Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Impact of Anthony Alford in 2022

Apr 17, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Anthony Alford (6) flys out in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Anthony Alford (6) flys out in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfielder Anthony Alford struggled to start 2021, but did well down the stretch. But is his production sustainable? What can we expect to start 2022?

Not that long ago, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Anthony Alford was once one of the top outfield prospects in the game. He was a consensus top 100 prospect for the Blue Jays in the mid-to-late mid-2010s. Going into 2021, Alford was given the starting center fielder job. After losing the job, and getting DFA’d, he would head to Triple-A where he crushed the ball. Alford came back to the majors and kept hitting. So which Alford will show up in 2022?

Well, let’s see what went wrong with Alford in his first shot. Alford didn’t even make it to the end of April before getting DFA’d. He had just 2 hits in 29 total plate appearances. Though he walked 4 times, he also struck out 15 more. Obviously, when you strike out more than 50% of the time, you’re not going to find success.

So what happened when he was recalled late into the season? Well from August through the end of the season, Alford looked like a potentially solid batter. He hit .266/.328/.477 with a .341 wOBA, and 114 wRC+. He hit 5 home runs while having an isolated slugging percentage of .211. He was hitting the ball harder. Alford’s average exit velocity was 89.3 MPH while he had a 43.3% hard-hit rate. Plus his barrel rate was an outstanding 11.9% rate.

Now that’s not to say his final 119 plate appearances were all sunshine-and-rainbows. He still was striking out a fair bit of the time, going down on strikes 35.3% of the time while only having a walk rate of 6.7%. While batting average on balls in play needs a much larger sample size to get an accurate reading, a .387 mark is still very high in any context.

Alford is still striking out more than you’d like. Going down on strike three more than 30% of the time, while walking less than 10% of the time is like mixing water and oil. I’d still be very skeptical of his performance down the stretch.

Still, the raw power is there. You can’t deny that. But you could also argue that raw power is only as valuable as the player’s ability to make contact. If Alford does get a shot to start 2022 in the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield, I think you could expect an Adam Duvall-lite-like player. He’s not going to walk a whole lot, nor is he going to hit for any average. He’s going to be pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of player.

Even then, that sounds like wishful thinking. All the success he had in 2021 can be attributed to a certain amount of luck. Down the stretch, he was still striking out a lot and had a BAbip approaching .400. At Triple-A, he had a 168 wRC+. But he was striking out 34.5% of the time and had an insanely high .454 BABIP in 226 plate appearances. Just to show how lucky that is, no player, in at least 220 trips to the plate, has had a BABIP higher than .438 in a single season, in the history of major league baseball. Chances are, Alford won’t keep that up.

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As much as I would love to see Alford become a fantastic waiver claim and keep hitting like he was in the home stretch of 2021, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Realistically, he’s a .200/.250/.400 hitter. He’ll provide some power, but that’s about it. He strikes out too much to put up a good average and he doesn’t walk enough to put up a good OBP.