FanGraphs says the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez has shown "warts" this season:â†µ
Alvarez currently has a strikeout rate of 36.8 K%, which is not going to get it done at the MLB level. His triple-slash line currently sits at .241/.319/.421 in 266 at-bats. Youth is still on his side, but his value is taking another hit… this time on defense. Alvarez, who has as negative UZR and a poor fielding reputation, will most certainly be moving to first base in the near future.â†µ
None of this is wrong, but I'm not overly worried. To translate all this into plain English for those of you who don't follow baseball stats, Alvarez is striking out way too much, and his negative Ultimate Zone Rating suggests he doesn't field particularly well.â†µ
Alvarez actually makes a fair number of difficult plays in the field, and he has a good arm. But he's prone to lapses, and he's big and slow and is unlikely to become a better defensive third baseman as he gets older (and bigger and slower). He might play another season or two at third, but that's about it. Then again, though, we've known that about Alvarez since he was drafted.â†µ
The strikeouts are certainly a problem. In terms of the value of his current contributions, it makes little difference what kind of outs Alvarez makes. The problem is what the strikeouts will mean for his future. Some players who strike out a ton, like the Nationals' Adam Dunn, can be consistently productive hitters. But one problem other high-strikeout guys have is that they tend to put up unpalatable batting averages from time to time, as the Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds has this year, batting .206 with 32 homers and 192 strikeouts so far this year after batting .260 with 44 homers and 223 strikeouts in his brilliant 2009 campaign. Mark Reynolds is a good player, but if Alvarez's career is dotted with .206 seasons, Pirates fans will be disappointed.â†µ
If there's one thing we know about Alvarez, though, it's that as a hitter, he's capable of learning and adjusting. In his first pro season last year, he struggled for the first couple months at Lynchburg, then actually got promoted to Altoona and struggled there as well. But he made adjustments, hit .370 after the All-Star break, and cobbled together a good season overall. This year, he had a terrible first month with Class AAA Indianapolis, hitting .224, but then destroyed the ball until he was promoted to the bigs ... at which point he looked thoroughly lost and easily exploited for his first few weeks before breaking out with a barrage of homers in July.â†µ
Alvarez is only 23 and has a longstanding pattern of overcoming his struggles. The strikeouts are absolutely worth keeping an eye on, but I still think his future is extremely bright.