Pedro Alvarez took a step forward in 2012 after a miserable 2011, hitting 30 home runs on his way to becoming one of the strongest hitters in the Pirates line-up. While it appears that Alvarez will begin the season as the Pirates clean-up hitter, he will need to continue to progress at the plate this season if he is going to find success in this role.
2012: 586 PA, 25 doubles, 1 triple, 30 home runs, .244/.317/.467, .335 wOBA, 1 stolen base
Bill James: 597 PA, 29 doubles, 2 triples, 29 home runs, .257/.336/.481, .349 wOBA, 2 stolen bases
ZiPS: 610 PA, 26 doubles, 2 triples, 29 home runs, .236/.315/.451, .327 wOBA, 2 stolen bases
Oliver: 548 PA, 24 doubles, 2 triples, 22 home runs, .234/.313/.427, .320 wOBA, 2 stolen bases
Summary: The projections are split for Alvarez. Bill James predicts a step forward while ZiPS and Oliver forecast regression. Both Bill James and ZiPS anticipate that his home run power can approach the 30 homer mark again, while Oliver projects a decline.
Inconsistent projections are a sign of Alvarez’s career so far: solid debut in 2010, forgettable 2011, power-driven bounce back 2012. He was very streaky last season, which is one of the issues that he needs to iron out this season – especially if he is to settle into the clean-up role. While Alvarez has a noticeable career platoon split with .335 wOBA when facing right-handed pitching (.353 wOBA in 2012), dropping to a wOBA of .281 against lefties (.284 wOBA in 2012); if he is going to make significant steps forward Alvarez will have to reduce his strikeout numbers.
Alvarez has struck out on 30.7% of trips to the plate and swung-and-missed on 13.3% of pitches seen over the course of his career; although he has taken the free pass on 9.6% of trips to the plate. His plate discipline splits highlight his problems when facing left-handed pitching: in 2012 his strikeout percentage was 38.2%, more than 10% higher than his 28.1 K% when facing right-handers, and he walked less frequently against southpaws (10.6 BB% against righties and 7.2 BB% against lefties).
Alvarez swung at 47.0% of pitches and made contact with 70.9% of them – the eighth lowest contact percentage among qualified hitters in the majors last season. Below is a chart of pitches and locations that Alvarez swung at last season, with chasing many pitches well below the strike zone:
The below swing-and-miss PITCHf/x hitter profiles from Baseball Prospectus add context to the above. They highlight that high fastballs, low breaking pitches and changeups on the outside corner were Alvarez’s biggest problems – highlighting that his problem pitches in 2012 were the same as his issues in 2011:
Whereas the number of strikeouts will likely limit Alvarez's production, the positive is that when Alvarez makes contact he hits for a lot of power. His .223 isolated power ranked 24th among qualified hitters in the majors last season (albeit only third on the team behind Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen). He is entering the 2013 season in a much different fashion to this time last year; there are fewer question marks and no debate over whether he belongs in the majors. Nonetheless, if he cannot reduce the strikeouts then Alvarez will have to rely on luck with balls in play and an increased walk rate to have an above average on-base percentage and progress further at the the plate in 2013.