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Pedro’s progression to the mean

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“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.

-TS

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Comments

  1. Maddamma says:

    Hi Terry, welcome to the Trib. I’ve been enjoying your work. One thing in your 4/19 game story: Pedro’s homer went over the right field seats, not into them.

  2. trey says:

    Welcome to you…..I know you’re new to this beat but…..patience is maybe not the best thing to expect from this fan base.

  3. cherokee23 says:

    Welcome Travis!…..enjoying your stuff

  4. “But he’s a third baseman who plays acceptable defense”
    .
    Pedro’s on a pace now to make 41 errors at 3rd base. Some acceptable defense. By the way, with limited range, too.
    .
    Batting average, homeruns, RBIs, slugging percentage, RISP, fielding and throwing = “progression to mean” according to you.
    .
    I nominate Pedro Alvarez as the hopeful “Mr. Progression of the Year”!!

  5. RobertoForever says:

    Excellent post, Travis.

    And his defense does continue to improve.

    And aren’t those easy swing bombs just like chocolate? So sweet, with a warm feeling that rushes over you, and leaves you waiting more, lol.

    Keep up the good work. Love the daily updates and the effort you put into it.

    The Bucs are 3-1 since you started daily posts. Coincidence? I think not.

  6. Skip says:

    Actually I think his defense has been pretty impressive – he moves his feet very well, especially for a big man. Of his three errors, one could easily have been ruled a hit. I didn’t see his other two errors. Besides, who else do they have to play third?

    Now his hitting, on the other hand…

  7. JohninOshkosh says:

    Welcome, Travis.

    Look forward to your work.

  8. Bizrow says:

    Welcome Travis, I enjoy your work

  9. Brandie says:

    Nice work, Travis. Gives me a different perspective on the Pirates. Let’s hope we continue to see positive progression towards the mean both offensively and defensively.

  10. Thundercrack says:

    Keep the info coming, Travis!!

  11. JohnH says:

    Hey. Travis. Thanks for starting keeping this blog up to date. I really enjoy talking about the bucs. I am a fan of the front office staff

  12. John says:

    Pedro’s batting average is still very low even by power hitters standards and still has a lot
    of strikeouts. Would like to at least see a batting average in the quarter or mid .200 or so.
    I remember from the 70′s the Mets had a power hitter named Dave Kingman who had a career batting average of about .225 with a lot of home runs. Pedro seem to take a lot of good pitches. I wish him the best. Often wonder why most of the Pirates draft choices and the guys they obtain in trades never seem to be as good as advertised. Bob Smizik had a article about this same subject in the Post Gazette recently stating where the Pirates never seem to be able to find a “diamond in the rough type of player” meaning a low round draft choice or an infamous “player to be named later” in a trade like most other teams seem to find. I bet most people don’t know this but former Altanla Braves pitcher John Smoltz was the “player to be named later” when he was part of a prospect package deal when he was traded from his hometown Detroit Tigers minor league system to Atlanta in I think a trade involving verteran pitcher Doyle Alexander at that time.
    Why can’t the Pirates ever get lucky finding “diamonds in the rough” type players either as draft choices or trades?

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks! And thanks for reading

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m not suggesting Pedro will become Brooks Robinson. Not going to happen.

    But in a very small sample size (http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2495&position=3B) some defensive metrics suggest he is improving.

    Even if he remains fringe-average or below average defensively, if he can stick at 3B without being a complete blackhole, it makes his 30-HR bat much more valuable.

    The trend seems to be that teams are willing to live with less D and more O at third: see Miguel Cabrera. We’re still in the early chapters of the Pedro Alvarez Story (though that story might not finish in PIT)

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks for the welcome!

  16. Travis Sawchik says:

    Roberto,

    Definitely not a coincidence. Ha. (It must be my pre-game pep talks)

    Thanks for reading … I’ll keep the copy coming.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    John,

    Some good points.

    Pedro does need to use the whole field more regularly, it’s something the staff works with him on daily … but bad habits are difficult to break. As you can see, he’s actually more effective – batting average wise – when he goes to center and the other way. He’s still a young player, he’s still learning. He’s always going to have some swing-and-miss in his game. But he does have to make adjustments. He needs to be a .270-280 hitter, .370 OBP with 30HRs to be a star.

    ***

    While they are not draft picks, rather international free agents, I think Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco might become those diamond-in-the-rough stars you mentioned. Both could be impact players and both signed for relatively modest dollars.

    Nice job there by Rene Gayo’s scouting team.

 
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