Folks, you might want to dig out your Pedro Alvarez jerseys.
Alvarez earned his share of dissenters and naysayers last season for his frequent defensive mishaps, and has long been derided for his strikeout numbers and a failure to produce consistently at the plate.
A move to first base and the right lineup around him will turn this all around in the 2015 season.
If you frequent Pirate’s new feeds and lend an ear to talk radio, you may have heard a theory floated out there that a move to first base will help Alvarez’s mentality (both defensively and offensively) — and I buy it — but this is just the icing on the recovery cake. A lot more than looking at the diamond from the opposite corner will go into the 2015 Pedro Alvarez Comeback Extravaganza.
Let’s get this out of the way. His mentality:
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Alvarez not having to throw a five-ounce, leather-covered cork across an infield is great, I get that. This idea is safer for a Pirates’ lead, an easily distracted base coach, and fans with tickets near the visitor’s dugout. I’m sure it’s a weight off Alvarez’ own shoulders too. Last year things got ugly, and Alvarez wore it. Overall, he handled himself well. The move to first gets that monkey off his back. The throwing errors will go down simply because of the lack of demand in that regard from the new position. And he can still fire-away on relay plays.
He’ll be a daily player in the lineup (for the most part). Not playing the same position that Josh Harrison most naturally fits into helps. People forget that scouts predicted a move to first base before Alvarez was drafted — he turned 28 on Feb. 6 — this move was a long-time coming, and with no immediate contingency plan in place, it seems like the Pirates are going to let this be Alvarez’s job to lose.
Demand will be down on Alvarez defensively. Why not use all that spare time to go to work at his plate game? He has, and he will. A player’s mentality is a hard thing to predict, though, so let’s get to something more tangible.
All else aside, where Alvarez hits in the lineup has mattered a great deal in terms of his production over his career. It’s important to have the right hitters around him.
Get his psyche under control, and the Pirates have the tools to maximize Alvarez’s offensive output. All else aside, where Alvarez hits in the lineup has mattered a great deal in terms of his production over his career. It’s important to have the right hitters around him.
So where does Alvarez fit best in the lineup, and who can you put around him to fill holes without sacrificing their potential elsewhere in the order? I plead the fifth!
Alvarez has been penciled in as high as four, and as low as eight. The bulk of his plate appearances come at the four, five, or six-spot, though. He has 500-or-more plate appearances at each of these three spots in the lineup.
Alvarez is not the guy to count on as a number four hitter at this point (especially as a daily player), though he still has had 524 career plate appearances in this spot. The four-spot should go to Walker. Alvarez hits a mere .196 as the fourth man, and has one his highest strike-out-per-at-bat percentages (32%).
As has been noted by every fan who has watched a game on TV or has a PNC Park ticket stub in a drawer somewhere, the guy strikes out a bunch. True, he does, but he strikes out less on average when he hits fifth. And his strike-out numbers in general are way down.
Alvarez had a career low in strike-outs last season, as far as frequency of getting whiffed-per-at-bat. He struck-out just a hair over 28% of the time in 2014, his previous low for a season was just above 33%, and he’s been as high as 35% in other seasons. He strikes out 31% of the time when hitting fifth, which is the lowest percentage of the three spots he’s been asked to hit in the most over his career.
So bat Alvarez fifth, and he strikes out less, and gets on base more. Praise production!
He’s a .273 hitter at the five-spot with an OBP of .332. Both of these numbers are his career best in terms of where he hits in the order. His OPS peaks at .812 in the fifth spot. In no other spot does his OPS touch .800. There’s a home for him at five. His average-home-run-per-at-bat numbers don’t change much regardless of where he hits, but that’s good. Let the power come back naturally. It will come back. Winning is a cure-all, and being put in a position to succeed to the best of your abilities has way of bringing out the best of a player’s natural ability as a symptom.
The Pirates can optimize Alvarez’s output by nestling him in the five-hole as a daily player between Neil Walker and Starling Marte. The roster allows for it, and this will also help raise Marte’s numbers as well. And lead to wins for the Pirates.
Marte only has 100-or-more at-bats at the two and five spots in the lineup, but in his 69 chances as the sixth man in the order, he’s hit .415, with four homeruns (most of any spot in the lineup) and 11 RBI (second most).
Marte is a .270 hitter when batting fifth, and the numbers are worse when he’s the two-guy, so a move to sixth makes sense for everyone involved.
Marte also has creepy power, and I look for him to blossom in the coming years, but that’s for another time. His career numbers say bat him sixth, just as Pedro’s stat sheet screams “fifth.” And I agree. Everything is in-line for a Pedro Alvarez turnaround season in 2015.