Pedro Alvarez’s Career Has Ground to a Halt

pedro alvarez

In July of 2013, Pedro Alvarez earned what figured to be his first of many All-Star appearances. The second overall pick in the 2008 draft took part in the Home Run Derby at Citi Field, a fitting honor for a slugger who would go on to launch a National league-best 36 round-trippers while helping the Pirates reach the postseason for the first time since 1992. Alvarez also seemingly proved far more nimble than his 6-foot-3, 240-plus pound frame would suggest, saving +3 runs compared to an average defensive third baseman. At 26, Alvarez looked like a middle-of-the-lineup masher who would complement tooled-up outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte for years to come.

As we approach the 2015 Midsummer Classic, however, Alvarez won’t be anywhere near the festivities — and his spot in the Pirates’ lineup is far from assured. Alvarez’s extreme throwing woes shifted him from third to first base for good in 2015, putting more pressure on his bat. Problem is, Pedro hasn’t been that potent: his park-adjusted OPS is just 7% better than the MLB average, which ranks 18th among first basemen who have taken at least 200 trips to the plate. Add in his rough transition to the cold corner (he has cost the Bucs -8 runs compared to an average first baseman), and Alvarez has been one of the game’s worst performers during the first half. With -0.3 Wins Above Replacement, he bests only Ryan Howard (-0.5 WAR) and Ryan Zimmerman (-0.6 WAR) among regular first basemen.

One of the biggest problems for the man known as El Toro is that he’s hitting ground balls like a slap-and-dash leadoff hitter. Over the past few seasons, Alvarez hit grounders slightly less often (about 42% in 2013-14) than the average MLB batter (44%). This year, he’s chopping the ball into the grass an alarming 56% of the time. Among all qualified hitters, only Nori Aoki (60.4%), Dee Gordon (59.5%), Yunel Escobar (59.1%), Jean Segura (57.6%), Jose Iglesias (57.4%) and Jason Heyward (57.4%) have been grounded more often. As you might expect for a burly guy pushing 250 pounds, Alvarez doesn’t beat out many close plays at first base (he’s batting .207 on ground balls in 2015 — 33 points below the MLB average — and his career mark is also .207).

Pedro’s not just struggling to loft one pitch type, either — he’s hitting more grounders across the board:

Fastball: 52.5% ground ball rate in 2015, 39% career average
Slider: 47.4% in 2015, 42% career average
Curveball: 80% in 2015, 59.5% career average
Changeup: 58.8% in 2015, 51.5% career average

In terms of pitch location, Alvarez is having an especially hard time driving stuff thrown away. His ground ball rate on pitches thrown to the outer third of the zone has spiked to 70%, compared to a 52% career average. That’s bad news for a guy who sees far more outer-third pitches (55%), than the average hitter (49%).

Alvarez probably isn’t long for Pittsburgh — not with first base prospect Josh Bell raking at Double-A Altoona (.325/.395/.444) and free agency looming following the 2016 season. But the Bucs could lose patience with their underachieving slugger even sooner if he keeps imitating Jean Segura at the plate. Maybe he needs to watch some video from that 2013 Home Run Derby to re-discover the uppercut swing that used to imperil boaters beyond the right field fence at PNC Park.