MLB — 07 August 2013
Breaking Down Pedro Alvarez as a Power Hitter

It’s a surprise to nobody that Pedro Alvarez is hitting home runs.  Home runs are Alvarez’s game.  He’s hit them since signing with the Pirates.  He was called up to the big league club after just 2.5 years in the minors because he had an ISO over .230 at every level.  But when he was called up, he hit just .191/.272/.289 with a 0.98 ISO in 262 PA.  He was clearly overwhelmed.

Today, Pedro Alvarez is a crucial component to a 1st place Pittsburgh team.  He’s mashing .241/.303/.489 with a .249 ISO and 27 Home Runs.  Last year’s numbers were almost identical, but with slightly less power.

So what changed?  It’s simple to say he was overwhelmed by the talent at the next level, but what exactly did being overwhelmed cause him to do poorly?  What has he since corrected to become the successful power hitter that he is?

My first guess was that, judging by his average, he was able to swing away and feast off of minor league pitching, so he needed to develop better plate discipline at the major league level.  So let’s take a look at what he was swinging at (Courtesy of FanGraphs).

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%

2011

29.9%

63.5%

46.1%

2012

31.8%

65.4%

47.5%

2013

34.7%

69.4%

49.8%

 

This is actually the opposite of what I was expecting.  Alvarez now swings at roughly 5% more pitches, both inside and outside of the zone, than he did in 2011.  He’s walking less and he’s striking out more.  His BABIP in 2011 was .272, hardly the kind of bad luck that would bring an AVG below the Mendoza line.  What was going on in 2011.

Well, if we dig a little deeper into his plate discipline, we can look at pitch values (Also courtesy of FanGraphs).  Two pitches in particular stand out as having given him fits in 2011.  Alvarez’s runs above average on the fastball and slider are represented by wFA and wSL, respectively.

wFA

wSL

2011

2.8

-6.7

2012

8.7

-1.5

2013

12.9

-3.0

 

In 2011, Alvarez was not hitting fastballs like you would expect a power hitter to hit a fastball.  And sliders were his nemesis.  It was as if he couldn’t tell the difference between a slider and a fastball, and it got into his head.  That’s entirely likely, as the intent of a slider, of course, is to look like a fastball before moving away to keep a hitter guessing.

While Alvarez still struggles with sliders, though certainly not as much, he has figured out the fastball in a big way.  He appears to have figured out how to pick out sliders and fastballs better, or at least to have figured out how to guess what a pitcher is going to throw, based on the situation.  Whatever the case, it’s working, and it’s showing up in how much he’s improved with those two pitches, and translated into his slash line.

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About Author

Tim Young is a Civil Engineer away from MLBSoup, but at the site he heads the pre-season fantasy baseball draft guide and reviews each week in the big leagues with his weekly round-up report. His heavily math-based background shows up in his writing, as he likes to keep a focus on numbers, and dig deeper than the usual surface scratching.

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