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Monday Mop-Up Duty: finding the unconscious Pedro … and enjoy Russell Martin, Pittsburgh

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PNC PARK – Many things have been said, many things have been written about Pedro Alvarez. I tried my best to explain what has happened to his throwing in Sunday’s paper.

We know Alvarez is taking reps at first base but here’s what I think is important to remember:

*Alvarez is not a clear upgrade at first base. Ike Davis has better career numbers and similar 2014 value vs. right-handed pitching (career wRC+ 127 vs. RHP vs. Alvarez’s 116 mark). You can argue Alvarez has more upside … but that is based mostly on faith and hope. So unless you believe he will be more relaxed and freed up to perform at first base, which is plausible, he does not provide an upgrade there.

*Alvarez is most valuable to the Pirates – and his future earnings will be greatest – if he can stay at third.

*Alvarez has actually improved in every area as a defender except one key area: making the routine throw. He’s getting to more groundballs and has made only one non-throwing error.

However, the Pirates, at least Clint Hurdle, seem ready to move Alvarez across the infield in the short-term if not the long term. Alvarez is going to get a shot at first base at some point as he hasn’t been able to start above Josh Harrison or even Jayson Nix at third. There could be some disagreement about Alvarez’s long term home. Alvarez said Saturday he “absolutely” believes he can stay at third.

Still, if you believe Steve Sax, this thing Alvarez is going through can be beaten, and, thus, the Pirates should give Alvarez every chance to beat it. To do that, Alvarez is going to have to be open to the right message from the team’s sports psychologists. Alvarez has to understand what is happening inside his head.

Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago psychology professor and author of “Choke,” said the phenomenon is tied to a switch from unconscious to conscious thinking.

“When we get really good at anything, whether or not we are pro athletes, we stop paying attention to every detail,” Beilock said. “(Our mind) is a limited-capacity system. We can only pay attention to so much at one time. As we get better and better, some of what we do becomes automated so we can use our (consciousness) for other things.

“The issue is when we are in a stressful situation and working under pressure to perform well, or had a poor performance in the past, those tasks that were automated before become un-automated. We start consciously attending to them. … When people are watching you, you start watching yourself.”

In short, Alvarez has to find his unconscious self again, and stop watching himself in game conditions. Identifying the problem is easier than fixing it (See: Steve Blass, Rick Ankiel and Chuck Knoblauch). But Sax proved it can be cured as Sax recovered to become a fine defensive second baseman. Can Alvarez do the same?

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS …

9.  I actually think Russell Martin is being under-valued by just about everyone. WAR doesn’t properly account for his pitch framing. His pitch sequencing ability is praised by Pirates’ starters and is not quantified, and his clubhouse presence is also tough to measure. Remarkably he’s second in baseball – sandwiched between Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, in on-base percentage. Then there’s the arm and blocking balls … on and one….

He’s worth 4y/$60 million, essentially the amount of dollars the Pirates gave to Jason Kendall once upon a time, though spread over two more years. In a catcher depleted mark Martin is going to be expensive.

8. Pirates GM Neal Huntington didn’t sound overly confident in getting a Martin deal done:

“If the market goes where we think the market is going to go on Russ Martin and we’ve got to become creative, then we’ve got an internal option in Tony Sanchez. But, we’ll see. We’re still working through that.”

7. Apparently Gerrit Cole‘s third rehab start went well. He should be close to joining the rotation but this is all contingent upon his recovering going well. Cole’s last pitch of the game was 95 mph. His velocity was steadier than his last outing.

“I feel good and everything went as planned,” Cole said. “The command was pretty good for the most part, and I mixed all four pitches to contact pretty well. Overall, it went well, but we still have some work ahead of us and the next step is (Monday) and seeing how I feel.”

6. Andrew McCutchen wants to shock the world and not go on the DL. He took more aggressive swings and threw from 90 feet Saturday. Hurdle called it a “big step.”

6. Tyler Glasnow looks ready for Double-A.

5. The success of Bryan Morris shouldn’t be a complete surprise. The stuff was electric this spring. The results just weren’t immediately there.

4. I’m confused as to why the Pirate are carrying two long relievers in Stolmy Pimentel and Jeanmar Gomez. I’m not sure what Gomez offers at this point. He’s a groundball pitcher who is no longer getting groundballs. Pimentel actually has theoretical upside. I think you could have argued to DFA Gomez over Ernesto Frieri who does have multiple 11k per nine seasons on his resume.

3. We all know Alvaerz’s throwing is problematic but should he really not be starting above Nix?

2. So I guess Harrison really is an All-Star, he’s on track to be a 4-win player.

1. Yeah, they’ve been playing the Marlins and Padres and Diamondbacks and Rockies recently, but the Pirates’ resiliency is incredible. They entered Saturday with a .597 winning percentage since May 2, the best run in baseball.

 

HE SAID IT:

“If I could (identify the problem), it wouldn’t be an issue,” – Pedro Alvarez.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: 2

Jordy Mercer has come a long way. He’s the second best defensive shortstop this year according to SABR.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Just say ‘no’ to preseason NFL.

- TS

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