He teases us with games like this every once in a while but overall he just doesn’t look like a good ball player. He can show us terrific power by swatting a ball nearly a mile but he can also make us all shake our heads by striking out 4 times a game. It almost seems like you taunt us Pedro, your offensive skills are exactly what this team desperately needs but yet you don’t show those skills nearly often enough. It was fairly common knowledge going into this season that you were the most important player to this team, your success or failure could buoy or sink the Pirates season.
So he we stand more than 60 games into the season and what exactly has changed? The answer, nothing. The Pirates find themselves on the fringe of contention and at the very least with a shot of breaking the 19 year losing streak. The debate about whether Pedro should be in the majors or AAA continues to rage amongst fans, media members and probably even the Pirates own front office. And above all else Pedro Alvarez remains the most important player to the success or failure of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.
I don’t see this Pirates team as a serous contender nor do I see them snapping the losing streak but there is one caveat in all of this: Pedro Alvarez. If Alvarez can become a feared middle of the order bat this team has the pitching, the offensive super star (McCutchen) and the supporting cast to at least finish 500 and maybe even hang in there in the central.
Nothing has changed these Pirates still need Alvarez so everything the Pirates can do to help needs to be done. Change his hitting stance or hire a personal hitting coach it really doesn’t matter what they need to do it needs to be done. Above all else though we find ourselves at the exact same place where this all started this season and it is with this simple phrase: Pedro is going to play and we need to pray.
Lots of talk about Alvarez and some already writing him off as a bust. So I figure this is as good a time as any to take a look at players who had comparable to starts to him through their age 24 season. Using Baseball Reference I took their top 10 comparables to Pedro Alvarez through age 24 (2012 is Alvarez’s age 25 season) and break them down below.
OPS+ (through age 24): 84
Career OPS+: 94
Best Season (1991, 29): 114 OPS+ (600 PA)
Bottom Line: Buechele was a league average player who lasted for 11 seasons.
OPS+ (through age 24): 99
Career OPS+: 90
Best Season (1989, 24): 106 OPS+ (566 PA)
Bottom Line: Worthington started his career as an average major league player but after the 1991 season he spent entire seasons in the minors only getting the occasionally call up and playing in part of a total of 7 seasons.
OPS+ (through age 24): 95
Career OPS+: 111
Best Season (1989, 29): 133 OPS+ (633 PA)
Bottom Line: Esasky had a fairly solid career but it ended rather abruptly in 1990. ‘m assuming it was from injury as he did attempt a come back through the minor leagues in 1992.
OPS+ (through age 24): 79
Career OPS+: 85
Best Season (1998, 26): 102 OPS+ (559 PA)
Bottom Line: Andrews at his best was a replacement level player and through 7 major league seasons he had a subpar career. He did show some power hitting 41 combined home runs in the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
OPS+ (through age 24): 90
Career OPS+: 87
Best Season (1947, 23): 94 OPS+ (385 PA)
Bottom Line: Lohrke started his career as a serviceable player but gradually grew less effective and saw his playing time in the majors decrease over his 7 year career.
OPS+ (through age 24): 70
Career OPS+: 74
Best Season (1989, 25): 85 OPS+ (581 PA)
Bottom Line: Hamilton had a pretty poor career but he did manage to play in parts of 6 seasons and record 1205 at bats. His career was very poor and he is your typical minor league depth player.
OPS+ (through age 24): 95
Career OPS+: 88
Best Season (1988, 26): 115 OPS+ (462 PA)
Bottom Line: Coles had a short lived run as an average major league starter early in his career but even after that was over he became a useful serviceable bench player, posting not terrible numbers and lasting 14 seasons.
OPS+ (through age 24): 63
Career OPS+: 82
Best Season (1966, 28): 93 OPS+ (423 PA)
Bottom Line: Smith had a surprisingly long 10 year career where he received a fair amount of playing time but he was a horrible hitter for his entire career.
OPS+ (through age 24): 76
Career OPS+: 119
Best Season (1954, 30): 140 OPS+ (678 PA)
Bottom Line: Hodges has a very productive career, the beginning of which was interrupted by WW2 over his 11 year prime he averaged 30 home runs a year and was an 8 time All Star.
OPS+ (through age 24): 72
Career OPS+: 66
Best Season (1987, 23): 91 OPS+ (414 PA)
Bottom Line: Williams played his way to a 6 year career primarily serving as a bench outfielder. His numbers were not great but he managed to be serviceable.
So what do we have here:
2 players who became truly good players (Esasky, Hodges)
3 players who played at near league average level (Buechele, Worthington, Coles)
3 players who played at a competent but below average level (Andrews, Lohrke, Smith)
2 players who were very poor players (Hamilton, Williams)
So basically by looking at his comparables we get a 50/50 chance that Alvarez will turn into a league average player. Hodges had a truly great career and was among the best players in the game for a time. Esasky had what was a beginning to a good career but injuries derailed him. Obviously at this point we would be glad to have Alvarez have a career anything like Hodges and probably would even take the 2-3 very productive years Esasky had. Even the average careers Buechele, Worthington and Coles put up would look respectable coming from Alvarez right now. The bottom line here is that history shows us through Alvarez’s comparables that there is still hope for him.
Let me start out by saying I don’t know how to fix the Pirates offense but I do have some suggestions.
The first problem everyone points too is Pedro Alvarez and yes he is a problem but I don’t think the Pirates gain anything from sending him to AAA at this point. If they send him down it can’t be for just a few weeks or a month it needs to be for an extended period of time which means they will not see him have much significant playing time in the majors. So the problem would just be repeated next season. Bottom line is he needs to play in the majors for at least the first 6 weeks to 2 months.
Now on to some solutions:
– McGehee’s past track record and his showing thus far this season has in my opinion earned him a starting job
– The struggles of Tabata have reached a point where he needs to start being spelled on a semi-regular basis why he figures it out
– Alvarez needs to be given the best chance to succeed, meaning he shouldn’t face left handers. With McGehee at 1st base Harrison should be the other half of the platoon
– Barmes and Barajas have been so poor offensively that I feel McKenry and Navarro should be given some playing time over them.
So what does this leave us with:
C: Barajas (7 out of 10 games), McKenry (3 out of 10 games)
3B: Alvarez (against RH), Harrison (against LH)
SS: Barmes (7 out of 10 games), Navarro (3 out of 10 games)
RF: Tabata (against all LH and some RH), Jones (against some RH)
Jones will also of course make a few starts at 1B (against RH) and McLouth will serve as the backup for Presley and McCutchen.
Let me start by saying that at this very moment I am in favor of letting Alvarez start at 3B in the majors and sending down Hague to start the season as the AAA first baseman. I will also add that I know you can not read much of anything into Spring Training numbers. However I am slowly turning to the opinion that allowing Hague to start the season in the majors and having Alvarez start off in the minors may not be that bad of an idea. I am now going to try to defend this opinion. First lets start by looking at both players current spring training numbers.
Alvarez: .167/.192/.417, 24 AB, 1 BB, 10 SO
Hague: .375/.375/.625, 24 AB, 0 BB, 4 SO
As I said I know very little can be gained from Spring Training stats but nonetheless a strikeout rate of 42% makes me very nervous about Alvarez this season. Meanwhile I don’t read too much into Hague’s spring training numbers but the performance he put up in AAA last season, .309/.372/.457 show me that he has nothing left to prove in AAA and deserves a chance in the majors.
Combine Hague’s performance last season with Alvarez’s struggles and also with the likelihood that McGehee will bonce back and the idea of starting Alvarez in AAA and Hague in the majors doesn’t seem so crazy. The way I see it this would give the Pirates a lineup of something like:
That is not a great lineup but if McGehee does bounce back and Hague manages to hold his own that lineup will be good enough to win games with good pitching from the rotation.
Now as for the bench if this were to happen I think the bench would have to look like:
Pedro Alvarez: Here it is the key to any success the Pirates may or may not have in 2012. The team as constituted has several holes but none are more apparent than the lack of a true cleanup hitter. The Pirates have little chance of finding such a player externally and their internal options are extremely limited. The only such player who exists in the system is one Pedro Alvarez. After a strong rookie campaign Alvarez posted an abysmal 2011 and right now no one really knows what to expect from Alvarez in 2012. He could bust or he could break out. The guess here as is often the case is that it will be somewhere in between. I foresee a slight improvement of his rookie numbers but not the 30 homer year he is certainly capable of. My prediction for him is 23 HR and a line of .250/.330/.480.
Casey McGehee: I have already covered McGehee at 1st base because that is where he will end up getting most of his playing time but he was also bought in to be the backup plan for Alvarez. The hope is that with the occasional exception of a spot start or maybe facing some tough lefties (with Nick Evans at 1st) that there will be little need for McGehee to appear at 3rd base. However if the need arises I expect him to perform better than the Harrison/Wood duo of last season.
Josh Harrison: Harrison will be given a chance to win a major league bench job but due to his lack of experience at SS will probably only stick if the Pirates decide to carry an extra infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. I expect him to start the season in AAA but with d’Arnaud, Mercer and Navarro all ticketed for AAA there may not be room for him to get regular starts in the infield. The Pirates could try to get him time in the OF but unless Lambo is held back in AA that does not seem too likely. Harrison will probably be needed to fill in sometime in the majors and when he does he should be rather serviceable.
Yamaico Navarro: Acquired this offseason for Brooks Pounders Navarro immediately vaults to the top of the Pirates 3rd base prospect rankings. This is more proof of how sad the state of the Pirates 3rd base prospects is than it is praise for him as a prospect. Navarro is a decent prospect and will be given a chance to win a job in the majors but if he doesn’t he will play in AAA. Like Harrison the crowded infield could force him into the outfield but once again the outfield appears pretty full. Navarro is likely to get a chance at some point this year and with more experience at SS than Harrison he could even be the first infielder in line for a call up. Being a new guy in the system I really do not know what to expect from Navarro but my guess here is that he will be in the Harrison mold and will be capabale of being a decent bench guy. His defensive skills and strike zone awareness will make him a slightly better option than Harrison though.
Elevys Gonzalez: Gonnzalez has hit well at every level but lacks the power to be a legit 3rd base prospect. His bat would play well in the middle infield but his defense there is suspect at best. He should start the season in AA but with Farrell possibly repeating the level he may slide over to 2nd to begin the season (assuming Cunningham isn’t promoted). There is no reason to believe he will not continue to hit at a decent clip but on the flip side there is little reason to believe his power and/or defense will improve. Essentially what we have in Gonzalez is another utility type player in a similar mold to Harrison and Navarro.
Eric Avila: Avila was the Pirates best 3rd base prospect headed into the 2011 season but he struggled mightily in A ball. In fact his struggles were so bad that me listing him as the Pirates 3rd best third base prospect is probably on the optimistic side. He displayed some power in the GCL the previous season but that all but evaporated last season. On the plus side he did make strides on his defensive game. Avila will likely repeat A ball this season and while it would be surprising to see him not improve on his numbers from last year, he will have to have a huge season to get back into the legit prospect status.
Summary: Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect standpoint so that makes it even more important that Pedro Alvarez succeeds. Looking at the talent the Pirates have down on the farm and ignoring the possibility of McGehee returning to 2009-10 form the only chance the Pirates have to get good production from 3rd base this year or in the immediate future is Pedro Alvarez. I hate to put so much on one player’s shoulders but in reality it’s the case. The production the Pirates get from third base this season is going to have a major impact on whether this club has a shot break the streak and in the end that all comes down to Alvarez. Don’t let us down Pedro, we are rooting for you.