If the topic of the day had been to name the Pirates‘ most disappointing -- as opposed to the worst -- player this season, there’s a strong chance the winner would have been Pedro Alvarez. In a landslide.
Even in the best of times, Alvarez is no fan favorite. Home run champs would be adored in some towns. In Pittsburgh, not so much.
For reasons not entirely clear, Pedro has never gained the level of popularity in Pittsburgh that might be expected. Some of that is his fault. He rarely speaks publicly and the fans really have not had a chance to get to know him. But his private manner is not a reason for some of the hateful criticisms of him. Is he the only player in MLB history to be widely criticized for the way he wears his hat?
Probably the only negative thing Alvarez has done in the time he has been connected with the Pirates was his long holdout after being taken with the second pick in the 2008 draft. Fans don’t like holdouts and they like them less when agent Scott Boras is orchestrating them.
But there’s barely been a hint of anything out of the ordinary since Alvarez signed. He’s been a good soldier, a hard worker, a productive player and has a record of public comments so slight it’s a major scoop -- literally -- when he grants an interview.
So it’s not surprising that coming off a year in which he tied for the home run championship of the National League an appreciable decline would designate Alvarez as a major disappointment. And he was that for the first eight weeks of the season when his batting line was this: .209/.298/.368 -- .666.
Pretty awful, no question, and deserving of scorn.
But after those first eight weeks, Alvarez has considerably lifted his game without considerably upgrading his image.
Since May 26, here are some of the offensive numbers for the six best Pirates hitters (ranked in order of OPS):
Player A: .345/.418/.689 -- 1.107
Player B: .278/.366/.472 -- .838.
Player C: .294/.428/.394 -- .822.
Player D: .291/.329/.430 -- .760.
Player E: .270/.338/.409 -- .747.
Player F: .294/.328/.418 -- .745
The six players are, in alphabetical order, Alvarez, Josh Harrison, Russell Martin, Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker. Tell me which one is Alvarez?
It is obvious that Player A is McCutchen, far and away the Pirates’ best and a leading candidate to repeat as National League MVP.
The rest, B through F are: Alvarez, Martin, Mercer, Walker, Harrison.
For the past seven weeks, Alvarez has been the Pirates‘ second-best hitter. He hardly has been accorded the recognition such a performance might deserve. Mercer, for example, has received accolades for his improvement after a poor start. But his hitting has not been as good as that of Alvarez over the past seven weeks.
No question, Alvarez’s throwing has been atrocious and it has caused, quite understandably, manager Clint Hurdle to often substitute for Alvarez in the late innings and fans to get down on him even more.
But the calls for Alvarez to be supplanted at third base by Harrison make no sense. Alvarez has been the better hitter than Harrison since late May. But Harrison, from whom not much was expected, is getting tremendous credit for his performance. Alvarez, from whom so much was expected, is getting little for his recent performance.
Alvarez has decreased his strikeout rate from .306 (career) to .216, a remarkable achievement. He has increased his walk rate from .089 to .111. This has made him a better hitter. It possibly has made him a lesser slugger.
Everyone is waiting for one of those famous Alvarez rampages. It hasn’t happened. The closest thing to it came in April when he hit two homers on April 4 and two on April 9. He has four homers since June 3.
The home runs may not come. It might be one of those years. It might be the new Alvarez, which would not be good for him or the Pirates. For now, though, his improvement has been a reason why the Pirates have the best record in the NL Central since early May.