Friday, April 19, 2013

Pedro Alvarez's Early Season Slump

After looking at Russell Martin’s start to the season, it’s natural that a fellow struggler who hit his first home run of the season against the Braves on Thursday night should follow. Many people saw Pedro Alvarez as one of the most important players on the roster if the Pirates are to be successful this season; however Alvarez will need to refine his approach at the plate if he’s going to hit for more than power this season. 

When I looked at Alvarez prior to the start of last season I stated that even if Pedro did hit for power in 2012 it would likely be accompanied with a low OBP and a ton of strikeouts – and that he may also be better suited for a platoon. Alvarez went on to hit 30 home runs (.223 ISO) with a .317 OBP and 30.7 K% - with a .353 wOBA when facing right handed pitching and a .284 wOBA against lefties. If Alvarez is ever going to surpass those levels he will need to reduce the strikeouts; however the early signs have not been positive. 

Alvarez has opened up the 2013 season hitting .104/.204/.167 over 54 plate appearances. His wOBA sits at .171, which produces a park and league adjusted wRC+ of just 2. While Alvarez has not had a lot of luck (.133 BABIP), he’s struck out on 31.5% of trips to the plate (17 Ks in total, walking six times) and he’s not showing a lot of power – only one of his five hits has gone for extra bases (the homer against the Braves). 

While Russell Martin has been very selective at the plate, swinging at just 36.5% of pitches seen, Alvarez has been aggressive. His swing percentage, a statistic that has started to stabilize, currently sits at 50.8%, which would be a career high. This aggressive approach at the plate would not be a problem if he was making contact; however Alvarez has whiffed at 19.3% of all pitches seen – the second highest swinging-strike percentage in the majors among hitters that would qualify for the batting title behind Colby Rasmus' 19.8 SwStr% (and well above his career SwStr% average of 13.5%). He’s swinging at some bad pitches, with an unsurprising cluster of breaking balls over the outside corner – Alvarez’s weakness: 

While their overall offensive results have been similar, Pedro Alvarez has almost been the opposite of Russell Martin: he’s swinging and whiffing on a more frequent basis than he has over the course of his career so far; nonetheless his home run against the Braves again demonstrated his plus power. A high number of strikeouts are now what is expected from Alvarez along with hot and cold streaks; so it could simply be waiting for a hot streak for the strikeouts to be combined with power on consistent basis. Nonetheless, if Alvarez is going to surpass his 2012 numbers, his free-swing approach will need to be harnessed and his pitch recognition will need to improve, as swinging at breaking balls over the outside corner has been a long-standing weakness.