A huge part of Pedro Alvarez's struggles has come from hitting from behind in the count

Pedro Alvarez Needs To Swing Sooner?

There haven’t been a lot of Pirate players in recent years that have been scrutinized and analyzed as much as Pedro Alvarez. If you are a consistent reader of Pittsburgh baseball writing, you have probably seen his name more than anybody this winter. The fact is that Alvarez is absolutely huge for this team’s success, and if he continues to struggle as he did last year, we are almost surely in for losing season number 20.

So let’s analyze him some more. We all want to fix the guy, but sometimes there just isn’t an easy answer. Here’s some data that you can take however you want.

We’re going to look at his 2010 season and compare it to his 2011 season. When Alvarez was first called up it took him a few weeks to get going, but he was very, very good in the final two months of the season. Here’s the spray chart for 2010:

You can see that Alvarez connected for quite a few home runs, 16 to be exact. However, he still struck out a ton (those obviously aren’t represented here), and grounded a ton of balls per to the right side. We’ve seen him do a lot of that this spring as well. That could be Pedro just trying to turn on balls instead of going with them and ending up with weak rollers to the right. You’d think that would be an easy fix, but it has proved to not be so.

Now let’s check out this spray chart from last year.

Even more trouble with the weak rollers to first and second. There are only four home runs up there and a bunch of red and black. Ugly.

A huge issue we’ve seen with Pedro at the dish is his tentativeness. He constantly falls behind in the count. Let’s look at some quick highlights from his count analysis.

Pedro had 235 at-bats last year. 65 of those at-bats ended on a pitch that was thrown with no balls and two strikes on him. 85 of those at-bats ended on a pitch that was thrown with one ball and two strikes. All-in-all Pedro got into a two strike count 138 times, which is 59% of the time. Even Albert Pujols would be terrible if he got into two-strike counts at that rate.

When Alvarez swung at the first pitch last year, he hit .417/.440/.750. Obviously first-pitch numbers are always going to be good, because you don’t swing at the pitch if it isn’t a really good pitch to hit. On the flip-side, Alvarez hit .094 with two strikes on him. The numbers are always going to be bad with two strikes on a hitter, but .094 is unreasonably terrible.

It’s good that Pedro is being patient at the plate, but it has kind of worked against him. Pitchers know that he’s basically an automatic out if they get ahead in the count, so they throw strikes at him right away. He didn’t take advantage of those strikes and fell behind in almost all of his at-bats, and Major League pitchers are going to succeed when ahead in the count; you can’t avoid it.

Alvarez hit .113 when behind in the count last year. Even if he would reach his potential, he wouldn’t hit well behind in the count. The thing he needs to do is not get behind. Easier said than done? Absolutely, but that should be a huge goal for him this year.

To me that means swinging earlier in the count, at least early on in the year. Pitchers are throwing first-pitch strikes at him all the time, and if he can take advantage of those early in the year, he’s going to get ball one sooner, which is a huge step in turning his career around.

For the full count analysis splits, click here and scroll down to “count/balls-strikes”.

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