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Yordan Álvarez is struggling

Pitchers are bringing the high heat.

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

One of many young prospects this season to take baseball by storm, watching Yordan Álvarez’s rookie season unfold was truly entertaining. The 22-year-old Cuban native called up from Triple-A to immediately slide into one of the majors’ best lineups did not miss a beat all season long, slashing an unbelievable .313/.412/.655. Unlike most first year players, he managed to avoid any noticeable slumps, hitting for a 193 wRC+ in June, 177 in July, 180 in August, and 164 in September. He was incredibly consistent throughout the whole regular season.

But his first time playing in the postseason has finally given him the taste of a major league slump. In 37 plate appearances, Álvarez has hit .206/.270/.294, striking out at a high rate of 37.8 percent. In the regular season, this would go relatively unnoticed, as a nine game sample isn’t much to gauge anything off of, nor is there a very large impact. But to some extent, both those points ring false in October, where advanced scouting is taken to another level and where each hitter’s performance each day matters on a larger scale.

Fortunately for the Astros, the rest of their lineup and their pitching staff as a whole have pretty much been dominant, so Álvarez’s struggles have yet to harm them. One of the more valuable hitters in their lineup is struggling for the first time in his career though. What could be causing this?

To start simple, Álvarez is obviously whiffing more. His swinging-strike rate during the regular season was maintained at a healthy 10.8 percent. In the postseason, it has shot up to 14.3 percent, trailing only Juan Soto and George Springer.

While Álvarez’s swinging-strike rate inside the zone has seen no significant change (10.6 percent to 12.3 percent), his swinging-strike rate outside the zone has seen a curious jump (11.3 percent to 16.0 percent).

Examining his swinging-strike heat maps from the regular season (top) and postseason (bottom), it becomes apparent he’s chasing more often above the zone.

Regular season swinging-strikes
Baseball Savant
Postseason swinging-strikes
Baseball Savant

This becomes even more noticeable when it’s broken down to pitch category. In the regular season, the fastballs that Yordan Álvarez saw had an average vertical location of 2.69 feet, which ranked in the top five percent of baseball. In the postseason though, the attack has reached another level, as the average vertical location of the fastballs he’s seeing sits at 2.92 feet, which would have ranked first in the regular season by a considerable margin.

When broken down to just four-seamers, Álvarez has seen a jump in average vertical location from 2.87 feet to 3.21 feet. On average, he’s seeing his fastballs at a higher vertical location than any other postseason hitter.

Average Vertical Four-Seamer Location By Postseason Hitter

Rk. Player Pitches Avg Plate Z
Rk. Player Pitches Avg Plate Z
1 Yordan Alvarez 75 3.21ft.
2 Paul DeJong 34 3.12ft.
3 Yuli Gurriel 51 3.11ft.
4 Miguel Sano 25 3.03ft.
5 Matt Carpenter 26 3.02ft.
6 Robinson Chirinos 46 3.00ft.
7 Ozzie Albies 31 2.99ft.
8 Luis Arraez 26 2.98ft.
9 Gleyber Torres 47 2.96ft.
10 Travis d'Arnaud 51 2.94ft.
Minimum 50 pitches Baseball Savant

Álvarez is seeing four-seamers above the zone at a higher rate than other postseason hitter (44.0 percent, next highest is Gary Sanchez at 41.7 percent). The Rays and Yankees have attacked him in the same fashion and it can probably be expected for the rest of his postseason opponents to do the same, until he makes some sort of adjustment at least. If not, there will continue to be a hole in the middle of the Astros lineup (-0.60 WPA) that’ll get covered up by the hitters in front of and behind him.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.