Pedro’s progression to the mean


“Regression to the mean” has become stat-heads’ favorite don’t-get-too-excited catch-all with which to curb your enthusiasm. It can tamper down any early-season or small-sample size excitement. For instance, Justin Upton is not going to hit 90 home runs this year, he’s going to regress to the mean. It’s math.

But you can also progress toward the mean.

And that’s what Pedro Alvarez has begun to do during this homestand.

The turnaround started in the St. Louis series when Alvarez began using the entire field as I write about in tomorrow’s notebook.

Alvarez began letting the ball travel further into the hitting zone, he stopped trying to pull everything. He told me it’s just a “half inch” a split-second of time to allow the ball to travel. But it can make a huge difference.

He took a Jake Westbrook fastball to left of center on Tuesday for an RBI single, though the game and that hit were washed out. He hit several other balls hard to left field vs. StL. And on Thursday night, instead of trying to pull the pitch, Alvarez took an outside fastball from Julio Teheran 448 feet to center field for his first home run.

On Friday, he hit his second. Batting coaches always say when a hitter is going well he can react to the inside fastball and that’s what Alvarez did tonight. He let his hands work.

But it started with an all-fields approach. This is often how pull-happy hitters climb out of slumps. And Alvarez should use center and opposite field more often.  Here’s his career batting-average-on-balls-in play data.

BABIP to center: .392

BABIP to left: .376

BABIP to right: .303

Of course this is all easier said than done. Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “(Using the opposite field) is one thing that’s talked about. One of the things in this game that’s funny is these guys will work all day on hitting the ball up the middle, the other way, then sometimes when the game starts they just go to a different a place.”

Look, Alvarez is not going to bat .104, the average he carried into Friday’s game.

Progresion toward the mean.

Alvarez wasn’t going to finish with five home runs this season.

Progression toward the mean.

Alvarez was not going to finish the season with a sub .100 isolated slugging percentage.

Progression toward the mean.

Of course this isn’t to say Alvarez has this all figured out, that he can easily drop bad habits for all time. After homering against Hudson in the second Friday, he whiffed badly on a changeup out of the zone in his next at bat. He tried to pull it.

“It almost seemed like to tried to step on the gas the right of the night and force some things that weren’t there,” Hurdle said. “So we are still working. It is good to see him in the zone. That noise is special.”

That noise is special. Easy power.

Yes, he’s always going to have some swing and miss. Yes, fans have high expectations because he was a No. 2 overall pick.

But he’s a third baseman who plays acceptable defense and can crush 30 home runs like he did a year ago. There’s plenty of value there. His next contract? Story for another day.

You’re going to have to be patient at times this season, folks, but it will likely be worth the wait as he progresses toward the mean and gives the Pirates something they haven’t enjoyed in a bit: a deep lineup.

“I really believe the offense from top to bottom has a chance to connect very, very well,” Hurdle said. “When your six and seven hitters are Alvarez and Martin compared to where we’ve been the past, our lineup is stretched out.”

Progression folks, progression.