Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Hidden Vigorish Prophecies for 2014: Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez is a lightening rod for Pirate fans. From the very beginning of his career the expectations for Pedro were enormous. Not since Barry Bonds had the Pirates drafted a hitter with the pedigree of Pedro Alavrez when they selected him as the second overall pick of the 2008 draft. As a Scott Boras client Pedro was expected to command a large draft signing bonus. In previous years the Pirates had avoided drafting such players. Pedro was billed as the next great power hitter. Many believe Pedro is still destined to become that.

In some respects Pedro Alavarez has become an elite power hitter. At the very least he has shown elite power. Last year he tied Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead with 36 home runs. This after clubbing 33 home runs in 2012. Unfortunately, Pedro has proven to do little else well at the plate. He doesn’t draw many walks and he strikes out a lot. But that only fuels the believe that he is on the verge of breaking out. He is just now entering his prime. Next season he will only be 27 years old.

The problem with this line of thinking is that Pedro is the type of hitter that typically peaks earlier than most hitters. Bill James dubbed this as “Old Player Skills”. James stated, “young players with old player’s skills…tend to peak early and fade away earlier than other players”. SaberBucs.com pointed this out by showing that Pedro’s ten most statistically comparable players did not have great age 27 seasons and typically began to decline soon afterwards.
I put less stock in comparables than Saber Bucs does, but there is still plenty of evidence to suggest Pedro doesn’t have much upside remaining. Fangraphs.com has done some great work in recent years on aging curves of various skills. Isolated Power (ISO) has been proven to peak much earlier than expected. If Pedro were to follow this aging curve we should expect his power will begin to diminish now.
What is Pedro without his power? His improvement in offensive productivity has been solely fueled by his power increase. His plate discipline has shown no improvements. He continues to strike out 30% of the time. Last year he posted just a 7.8% walk rate. That was the lowest rate of his career. He has increased the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that he swings at every season in his career. This defies how most hitters age. Generally as hitters age plate discipline improves.
There are two reasons to be somewhat bullish on the potential for Pedro’s offensive productivity in 2014. His HR/FB rates have been exceptional the past two seasons. Last season 26.3% of the fly balls Pedro hit cleared the fences. Only Chris Davis had a higher HR/FB rate. Meanwhile the percentage of fly balls that Pedro has been hitting is steadily increasing. Last season his FB% was a career high 36.4%. Given Pedro’s high HR/FB rate, lifting more balls could mean quite a few more home runs. Chris Davis had a very similar HR/FB and K% to Pedro, yet Davis clubbed 17 more homers simply because he is an extreme fly ball hitter. Pedro won’t get his FB% up to the 45.7% that Chris Davis posted in 2013. But if Pedro can raise his FB% to 40% he very likely would break the 40 homer barrier. The second reason to be hopeful of a better Pedro is his playoff performance and September splits indicated there was a more patient hitter somewhere in that big body. During September he struck out just 21.4% of the time. That was the lowest K% for any month in his career. A small sample size for sure, but a positive sign nonetheless. For these reasons I think Pedro will out perform most of his offensive sabermetric projections, albeit only slightly. I do think this will be the best season of Pedro’s career. I just don’t think it will be that much better than his previous two seasons.

The rest of Pedro’s game should be relatively stable. He made great strides defensively in 2013. For the first time in his career he was on the plus side for Defensive Runs Saved. He still makes a ton of errors, but he makes up for that with some surprisingly good range. I rate him average defensively and I think that will continue to be true in 2014. The same could be said for his base running skills. He doesn’t have the wheels to swipe bags but the advanced metrics show he has actually evolved into a savvy base runner.

Without further ado, here are the final estimations I’m using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First WAR Calculator to estimate the 2014 WAR for Pedro Alvarez:

AVG – .247
OBP – .323
SLG – .484
Plate Appearances – 600
Games – 150
Position – 3B
Defense – 4 (average)
Base Running – 3 (average)

And the verdict for Pedro Alvarez 2014 WAR is… 3.9

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