By Mike Moritz
To put it simply, Pedro Alvarez has been really bad this year. Before he hit the DL with a quad injury, the Pirates third basemen was hitting just .208/.283/.304 with a .271 wOBA. And as stated in the title, he has produced -.4 wins above replacement. Alvarez was a top prospect and still has a lot of time to live up to his potential but right now, he's doing just so bad.
This kind of season was sort of expected. He had a .341 BABIP last year, which was essentially the only reason why he hit over .250 (.256, to be exact). Although his BABIP was high, he had a .321 xBABIP, so if he hadn't gotten so lucky, he would have hit somewhere around .236. And with 20 points less on the batting average would theoretically mean 20 points less on his OBP, and so on and so forth. But his .321 xBABIP is definitely something to keep his head up about (if he even knows what BABIP is); that's a good mark. Will he forever become a hitter to sustain high BABIPs? Maybe, but it is highly unlikely, especially considering the kind of player he is. In fact, the .321 xBABIP seems like it could be a little lower than that. His 14.8% line drive rate was very low from the about 18% that is league average. Line Drive rate, aside from representing a good hitter, being the most important aspect of batted balls, it seems hard that Alverez could sustain an average around .260.
On top of that, its not like Alverez has exceptional hit placement skills that he can put up high ground ball averages. He really just isn't the kind of player that can really shoot the ball back up the middle whenever he wants; he's a power hitter and struggles with regard to contact ability.
He had a 28.1% strike out rate in between AAA and his rookie season last year in the Majors. In just the majors, he had a 12.9% SwStr rate, or 4.4% above the league average in 2010. And his ability to actually make contact in general, was exactly 11% below the league average, 69.7%.
Additionally, there are actually times in baseball where it's bad to make contact, as crazy as it sounds, and that comes into play when talking about bad pitches out of the zone. If your watching a player swing at a pitch near the dirt, then you actually should hope that he misses so that he has the chance to make his at bat longer and have another hack instead of hitting weak hits. Now, obviously this would only work when a player does not have two strikes on them, otherwise they would strike out. That being said, Alverez actually does a very good job of keeping his O-Contact% down, or missing bad pitches. So in theory, he should be getting a little bit of praise for not making contact outs with pitches that are in the dirt of above his head, etc.
I'll be frank when I say this, when Alverez comes back from his injury, expect his average to remain around the .208 mark for the rest of the season. That is, unless this recovery from this injury can somehow magically make him hit more line drives, more fly balls and strike out less. Also, assuming he does not get BABIP'd again as he did in 2010.
Really, Alverez is a one dimensional player: power. He won't give any defensive value at third base (-8.8 career UZR/150) and will probably have to move to first base in a few years. He won't hit for a very high average, mostly due to his strike out problems and also his lack of ability to hit line drives. He doesn't bring much value on the base paths (2.3 Speed score for his career).
All in all, Alverez is in for a rough season and probably will struggle to do anything else but hit homers unless he fixes his two big problems: lack of line drives and strike outs.