For the last couple of seasons Pedro Alvarez has been a pretty typical low-contact big-power slugger. His ability to play third base not abysmally makes him more valuable than an Adam Dunn type, but even so he is far from an elite player. Coming into 2014 there was no reason to believe that we didn't have Alvarez completely figured out.
Then 2014 began to happen and the Pirates third baseman started to look like a different guy. The .230/.317/.398 line that Alvarez brought into last night's action is by no means horrid -in fact its good for a 100 wRC+- but it's not what one would expect from a guy with monster power.
Beyond the underwhelming totals Alvarez has produced some rate stats that are unusual for him. His walk rate of 11.0% is an all-time high, while the strikeout rate of 23.9% he's posting is very low for him. These trends made Alvarez a sexy buy-low option in fantasy early in the year as he seemed like a guy whose process had improved. Results were sure to follow.
So far they haven't. That's not to say they won't, as we are only half way through the season. We are dealing in dangerous small samples here, but that doesn't mean that Alvarez's .168 ISO isn't concerning. A .168 ISO is respectable for most folks, but not a guy who relies so much on plus-power to create value. The 27-year-old has been worth a measly 0.3 WAR so far this year largely due to his decrease in power.
While it's tempting to assign all responsibility to Alvarez for this dip in production, the way he is being pitched is also probably playing a factor here. The reality is that at this point the book is out on Alvarez, and it's a short book.
Chapter 1) Alvarez mashes fastballs
Chapter 2) Alvarez mashes fastballs in the zone even harder.
The following chart from Brooks Baseball shows his slugging percentage against "Hard Pitches -fastballs, sinkers, and cutters- over his career.
The moral of the story here is that if you throw a fastball over the plate to Pedro Alvarez, you might be providing a lucky fan with a souvenir. It's not surprising that major league pitchers are catching on to this.
The table below shows the rate at which Alvarez has received "Hard" pitches and how often these pitches have been in the zone.
|Year||Percentage of "Hard Pitches"||Zone % for "Hard Pitches"||Zone % for All Pitches|
The difference between 2013 and 2014 is not nearly large enough to explain Alvarez's power outage, but it likely has something to do with it.
Alvarez has some of the best pure power in major league baseball. That power has not evaporated overnight. That being said, some of his opportunities to showcase it have given the way he is being pitched.
Baseball is a game of constant adjustments and it appears pitchers are adjusting to the Pirates slugger. For him to be successful he'll just have to adjust back.
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Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.