SOUTH HILLS – Pedro Alvarez‘s time at third base might be coming to an end.
Alvarez has started only three of the club’s last 11 games. While the Pirates have faced some left-handed pitching, he has also become too much of a liability to be throwing across the diamond in the middle of a pennant race. If you’ve lost track, the throwing error count is at 23, 10 more than the second-worst in MLB (Josh Donaldson).
Josh Harrison should be the starting third baseman going forward, and it sounds like he will be. He’s out-performing Alvarez in every way and it’s no longer a small sample as it’s August 4. Most important, he can throw the ball across the infield. Where does that leave Alvarez, the former No. 2 overall pick? It’s not an easy question.
Many evaluators always thought Alvarez would have to move across the diamond. Few players of Alvarez’s size stick at third. But his throwing issues are forcing the issue when the club is perhaps ill prepared for a transition.
The front office is mulling moving Alvarez to first base, Rob Biertempfel reports, but as Clint Hurdle noted when asked Sunday: “Is that something you entertain in pennant race?”
I’m not sure.
Alvarez said he has not discussed moving across the infield
There’s this idea that anyone can play first, but picking balls is a learned skill that’s important. Also, first baseman have to occasionally make important throws. I don’t think the move is as easy as some believe. Alvarez’s failure to play first could also be damaging down the stretch.
Hurdle said “all options” will be considered.
Pirates assistant GM Kyle Stark said to the Trib of Alvarez: “It’s a challenge right now, but we’ve got to figure out the best way to get (Alvarez’s) bat in the lineup as much as we can. There are some conversations that still need to be had amongst everybody involved.”
What complicates matters even further is Alvarez is not even a clear offensive upgrade at first.
Alvarez is not performing much better than Ike Davis – whom Alvarez presumably would replace – against right-handed pitching. Alvarez has a wRC+ of 119 against RHPs this season. Davis has a wRC+ 117. Alvarez has a .771 OPS against right-handed pitching, Davis has a .751 OPS. But Davis has proven he can play acceptable first base, Alvarez has not. So Alvarez is not even a clear upgrade at first base.
Moreover, Alvarez is reportedly out of minor league options (though I thought he has one option year remaining).
There’s no easy solution to the Alvarez problem. While I don’t think it would be easy, I would roll the dice on moving Alvarez to first. I’d do it because he does have a rare power bat. I’d do it because he has more potential than Davis going forward, even though they’ve been similar to date. I’d do it because maybe it would allow Alvarez to stop worrying about his defense and focus on his bat.
The unfortunate thing for Pedro is he had made some real improvements offensively this season. The Ks are down, the walks are up, he’s better staying on off-speed pitches and using the whole field. If the power returned he’d be enjoying a breakout offensive season. Instead, he’s been so-so.
If the power returns with him keeping the offensive gains in a transition to first, that can be his new home. But if the bat continues to be so-so, if he can’t play first in the short term, maybe the bench will become his home for the next two months.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. The Pirates have to hope Andrew McCutchen did not strain his oblique. There aren’t too many irreplaceable players. He’s one.
8. I know some of you are upset over the Pirates’ lack of activity at the deadline (though the Pirates did make a real push to land David Price). What should make you feel better is that deadline deals rarely make a dramatic impact upon the outcome of the season.
The Pirates’ title odds before the deadline, according to Baseball Prospectus’s prediction tool, PECOTA? 2.8 percent.
After the deadline? 2.8 percent.
Now, would Price make a big difference in a wild card game or Game 5 or 7? Sure. But to get to such a scenario it’s more about the collective 25 than any one player. Deadline deals are fun. They create headlines. But such deals are more about improving at the margins than they are securing championships. Their impact is often over stated. It’s true Price would have dramatically improve a staff last in baseball in WAR, but the Pirates’ title odds still probably would have sat below 5 percent.
8. Two of the best things that could happen to the Pirates have nothing to do with the trade deadline, they are getting Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte healthy. They represent two potential de facto, impact additions. Cole still did not feel quite right in his rehab start on Monday. (His first pitch was 96 mph). The Pirates want Cole to be 100 percent before he takes the mound again. If he could author another September like his last (4-0. 1.65 ERA, 10.9 k/9) he could be a difference maker.
7. The other big thing that can happen for the Pirates also had nothing to do with the trade deadline? It is getting Francisco Liriano to bottle up the stuff he had in San Francisco.
6. Not only has Ernesto Frieri cost the Pirates in performance with his too-much-plate, too-flat fastballs, but after unfortunately after unintentionally breaking a finger of Diamondbacks star Paul Goldschmidt, he put teammate and star McCutchen in a precarious position on Saturday night when McCutchen was drilled with a 95 mph fastball in the back. It’s been a rough year all around for Frieri.
5. Assuming Cole returns soon to the starting rotation, I’d be curious to see what Edinson Volquez could do in short relief outings. We saw him hit 98 at Citi Field earlier this year. I think he could be a 95-98 arm in short relief outings. Volquez might be more effective and an upgrade over Frieri for the Pirates.
4. Alen Hanson‘s move to second base shouldn’t raise eyebrows or come as much of a surprise, many evaluators doubted his ability to stick at shortstop and it’s a reminder of how difficult it is for prospects to remain at that elite position on the defensive spectrum. (Don’t expect Jacoby Jones to stick at shortstop, either.)
2. Did we mention the Pirates really need to sign Russell Martin? I think he’s worth more than even his gaudy WAR totals suggest because framing and sequencing isn’t properly accounted for. One positive thing for the Pirates not acquiring Price is the Pirates, theoretically, have money to spend on Martin.
1. At the end of the day, while I think the Pirates were wise not to trade too much of tomorrow for today, and while I do believe they were aggressive, it’s still a failure of some sort to not upgrade the roster- anywhere. The NL Central is entirely winnable. Improving at the margins still matters.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 61
Opposing batters hit by Pirates’ starting pitchers this season.
HE SAID IT:
Bob Walk on the Diamondbacks drilling McCutchen:
“They’re gutless because they did it when the game got out of hand, not early. They waited until they’re down by four runs at the end of the game before they do anything. That’s a gutless move. (Camera pans Diamondbacks bench) Where was that pitch first inning of the game, boys? Tell me that. Snakes. Good name for that team.”
HE SAID IT II:
McCutchen on being drilled Saturday night:
“They had all game to retaliate. They had that first pitch to retaliate, and they missed. He threw a slider (away) with the second pitch, and then threw up and in on the next pitch. It hit me square in the spine. Are you trying to hurt me, too? That’s the question.”
The Hitchhiker is a fantastic new micro-brew pub in Mt. Lebanon. I think I have mentioned it before here, but it’s work mentioning again. I had the black saison on Friday there … fantastic stuff.