The New Plate Approach for Pedro Alvarez
Pedro Alvarez Breakout Candidate
Will Pedro Alvarez finally live up to expectations in 2014?
Ever since Pedro Alvarez made his major league debut in June of 2010, he has posted a very high strikeout rate. While Pedro's power has made him a strong candidate to draw the occasional intentional walk, his walk percentage since his debut, has been below 10 percent in every full season that he has played. To this point in Pedro's career, he has been a decent every day player in the big leagues, but he has not met the expectations that come with being a second overall draft pick. Alvarez has always been somewhat of a guess hitter at the plate, which leads to him taking big swings at off-speed pitches that are down and out of the zone. Pedro also has chased fastballs up in the zone when he is not seeing many fastballs within the strike zone. It is safe to say, that to this point in the career of Pedro Alvarez, he has created two major holes in his swing, that need a lot of work to be corrected.
The Difference Now
The past two off seasons Alvarez has spent significant periods of time with the excellent coaching staff at IMG baseball academy. Last season his work with them paid off, as he hit 36 homeruns and drove in 100 runs, but the holes in his swing were still evident throughout the season. Based on early results so far this spring, it appears that Pedro has adopted a completely new approach that could help take his game to the next level. Rather than guessing and chasing, Pedro is seeing the ball and hitting the ball. He is using his swing to find the ball in the zone, rather than just taking a big rip and hoping the right part of the bat hits the ball squarely. So far, this has led to much better contact rates for Pedro, when compared to past springs where he would go a number of at bats without putting the ball in play. We have to keep in mind that spring training results have to be taken lightly, since competition is not a factor for some players, but the early indications are that Pedro has made a break through.
Will a strong approach be maintained?
Throughout his career, Pedro Alvarez has had one to two week stretches at a time, where he was absolutely on fire. During these stretches, his approach at the plate has appeared the strongest it has ever been throughout his young career. His approach would be one where he is keeping his head down on the ball, so that he could see the bat make contact with the ball, rather than just flailing wildly. However, Pedro has never been able to maintain this approach all the time, and after these hot stretches, he has reverted back to the bad habits that were typical of his most common approach at the plate. These hot streaks by Pedro Alvarez were never an early season occurrence, so to see him employing a strong approach in preseason, is something very rare for him. While it remains to be seen, if Alvarez will stick with a stronger and more successful approach at the plate, being able to start a season with an approach like that, is a very good sign for him.
Alvarez has talked in past off seasons and spring training, about trying to cut down on the strikeouts and make better contact with the pitches he can drive. This new approach where he sees the ball and hits the ball, will allow him to cut down on strikeouts, as long as he maintains the approach. Seeing the successful results of the approach, may be enough to convince Pedro that he has truly made a breakthrough that he can stick with. This approach is not guaranteed to cut out every strikeout, but it should eliminate outs along with swings and misses on some of the lesser quality pitches that Pedro has gotten out on in the past. Success with the right approach, can go a long way in allowing a batter to buy in, so that they maintain that approach.
Breakout playoff performance
In the 2013 postseason, Pedro Alvarez played in 6 games, and batted .300 over 22 at bats during that stretch. He also had 3 homeruns and 7 RBI in those six games, which ranked among the best performances in the postseason through the wildcard and division rounds. Some thought that Pedro's postseason performance, could mark a turning point in his career, but a closer look at the numbers show that Pedro was not employing his best approach during the postseason. In those 6 games, Alvarez had 1 walk to go along with 7 strikeouts. Even though this is a small sample, the strikeout numbers would suggest that his contact rates in the postseason were poor. These poor contact rates would suggest that the postseason was just one of Pedro's noteworthy weeks, where he was able to hit the ball over the fence at a high rate. This is where his new approach differs from what he put on display during the postseason.
Was 2013 Pedro's breakout season?
When a batter hits 36 homeruns and drives in 100 runs for the first time, typically that is thought of as that players' breakout season. For Pedro Alvarez on a 94 win team, after hitting 30 homeruns in 2012, this was not the case. He batted mostly 4th or 5th for the 2013 Pirates, with players who had great on base skills, batting ahead of him in the lineup. Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen all batted in the first three slots in the Pirates order in 2013, and all of them notched a .339 on base percentage or better, led by McCutchen's .404 on base percentage. In a true breakout season, in which more hits were collected, Alvarez would have easily surpassed the 100 RBI total. Pedro hit .233 in 2013, but his contact skills were at an all-time low for him. His batting average on balls put in play was .276, which would suggest that his outs in play, were not often hard hit. Defensive shifting played a role in that number being low, but Pedro's approach at the plate in 2013, led to some mishit, soft ground balls. This is why better contact skills put on display by Pedro Alvarez, could be so huge for his team and his own numbers in 2014.
Ultimately Pedro Alvarez has the hand speed and bat quickness to catch up with some of the better fastballs thrown in the game today, so he does not need to be out in front with huge swings in order to drive the ball. He has the strength to drive the ball by squaring it up, so muscling up on his swing with huge hacks, has actually hurt his power numbers in the past. Pedro's strength should allow him to post outstanding numbers if he sticks with a more contact friendly approach. So the answer to the question posed at the beginning of the article, is that Pedro Alvarez will live up to expectations, as long as he does not stray from his new hitting approach too often during the upcoming season.