In Pedro Alvarez’s sophomore season, the then-24 year old third baseman suffered from the “sophomore slump.” Starting in 62 games, Alvarez hit just .191 with a .272 on-base average while slugging .289, earning him a demotion to AAA Indianapolis after a rehab stint ended in mid-June. His 2012 campaign has been a completely different story. He’s played in 82 of the team’s 91 games, improving to a .296 on-base average and a slugging percentage of .474. Although he’s only played in eight more games this year, he’s almost already quintupled his home run total, hitting 19 in 2012 as opposed to four one year ago. However, Alvarez’s season success hasn’t been since the season started.
Up until the Pirates’ three-game set against the Cleveland Indians from June 15th to the 17th, Alvarez was putting up numbers comparable to his miserable 2011 season. When a player who was drafted second overall is hitting .192 with a .633 OPS through 54 games played, it was hard for fans — and management — not to think “okay, this kid is probably a bust.” In the first game of the series, it was same old, same old as Pedro went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk. In the final two games, however, Alvarez crushed the Indians pitchers, collecting four hits in eight at-bats, hitting four home runs and driving in nine. Since the Cleveland series started, he has hit a .292 batting average and a 1.085 OPS with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.
A visual representation of Pedro Alvarez’s OPS makes his advancements look even better. As you can see, his OPS climbs significantly around 55-57 games.
But Pedro hasn’t been consistent throughout the entire season. His recent success could be as a result of the rest of the team, most notably Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, having newfound success. Although he is only hitting .205 in the month, Alvarez tore up big league pitchers in June, batting .262 with a .354 on-base average with a slugging percentage of .571 in 24 games. Here are Pedro’s monthly splits.
Another thing noticed by Pirates fans this season is how he plays better in daylight than he does at night, unlike most Major League players. The “average” MLB batter will hit a .247 batting average and a .703 OPS during an afternoon start, whereas he would hit .257 with an OPS of .726 during an evening or nighttime game. Alvarez, on the other hand, has a daytime OPS of 1.133, over .500 points higher than his night OPS (.595). He’s hit .292/.369/.764 with 12 home runs and driving in 29 in 27 games with an afternoon start, as opposed to his .189 average and .260 on-base percentage while slugging just .335 at night.
A theory for this is that he sees the ball better with natural lighting than with artificial. However, Pedro strikes out more during the daytime, having a 36% strikeout rate in the afternoon and a 35.1% K% at night, but he does walk more as well, with an 11.7% BB% during the day and an 8.3% walk rate at night.
Alvarez is having a “Willie Stargell” season, where he will hit a huge amount of home runs but strike out a huge number of times. In 1971, when Pops led the league in home runs (48), came second in RBIs (125), had a 185 OPS+, and came second in MVP voting to Joe Torre (in which was a huge mistake by the BBWAA), he also led the league in Ks, striking out 154 times in 511 at-bats. Alvarez is on pace to hit 35 home runs but strike out 182 times in the same number of at-bats as Pops.
His offense is not the only aspect of his game which he has improved on. In his rookie season, Alvarez has an absolutely terrible defender, shown by his -8.6 UZR/150, which was eighth worst in the MLB among third basemen with at least 500 innings at the position. 2012, on the other hand, has been a huge improvement. He ranks seventh among qualified third basemen in UZR/150 with 5.5.
If the 25-year old 6’3″ third baseman can continue his progress, he’ll be something really special in a few years.