Pedro Alvarez: the most confusing hitter in baseball

Wait, wait. I see something weird with his swing. Play the tape back. - Vincent Pugliese

My personal history with Pedro Alvarez, in two parts:

1. In 2008, the Giants had the No. 5 in the June draft. They were terrible enough the season before to earn the pick, and they were terrible enough that season to make their fans excited about it. When it came to Alvarez's draft profile, I knew I shouldn't bother. He was going to to in the first two or three picks, if not first overall.

But draft day is filled with wacky machinations and subterfuge, so there was at least a chance Alvarez was going to be around. It was almost like by writing the profile and even suggesting he could be available at No. 5, that was the first step in wishing him into existence. He was the absolutely the perfect pick for the Giants. I was convinced of that. Instead, they picked some goofball catcher, and that perfect match was never to be.

2. On April 17, 2013, I was sorting early-season stats, looking for story ideas. When I sorted by OBP, K%, and WAR, the same name kept coming up, and that player inspired my only idea of the night. Which is how I found myself staring at a blinking cursor, with nothing in the story editor but a title. The title was worth about 750 words, and all I needed to do was find them. Except, the title told the whole story. There was nothing more that needed to be said.

The title: "Dammit, Pedro Alvarez." So I hit delete and came up with a title that wouldn't give everything away.

That's not just a personal history of Pedro Alvarez. That's his entire career, from draft to present day, for just about everyone. Only the details are different. He started as a franchise cornerstone -- the kind of top prospect that made a team feel lucky they had the top pick in that specific draft instead of the year before or the year after. Even better, he wasn't supposed to languish in the minors. He was one of the rare farm-to-table prospects that made sense to hype right away.

As of the end of April 17: .089/.180/.089 in 50 plate appearances. He's without an extra-base hit, obviously. He has four hits in 45 at-bats. He's struck out in over a third of his plate appearances. If Alvarez is the most perplexing hitter in baseball, this wasn't a perplexing start. It was simply awful. I went through the game logs, and just started tallying the plate appearances up. So instead of a narrative, you're going to get a list of factoids.

  • In 31 of the 50 plate appearances, Alvarez didn't see a pitch while ahead in the count.
  • He's hit the ball out of the infield six times -- four singles, a fly out to shallow left, and a fly out to center
  • In 33 of 50 plate appearances, he was at two strikes by the third pitch
  • He's had a two-strike count against him in 38 of 50 plate appearances.
  • He's put the ball in play three times while ahead in the count -- a single, grounder to first, and pop out (all on 2-0 counts)
  • One of his singles was against Carlos Marmol, which doesn't officially count
  • The farthest Alvarez has hit a ball this season is about 325 feet
  • The second farthest Alvarez has hit a ball this season is about 240 feet

I'm pretty sure I've never seen a hitter as messed up as Pedro Alvarez. He might as well be going up to the plate without a bat, pantomiming the whole thing. At least then he can pretend he's trapped in the batter's box and see if security is called to take him away.

Pedro Alvarez at the start of last year comes pretty close. Through 15 games last year, he was hitting .149/.200/.426. But that was with four home runs and a double, which makes that version like Miguel Cabrera compared to the current version. Still, he was lost at the plate last year, and he still finished strong, with a .253/.328/.471 line after his low-water mark on April 27. He came around, and he ended up being rather valuable.

Pedro Alvarez in 2011 comes really close. He hit .191/.272/.289 in 262 plate appearances that year, and he was merely okay in the International League after he was demoted.

So, to recap: Alvarez was one of the top college hitters of the last decade. He flew through the minors, hitting at just about every stop. When he arrived in the majors, he was a good hitter. Then he was the worst hitter in baseball, a title which carried over to the following spring. Then he was good again. And a season later, he's one hit ahead of Barry Zito after 41 more at-bats on the year. Alvarez's single on Wednesday also pushed him ahead of Zito in RBI this year (2).

I kept looking at the game logs and videos expecting to see some kind of answer, as if baseball is that obvious. "Oh, wait, he's holding the wrong end of the bat." Nope. There aren't any answers. The Pirates just have to work with Alvarez and hope he figures out what's wrong, like he did last season.

Except for as messed up as Pedro Alvarez has been in his short career, I'm not sure he's ever been this messed up. That's saying something. The only thing we know about him is that he's the most confusing hitter in baseball. I'm not sure how close second place is, either.

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