. If we start the day after his rampage in Cleveland ended, Alvarez is hitting .306/.411/.565 with four homers, four doubles, 10 walks (3 IBB), and 20 strikeouts in 73 plate appearances. He's obviously being pitched to carefully after he single-handedly destroyed the Indians and he's not homering at anything like the rate he did during his first tear this year, but he's being pretty selective at the plate and he's still driving the ball hard. This is the first stretch like this that I can remember in his career; he's been a very valuable hitter in this span, but his value isn't being solely derived from his ability to hit the ball over the fence.
The question for me now is where Pedro goes once this current streak is over. If he goes on another four-homer weekend or five-homer-in-eight-games tear, his season line will leap from being a pretty average third baseman to an excellent one. If he bottoms out again, he'll need another impossibly hot streak to get him back up to average. I will say that I am encouraged by this most recent spell, if only because it suggests that some kind of evolution in Pedro Alvarez as a hitter is taking place beyond the hit a ton of homers/hit a ton of nothing pattern that he showed us during his rookie year and the first part of this year. Encouraged is as far as I'd go for now, though; I want to see more from him to see where we go from here.
All of that being said, given the way that things went for Pedro Alvarez in 2011 and the very earliest parts of 2012, "encouraged" is a very good place to be in with him. Everyone had tons of questions earlier this year as to whether Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle and Gregg Ritchie were handling him correctly -- whether he should be in the Majors, whether he needed a different hitting coach, whether there was any hope at all for him, and so on. He's making progress. I'm not sure it's quite enough progress yet, but everything starts somewhere.
I know he should be no higher than triple A level and that is a generous placement until such time as he learns and masters all aspects of game. Whomever gave him that big pay should have his head examined.
One of the reasons I really like this site is because every three game anomaly is not automatically turned into a straight line prediction for the rest of the season (I live in DC and this is how the Redskins are treated 24/7/365). The key statement in this post for me was, "The question for me now is where Pedro goes once this current streak is over." I have wondered the same thing about the whole team. The Pirates were near last in batting for April and May and near first since June. Will the bats cool which should be expected and if so, how does the team respond?
Pedro's ceiling is "Carlos Pena"? If so, trade him now! Lifetime .236 average at 3B and 150+ strikeouts each season!!
He is starting to plan his ABs.. watch how he loves working a 3 ball count out of a pitcher. Or with the bases loaded he sits on the first pitch because he knows strike 1 is a must in that situation. He is not a good off speed hitter yet (out of the strike zone) but he will grow "I HOPE"...
"His most recent stretch is a very interesting one to me" It's interesting to see Alvarez when he's not white hot or ice cold. It was always one extreme or another to this point in his career. Very intriguing.
Encouraging is the exact word I keep thinking lately. This streak has been nowhere near as "exciting" or "exhilarating" as his first one this year was, but we all knew he couldn't sustain that performance. This streak seems much more like the kind of Pedro Alvarez that we all envisioned him being on a regular basis when he was in the system: he's been good all around, and for a longer period of time, with power, but some singles up the middle too. The strikeouts have been high, but not as high as when he slumps, and his walks have been good. This is the Pedro that we need to see consistently. Also, let's not forget his defense, which, at least when I've been watching, has been better than expected. His range isn't glorious, but his arm is unreal and he makes some very nice plays from time to time, with less wild throws than in the past.
I remember one of your first "What is up with Pedro?" posts where you posited perhaps he'll end up being another Carlos Pena. As a Rays fan (hey, I needed someone to root while we rebuilding and my folks live in Tampa), I was happy with that notion because 'Los has been a big part of their success. Unfortunately, Pedro isn't there yet. I can live with the Ks and the low avg and the slumps, Pena does all of that, too. But where Alvarez needs to step up his game is in his OBP. Pena barely cracks the Mendoza Line most seasons but his OBP is always a good 100-150 pts higher. Combine that with 30+ bombs per season and you have a really good player even with all the other negatives (high K rate, etc). Until Pedro gets to that level, he makes too many outs to outweigh his admittedly awesome bursts of power.
@Carnegie Chip Well, the one thing I will say is that for most of the early part of this season, no one was even a little bit afraid of Pedro. Pena's the sort of guy you have to pitch around because if you put the ball in his wheelhouse, he'll hurt you. Pedro is, too, but he didn't get much respect until he showed that he could hit a little bit. Since he's done that, his walk rate has been pretty good.
Interestingly, Pena has a career BA of .236 and SLG of 478.--does that sound familiar? At this point, while Carlos Pena isn't what most of us envisioned when Pedro first signed, I think most of us would gladly take that now.