The Pittsburgh Pirates put together an excellent 2015 season, finishing with the team's best record in nearly 25 years. Unfortunately, the division-rival Cardinals were a few games better, forcing the Pirates into the dreaded one-and-done Wild Card game.
Clint Hurdle has some tough choices to make regarding his lineup - how to manage his starter Gerrit Cole, and how to properly use the bullpen; then the team needs to execute against ‘True Ace' Jake Arrieta. Congratulations! Have fun.
This year Arrieta emerged as one of the best starters in the game. He is second in the National League in pitcher fWAR, FIP, and xFIP, behind only Clayton Kershaw, and second in earned run average behind Zack Greinke. Arrieta threw 229 innings and gave up only ten home runs; he does not allow the long ball. His 0.39 homers per nine is the lowest among all qualified starters in baseball, so hoping and waiting for a three run dinger is probably not the best way to approach him.
This brings us to Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez's .242/.318/.463 slash line is hardly anything special, but his 26 home runs helped him in posting a 112 wRC+. He leads the team in homers and is somewhat of a ‘one trick pony'. Alvarez does not do anything else exceptionally well. He doesn't have much speed, doesn't get on base that often, strikes out on over a quarter of his plate appearances, and his defense ------ oh, the defense.
Originally a third baseman and playing third as recently as last season, the Pirates moved Alvarez across the diamond and during interleague play into the designated hitter role. The metrics and eye test all agree that ‘El Toro' is a mess in the field. He has posted negative defensive metrics his entire career, and over the past few months Pirates fans witnessed this. And this. And this. And this. There are plenty more, but we get the point [shudder].
The only reason to play Alvarez is for his bat, but putting his bat in the lineup against Arrieta seems highly risky considering his fielding liability. They faced one another eleven times this year, with Pedro hitting one single, mustering two walks, and making eight outs, including three Ks.
Eleven plate appearances is hardly a reason to bench a player, but looking at Alvarez's batting profile, he's not likely to do well against a pitcher such as Arrieta. Yes, few are successful against Arrieta, but a player like Pedro is even more susceptible than most. Per Brooks Baseball's batter profile, Alvarez has an ‘aggressive approach' against fastballs with an ‘above average likelihood to swing and miss' (21 percent!). Arrieta's sinker and four seamer both average around 95 miles per hour, and he throws the pitches a combined 50 percent of the time.
Arrieta strikes out 27 percent of the batters he faces, and Alvarez strikes out 26 percent of the time. Combined with Arrieta's penchant for keeping the ball in the yard (thanks in large part to his 2-seam fastball), it is highly unlikely Alvarez takes him deep, and there is a higher chance he makes a key mistake in the field. In a game that is highlighted by two aces taking the mound, the Pirates should put their best defensive team on the field, take pitches, and work the count as they are not likely to mash any home runs. The Pirates should bench Pedro Alvarez for the wild card game even if it's tempting to put his power bat in the lineup.