Fact or Fiction examines the performance of a player, good or bad, and determines whether he'll continue his success this season or if he has just been flukey-good. Today's Fact or Fiction looks at Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
Pedro Alvarez was drafted as the second overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft by the Pirates. At the time, the native of the Dominican Republic was a standout bat at Vanderbilt University, hitting 17 home runs and carrying a triple-slash line of .397/.467/.706 in his final season with the Commodores.
Even though it was not to the same degree, Alvarez continued his success at the plate with the Pirates through the minor leagues, climbing through all levels of the organization's system in less than two years. In 2010, he began his second season of professional ball with the club's Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians. Alvarez stayed with the teams until mid-June, hitting .277, with 13 home runs over 242 at-bats. At the age of 23, Alvarez made his major league debut on June 16, 2010. He finished his abbreviated rookie season with a .256/.326/.461 triple-slash line, hitting 16 home runs, with 64 RBI over 347 at-bats.
Even though his batting average was low, mainly because of his struggles against left-handed pitching, the Pirates saw 2010 as a successful season for Alvarez at the big league level, and a step in the right direction for more growth to come in the immediate future.
Alvarez started the 2011 season as the Bucs everyday third baseman, but struggled greatly, posting a triple-slash of only .208/.304/.283 with 2 home runs and 42 strikeouts in his first 125 at-bats of the season. On May 20th, the team decided to demote him to Triple-A to work on his approach and mechanics at the plate. After seeing success in the minors, he was recalled in mid-July to finish the season with the big league club. He again struggled after his recall, hitting only .173 in his final 110 at-bats of the season, while failing to see regular playing time.
When facing left-handed pitching in 2011, he posted a miserable .158/.256/.289 triple-slash line, hitting only one home run in his 38 at-bats against. The argument of a small sample size can be made because of his limited at-bats, but the other side of that argument is there was a reason he wasn't facing left-handed pitchers on a regular basis.
When the 2012 season started, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle
protected the now 25 year-old third baseman from his struggles against lefties. Even though he was not in a true platoon, Alvarez did see limited starts when the team faced left-handed pitching.
Although he started the year slowly, hitting only .205 through the first two months of the season, Alvarez did show off his power by hitting eight home runs over the same 151 at-bats. His power production is probably what kept the organization from demoting him again at that time. The team's patience was rewarded because from June 1st to the end of the season Alvarez went on to hit 22 more home runs, for a total of 30, and finished the season with a .244/.317/.467 triple-slash line.
He still had a noticeable split in production when facing left-handed pitching compared to right-handed pitching, and that is something that probably will follow him throughout his career, keeping his batting average in the .250-.260 range. There were some encouraging statistics though when comparing his at-bats against righties and lefties that may lead one to believe that he established a "production basement" last season.
The most encouraging sign, if you have come to terms that Alvarez is essentially a source of power production and not a high average hitter, is his home run-to-fly-ball rate splits. In 2012 against lefties, Alvarez posted a 24-percent HR/FB rate, while posting only a slightly better 25-percent mark against right-handed pitchers. Another encouraging stat is his 20-percent line drive rate against lefties, versus a lower mark of 18-percent against right-handed pitching.
Other indications of overall improvement at the plate in 2012 - where Alvarez was hitting the ball. He did a much better job at driving the ball to the opposite field in 2012 compared to 2011, hitting 24-percent of his line drives to the opposite field, compared to just 14-percent in 2011. He also reduced the amount of ground balls that he pulled from 69-percent in 2011 to a 64-percent mark in 2012. If he is able to continue to improve on these numbers, opposing teams will not be able to implement an infield shift on him, which, in theory, should allow more ground balls to become hits instead of outs.
As stated earlier, the progress Pedro Alvarez made throughout his 2012 indicates it should be a good basement when it comes to his production over the upcoming prime years of his career. Because he will continue to have a noticeable split in production against right-handed and left-handed pitching, he probably will not become a consistent .270-plus hitter over his career, but his threat of hitting a home run and ability to drive in runs will make him a productive hitter over the next five years of his career.