Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pedro: Not Time To Panic

OK, Pedro Alvavrez was raking in Indy, and though he still had holes in his game, the FO brought him up last month. They had concerns - he was in 0-2 holes in nearly a third of his AAA at-bats, and that is a recipe for disaster in the show - but the combination of need and Alvarez's continuing professional education made the move timely.

Third base was a black hole offensively for the run-challenged Pirates. Pedro had a miserable start and got hurt. Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison, along with occasional outings by Steve Pearce, Chase d'Arnaud and Pedro Ciriaco, tried to plug the hole. Wood came the closest to taking over; his average was dreadful, but he had some pop and a decent glove. Harrison provided a better stick and speed, but came with shaky leather, non-existent plate discipline and a resulting OBP that only his mom could love.

Faced with a continued Wood/Harrison platoon - and they were both in danger of losing the spot to d'Arnaud, until he broke his finger - or the opportunity to get Pedro back in the swing of things, the brass went with the Pedro option.

We agreed with the move then, and agree with it now. Pedro had a line of .365/.461/.587 with an OPS of 1.048 at Indy. In spite of obvious problems with staying within the strike zone, he struck out 18 times in 76 plate appearances, a bearable 24% rate. His plate discipline certainly needed work, but would he see the type of pitching at Indy that he needed to improve his eye? Probably not; there's a reason pitchers are in AAA instead of the show.

So with a couple of misgivings, Pedro reclaimed the hot corner. He's shown bursts of pitch recognition, but has been caught in a whirlpool of speed-of-light adjustments made by MLB pitchers, much the same as happened at various points to McCutch and Neil Walker.

Pitchers welcomed him back with the usual array of stuff riding outside the zone; he laid off it, waiting for a strike before unleashing his stick. They caught on quickly enough and started pumping their first offering down the middle to get ahead of him. Pedro countered by getting aggressive early, and the pitchers responded by staying at the edges of the strike zone to get him fishing.

And the first pitch is huge. When Pedro falls behind 0-1, he hits .160 and K's 43% of the time. At 1-0, he hits .292 with a 25% strikeout rate. So the results of an at-bat are often determined by whether the batter or hitter claims the first pitch edge. (he's a .400 hitter when he puts the first pitch in play, if you're curious).

The cat-and-mouse game goes on day in and day out, and is a familiar one to every MLB hitter. Pedro's struggles with catching up to the tricks of the trade are no different of those pangs suffered by Jose Bautista and Aramis Ramirez in their early years, as pointed out by Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects in his recent post.

Everyone goes through the learning pangs; both Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen have had long streaks of futility until they finally worked out the program pitchers were using against them.

One thing the Pirates could do to ease Pedro's load is to give him a blow against lefties, as they did Saturday. He has shown noticeable splits across the board in his short career, including average, power, and strikeouts.

Is Pedro Alvarez gonna figure it out and become the middle-of-the-order presence that Pittsburgh has lacked since Brian Giles? Well, maybe. That page has yet to be written. He could end up being another A-Ram, or maybe another Jeff King, the first selection taken in 1986 who had a long and steady career, or maybe he'll just wash out.

But the history of second round picks suggests that he's just going through a learning period now. That round has produced guys like Mike Moustakis, Alex Gordon, Rickie Weeks and BJ Upton in the past decade among position players, and highly selected hitters are more likely to succeed than pitchers among top draft picks. The caveat: power guys usually take a little longer than the contact hitters.

We understand the fans' reaction to Pedro starting off slowly. He still has doubters after his midnight madness signing antic, and has been pushed relentlessly as the savior of the Pirates punch-and-judy attack. Pittsburgh's followers have high expectations for Alvarez, and people are frustrated and impatient now after his hot September and the Pirates recent slide.

Only time will tell if he's the answer. But it's way too early in his career to be calling for his head; give the kid a chance to show what kind of player he'll become.

1 comment:

WilliamJPellas said...

You're right. It usually takes power hitters longer to become effective big leaguers. That's one reason why I don't like one or two tool players unless they're truly exceptional in their one or two tools---like Adam Dunn was prior to this year. Otherwise, give me a team loaded with line drive, 15 HR, 25 SB guys who also play good defense, and I bet I win more games than a team with a bunch of leadfoot sluggers on it. Versatility, especially in the National League, is the name of the game. Give me guys who can beat you lots of different ways, not just one or two.