2014 Fantasy Baseball: Pedro Alvarez’s Improving Eye
For the past few seasons Pedro Alvarez has been a huge tease – a solid performer, but a tease nonetheless. He has been a pain to own in head-to-head formats at times, but he’s also likely won your team’s match-ups singlehandedly a few times.
[am4show have=’p3;p4;p7;p11;’ guest_error=’Front Office’ user_error=’Front Office’ ]Let’s use last April as an example. He limped out of the gates to a dreadful .180/.245/.315 line. Subsequently, he might have been dropped in your league. He was a little better in May when he posted a .225/.273/.521 slash. June, however, was when he was at his best slashing a remarkable .309/.380/.680 line bolstered by 10 home runs. Yeah, not too shabby. He quickly reverted back to near his career norms of .235/.307/.448 the next few months, but the ride was fun while it lasted. I’m writing this because 2014 might actually be different after all.
Alvarez will likely never be a boon in batting average. Subsequently, he’s likely to struggle in OBP formats as well. Or maybe not? Throughout Alvarez’s career he’s posted above average chase rates. He’s also made less contact on pitches he chases than the league average. That means that while other guys may chase and foul the pitch off (fouls are included in contact %) and stay alive to see another pitch, Pedro hasn’t. It makes sense that Pedro’s contact percentage – both inside and outside the strike zone – is lower than league average. Power hitters generally have lower contact rates than their peers. But so far in 2014, we’ve seen a different Pedro Alvarez. His strikeout rate is extremely low by his standards. But, let’s be honest, it’s going to go back up, but perhaps it isn’t going to go as high as the stratospheric heights it has in the past.
Alvarez has opened 2014 by being a more patient, complete hitter. He’s chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, and he’s making more contact on the pitches that he does chase. Contact rates begin to stabilize – which is to say, they can still change, but the data is somewhat reliable – after 100 plate appearances; swing % begins to stabilize after 50 plate appearances. Alvarez has currently come to the plate 53 times, so we’re getting into the territory where numbers begin to be more than just splotches of ink on a page.
In those 53 plate appearances Alvarez has posted the following plate discipline statistics. His career rates are also included in order to add a little context.
Alvarez hasn’t chased nearly as many pitches outside of the strike zone this year as he has in the past. And on the ones he does chase, he’s making contact at a higher percentage. It makes sense, intuitively. Opposing pitchers have thrown him fewer pitches in the zone (zone%) than ever before, and he’s essentially saying: “If you want to pitch around me, fine. I’m not going to get myself out any longer.” His zone contact rate might look a little scary when compared to his career numbers, but it isn’t far off from his ~78% number last season. His chase rate is the big story here. Swinging and missing less, especially outside of the zone, can help keep his strikeout rate manageable – a feat that hasn’t been accomplished so far during his career.
The fact Alvarez is swinging less is important, but maybe not as important as what he’s laying off of. During Alvarez’s career, he has not hit breaking pitches well. He’s made his living off of fastballs. Pitchers know that, and they’ve begun throwing him fewer fastballs.
Alvarez is seeing fewer fastballs and more breaking stuff. But, so far, in 2014 he’s continued a trend that started a few years ago – laying off breaking stuff.
Alvarez’s plate discipline versus breaking pitches has gradually climbed further and further into “passive” territory since 2012. He’s swung a ton at offspeed pitches this offseason, but he hasn’t been trending in that direction, so I’d expect that to balance out a little.
Breaking pitches are often thrown so that they break out of the zone, causing batters to chase them. Alvarez isn’t obliging quite as much as he used to, and it’s a huge deal for him.
I wrote about Alvarez some time ago. I was worried about his increasing chase rate and declining contact rate. It appears like he began working on those two things, and he’ll be much better if he continues his new approach going forward. Alvarez’s line as of this writing is: .178/.302/.533. Don’t be alarmed by his low average. His babip is currently sitting at a paltry .103, and that will certainly come up a great deal. Alvarez’s 2014 improvements aren’t viewable in many traditional stats yet, but if he sticks with his new approach, his improvement will be impossible to miss. [/am4show]