Does Pedro Alvarez get short leash at first for defensive woes?
By Tyler Waite
Pedro Alvarez is doing what he seemingly always does this season: hit home runs, strike out a lot, and make the more than occasional defensive miscue. His .234 average heading into Tuesday night’s game with the Giants is one point below his career average of .235. ESPN projects him to have 28 home runs and 84 RBIs, which would be a good season for him but is probably expected if he remains in the lineup full time. He has nine home runs and 25 RBIs heading into Tuesday night, and has been seemingly productive so far this year. But for some reason, Pedro hasn’t gotten much appreciation for that production from the fan base. Why is that?
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Well, just like last season, Pedro’s defense is doing him in. Most recently in the series against San Diego, Pedro was involved on a number of poor defensive plays. In the first game of the series, Neil Walker threw a ball to first and Pedro wasn’t there as the ball sailed towards the stands. While the error was charged to Walker, Alvarez probably should have been more aware on the play. In the fourth inning of the third game of the series, Alvarez fielded a ground ball and tried to throw the ball to second to get the force out. He hit the runner in the helmet, which allowed Matt Kemp to score. Regardless of whether he should have made the throw or not, he did, and was charged with an error on the play. Alvarez also committed an error in the final game of the series when he missed a catch-able line drive.
All in all, Pedro only committed two errors in that series, but he made numerous poor decisions over the four-game set. The Pirates’ infield defense as a whole has been poor this season, and Pedro is a big piece of that. He’s been hard to watch at times (albeit he’s been better than last year at third, but he really couldn’t be any worse). He has trouble deciding if he should field grounders to his right as opposed to letting the second baseman field the ball, leading to confusion and miscommunication. On one recent play, with one out and a man on first, Alvarez fielded a ground ball and decided to tag first base. He then was forced to hold onto the ball. The grounder should have led to a double play, but he eliminated that opportunity by tagging first base first.
…for some reason, Pedro hasn’t gotten the appreciation for [his] production from the fan base. Why is that?…Well, just like last season, Pedro’s defense is doing him in.
This may seem like nitpicking to some. To others, like myself, it’s clear that Alvarez is having difficulty adjusting defensively to first. He has seven errors on the season and a defensive WAR of -0.9. While it will be difficult to surpass the 25 errors he had last year, he’s on pace to come close to that (he’s on pace for slightly over 22 errors). He also had a defensive WAR of -1.0 all of last season, a value that he will surely surpass at the rate he’s currently at.
Will Pedro’s defensive woes eventually cost him starting time at first? I can’t say that they will. Yes, he’s still transitioning to first, but it’s tough to try to transition someone to a new position when the team is competing for a playoff spot and beyond (and his name isn’t Miguel Cabrera) and that player continues to play as poorly defensively as Pedro has. Corey Hart isn’t a viable option with his knee problems and his all-around poor play so far this season. Andrew Lambo may never pan out as an option in Pittsburgh, and Sean Rodriguez only has 58 career games at first and may be best served sticking to his current utility role.
Pedro Alvarez will continue to be the Pirates’ first baseman for the time being. But defense is a vital, yet often under-appreciated component of the game. He doesn’t look to be adjusting defensively to first anytime soon. Hopefully he doesn’t cost the Pirates any games in the near future.
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