Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pedro Alvarez's Career Going Forward

Evaluating baseball talent is some of the hardest work that a baseball scout and management team has to do. Unlike other sports like the NFL and NBA there is a minor league system that almost every player must go through and it might take four or five years before you even see a prospect that you draft or sign and even if you are drafting at the top of the draft board it is a shot in the dark, to some point, as to whether that player is going to be the next Albert Pujols, or the next Brian Bullington. You never really know.

In major league baseball today there are have’s and have nots. For those who are fortunate enough to have deep pockets they don’t have to worry about the minor league system as much as the other teams and they can use the free agent system to fill in holes. Teams like the Pirates are not fortunate enough to where they can go out and spend $150M on players like Pujols and Alex Rodriguez so they have to draft well and develop their Latin American in order to compete. For small market teams the draft and player development is the holy grail of your franchise and one or two bad years can set your team back for so many more years.

When at the top of the draft you are looking for that one player that you can build around for the future and that is what the Pirates thought they had with Pedro Alvarez when they took him second overall in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Alvarez was the big bat in the draft class and the third baseman the team was supposed to be building around. It has been a long road from that night on 2008 until now but we are just beginning to scratch what Pedro Alvarez can do, both good and bad.

With the way the business is run in today’s age of baseball money is a huge driving force. When players get drafted they want their worth in dollars and it is their agents jobs to get them that money, and more. With the money comes higher expectations and when players don’t live up to those expectations they are deemed a bust. Sometimes fans, which is short for fanatics, expect that these players should come in and produce at a high level just because they were drafted high or because they got a huge signing bonus. While it is true that these players are held to a different standard than other, late round, draft picks they all develop in different ways and have different paths to their eventual place in baseball history. While it is true that just because a certain player is drafted in a certain spot doesn’t mean that they are destined to become a top flight player just as the players who are taken in the 20th round are destined to become just organizational players.

One flaw that a lot of people have is judging a player based on a small sample size. Everyone gets caught up in evaluating players on small sample sizes but that doesn’t mean that total results should be written in stone. In a vacuum of a season we can get swept up in a two week stretch that a player just can’t get out and we want to jump head first in and project that player out to being a multi-time All-Star and a Hall of Fame player. Even in the scope of a career we can take a small sample size of 500 plate appearances and pretend like this player is never going to reach his potential or he is going to break Pete Rose’s all time hits record. Sometimes you need to take a step back and put things in perspective into a player’s career and where he might end up.

After last night’s game we saw the worst of it from some Pirates fans. Granted, Pedro Alvarez did not have a good showing, going 0-for-5 and grounding into three double plays in his first three at bats that really killed any momentum that the Pirates had built. The boo birds came down pretty had on Pedro as it might have been one of the worst games of his season. The 0-for-5 night dropped Pedro to a .206/.276/.303 triple slash line with an OPS+ of only 62 and a wOBA of .265 which is about as bad as it can get for a guy that is supposed to be one of the main building blocks of the Pirates future.

As bad as it has been for Pedro he has been sidelined for much of the season with a pretty bad quad injury letting him only play in 48 games with the big club. He has a total of 193 plate appearances and not a lot of them have been good, as stated above. Some, if not most, people are clamoring to send Pedro back to AAA to play and work it out. The booing last night was loud and the shouts by some to just get rid of Pedro are baffling. While it is true that Pedro was probably brought back up from AAA before he was ready that doesn’t mean it would be automatically beneficial to send him back down now.

To first get into the top let’s play a game. Here are three players and their stats to start their respective careers. Who would you pick:

Player A: 145 games, 483 plate appearances, .197/.324/.367, OPS+ 90, 19 HR, 11 2B, 151 SO
Player B: 143 games, 579 plate appearances, .239/.310/.408, OPS+ 96, 19 HR, 29 2B, 179 SO
Player C: 216 games, 700 plate appearances, .232/.281/.313, OPS+ 68, 6 HR, 26 2B, 76 SO

Hit the jump to find out which players are which. Again, think about who you would pick.

If you haven’t figured it out yet one of these players is Pedro Alvarez. The other two players are Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. If you took player B, who statistically has the best line of the three then you would be selecting the guy that everyone wanted sent back down to AAA after not even a season’s worth of plate appearances. Player A is Mike Schmidt and player B was known as one of the best third baseman to ever play the game, Brooks Robinson.

In this situation I am obviously only talking about offensive performance as Brooks Robinson was a much better defensive third baseman and Pedro has a -9.5 UZR in his 143 career games, but offense is mainly what people are talking about when it comes to Pedro Alvarez. I will touch on Pedro’s defense a little bit later, but the focus of most of this is going to be about his offensive production.

Robinson finished his career as a .267/.322/.401 hitter with an OPS+ of 104 and a wOBA of .338 while Schmidt finished with a .267/.380/.527 line with a OPS+ of 143 and a wOBA of .395, which is pretty ridiculous. Granted both players played long careers with their teams and they played in different era’s but they were two great third baseman and were little deterred by slow starts to their career.

I don’t want people to think that I am saying that Alvarez is the second coming of Schmidt or Robinson as that would be foolish to even insinuate, but as you can see slow starts to the career isn’t something that is so far from normal that a slow first 500 or 600 plate appearances can definitively dictate what kind of career a player is going to have.

There are countless examples of players that have started their careers off slow only to bounce back and become greats of the game. Nate from Stealing First Base started a hash tag last night, #PedroAlvarezBust, which he came up with a huge list of players that started their careers off slow. It was highly intriguing and really pushed me to put this all together today. They include, but are not limited to:

Roberto Clemente: 501 plate appearances: .255/.284/.382
Barry Bonds: 484 plate appearances:.223/.330/.416
Reggie Jackson: 749 plate appearances: .236/.292/.426
Robin Yount: 346 plate appearances: .250/.276/.364
Garry Sheffield: 494 plate appearances: .246/.302/.348
Ty Cobb: 558 plate appearances: .217/.259/.283

Like I said, these are the first career plate appearances and I think you have heard of a few of those players. I am not saying that Alvarez is going to turn out like this but it really puts into perspective the sample size issue I was talking about earlier in the post.

Obviously there are highly touted players that were drafted high and just never got the job done. Rather than bounce back from a rough start they just kept falling until they were out of baseball and easily labeled as a bust. We know what this is like as Pirates fans as the system was littered with these kinds of players through shoddy drafting and player development in the recent past. Maybe that is a portion of why people are so cynical about Pedro but just because it happened before, under different management, doesn’t mean it is going to happen again with different players. I talked before about how it is a long process for players and sometimes it takes a while to get with it. Pedro was up to the majors pretty quickly and typically it takes a little longer for power hitters to develop. It can be frustrating, and it is extremely frustrating. Pedro could be a bust like many in history, but there are still great players, as seen above, that can bounce back and we will still have to wait and see.

Alvarez has his struggles, mainly in the realm of his pitch recognition and a propensity of striking out. Are they worrisome? Absolutely. He is known as a player that can just go off at a moment’s notice on a hot streak that can carry a team and then fall into a funk where he is striking out in over half of his plate appearances. I think many people knew what kind of hitter Alvarez was when the Pirates got him in the 2008 draft but I don’t think people think about that when they want him out of town.

Although the stat line is not great for Alvarez it really isn’t all bad. In his first professional season he hit for a .256/.326/.461 with a 111 OPS+ and a wOBA of .343. That is far from a bad stat line for his first 95 games. He did strike out 30.8% of his plate appearances but that sort of was expected. Alvarez never struck out less than 22% of his plate appearances at any point in the minor leagues. This year he is striking out over 31% of his plate appearances so it is pretty concerning, but I am not ready to jump off the bridge yet. While this year has been pretty bad last year was pretty good by most people’s standards in almost double the plate appearances than this year.

I only talked offense, but his defense can probably be talked in the same light. Most want to see him moved over to first base and that still is probably a possibility in the near future. While he has shown flashes of greatness in the field he is still struggling on some plays. He has improved in my eyes this season but I am not how much better he will get with the glove. I am sure he is working on it, but like the bat, it will take hard work and dedication.

Time will tell on Alvarez but he only has 579 career plate appearances. Not even a full year’s worth of data to look at. While I know some people are willing to throw him under the bus and call him a bust I think we need to all sit back and take a minute and let the kid develop. He is 24 years old and who knows what the future holds.

Overall I am frustrated and I am waiting for him to break out just like everyone else is. I am not 100% sure he is able to come out of this but it is far from a stretch. What do you think? Leave it in the comments and let me know what you think Pedro will do in the coming years.

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