18 March 2016

Pedro Alvarez And Fly Balls

Despite what the Orioles and Buck Showalter are trying to sell you about Pedro Alvarez's defensive skills, you pretty much know what you're getting with him. He'll wear out right-handed pitching, and he has power. He's also similar to Chris Davis when it comes to average home run and fly ball distance. Here are the two players' MLB ranks since 2012 (with average distance in parentheses):

201232nd (297)6th (306.7)
20138th (308.7)3rd (311.4)
201421st (298)23rd (297.6)
20152nd (315.7)3rd (310.8)
Stats via Baseball Heat Maps

That doesn't mean Alvarez is a better hitter than Davis. He's clearly not. In two of the last three years, Davis has been one of the very best hitters in the game. Alvarez, meanwhile, has been good, but not great. But when the two players hit the ball in the air, they tend to hit it far. 

Alvarez doesn't pull the ball nearly as much as Davis, though, and he hits the ball on the ground a lot more. Davis's percentage of pulled balls in play has gone up each of the last four seasons, from around 43% to 56%. Alvarez, meanwhile, has hovered around 37-44% and hits the ball up the middle much more (career 37% vs. Davis's 29%). In his career, Alvarez has hit the ball on the ground nearly 47% of the time, compared to 35% of the time for Davis. Alvarez's 53 GB% and 27 FB% were his highest and lowest, respectively, in a season since 2011.

Alvarez's ridiculous HR/FB rate of 33% in 2015 jumps out, especially since his HR/FB rate was half of that in 2014, when he also hit 12% more fly balls. Alvarez's fly balls per ball in play against hard pitches have been declining since 2012, and they also trended down against breaking and off-speed pitches after an uptick in 2014. But he is still hitting line drives at a decent clip (against hard and breaking pitches, at least).

Alvarez does hit a lot of fly balls to left and center field, and he doesn't pull as many as you'd think (especially down the line). Most of his home runs are hit to right or right-center field, but he's also hit a good amount to center and left-center. Switching from a home ballpark of PNC Park to Camden Yards won't help in center or right field; the dimensions are mostly the same, with Camden Yards being a little deeper in straightaway center and right-center. The shorter dimensions in left field and left-center, however, could add a few extra home runs to Alvarez's total. 

Should you be concerned about Alvarez's recent batted ball profile? Not necessarily. He recently turned 29, and he's only signed to a one-year deal. There are some minor warning signs worth pointing out, but areas of concern can end up not mattering much at all. It's almost like you can't predict the future, or something.

There's not much to suggest Alvarez won't post above average numbers in 2016, especially if he's mainly deployed against right-handed pitching (which he should be). Steamer projects him to post a wRC+ of 121, with ZiPS at a more conservative 109. Either of those would be welcome, but will it be enough to significantly overcome Mark Trumbo's defense in right field? It's not surprising that the team willing to use Steve Pearce at second base for 121 innings last season is willing to find out.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and ESPN Home Run Tracker


dpsmith22 said...

Stats aside, Alvarez would have been a great pickup, without Trumbo. On a team that prides itself on defense, to have Trumbo in right is a joke.

Adding Alvarez is clearly the result of a front office that is extremely single minded and reactive.

LF/RF gaping holes, 2 years, unfixed. The inability to fix these issues, even as bad as they pitched, probably cost them a playoff birth. So should it have cost our GM, his job.

jerry said...

I saw Trumbro play right field this a week and a half ago and he made a nice sliding play on a line drive. Had a number of balls hit his way. Nothing I saw makes me think he can't be a decent right fielded.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Well, I guess it's settled then. Trumbo is now a decent right fielder.

Honestly, I think you can say the same about most players in the field at some point. If you watch Nolan Reimold on certain days, you'd swear he's a plus outfielder. Then he'll misread a ball or two and get a bad jump and you realize, maybe he's just OK.

Jon Shepherd said...

I saw that play to. You should see where he began, his first step, and how far he got. Compare that to a long term RF. The difference should be immediately clear. I remember when people use to talk about Mark Reynolds having a gold glove at first, which was basically based on the fact that he fell down a lot and not much else.

Jon Shepherd said...


Keep this in mind, I talk to scouts and front office analytics folks. They think it will be pretty fun to watch Trumbo in the outfield. They were razzing me.

Roger said...

Oh, Jon, the whole Mark Reynolds thing was a comparison to his play at third which was all the more evident when his replacement turned out to be Machado. He just didn't embarrass himself as badly at first.