Why Isn't Pedro Alvarez Producing in 2014?

The Pirates are in the hunt again, despite a lack of production from their top slugger Pedro Alvarez. What's going on with him?

For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates are one of baseball’s best stories. After not appearing in a playoff game for 21 years, the Pirates are looking to make it back to back playoff appearances this season. They entered play on Tuesday just 2.5 games out of first place in the highly competitive NL Central, thanks in large part to the play of their dynamic third baseman. Surprisingly that player is Josh Harrison, and not Pedro Alvarez.

The days of the 30 home run hitting slugger are nearly a thing of the past, with just 14 players reaching the 30 homer plateau last season. That may seem like a decent amount, but it’s half (28) of what we saw just five seasons ago. Coming off of consecutive 30 home run seasons, most would’ve comfortably penciled Alvarez in for hitting that plateau again in 2014. After all, it’s his only true skill and it’s serviceable in both real life and in fantasy baseball. Let’s take a look at it under a fantasy microscope first, and then from the Pirates perspective.

During fantasy draft season, the 27-year-old Alvarez was the 10th third baseman off the board, selected on average at pick 76 overall according to FantasyPros. In a way, he felt safe. He’s a .235/.310/.470 hitter that was coming off of a 36 home run and 100 RBI season. A .235 batting average is hard to stomach in fantasy, but it has its place with a power output similar to Alvarez’s. With a nERD of 0.05 to date, clearly that’s not what we’ve seen thus far in 2014.

First some good news, as a look under the hood shows some improvements in Alvarez’s batting eye, with both his walk rate and strikeout rate heading in the right direction. Alvarez wasn’t afraid to talk a walk in the minors, and this season he’s walking more than ever before. His 10.8% walk rate is the highest of his Major League career, and up a full 3% over last season. At the same time, he’s cut his strikeouts down significantly, albeit still above league average. After three consecutive seasons north of 30%, Alvarez is down to just 24% this season.

Improved plate discipline for a power hitter like this typically leads to more production. Anthony Rizzo is a great example of this. He’s taken a very similar step forward in his plate discipline numbers this season, but with a very different outcome than Alvarez.

Typically seeing more pitches allows a hitter to go deeper into counts and provides them more opportunities to get a pitch to drive. Rizzo is doing exactly that - Alvarez, not so much. His .240 ISO was the seventh best in the game last season, ahead of Jose Bautista, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. This season’s .165 ISO is good (bad?) for 58th overall, behind the likes of Brett Gardner, Marcell Ozuna and teammate Neil Walker.

When looking at which pitches are causing Alvarez the most trouble, it’s easy; the answer is all of them. Most Major Leaguers feast on fastballs in hitter’s counts, and that’s still the case with Alvarez, with 11 of his 15 home runs coming against the fastball. It’s the off-speed and breaking balls that are causing him havoc. Here’s a look:


I don’t like the looks of this, and neither do the Pirates. His inability to cash in on his only redeeming skill has landed him on the pine quite a bit lately. On Sunday, with Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen out of the lineup, the Pirates gave right-handed hitter Jason Nix a start against right-hander Tyson Ross, keeping Alvarez on the bench. That’s quite telling.

Talk of him taking his glove across the diamond to first base is picking up steam, and such a move would minimize the risk of Alvarez air-mailing a throw into the stands at PNC Park. I just don’t think the Pirates are in a rush to get his bat in the lineup when that bat isn’t giving much hope. He’s still owned in 75% of Yahoo! leagues, but I’m giving you permission to drop him. Clearly you’ve been waiting for it.