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« Dustin Pedroia under the 'scope | Main | 2011's Best, Worst Breaking Ball Hitters »

Pedro Alvarez Back in the 'Burgh

With rookie Alex Presley hitting the DL due to a left hand contusion and the Pittsburgh's slack bats threatening to sink the club's run at the NL Central title, the Pirates recalled third baseman Pedro Alvarez from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Monday night's prime time game on ESPN against the Braves.

They did so reluctantly, however. Alvarez, the second overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft who received a $6 million signing bonus, batted just .208 with a .283 on-base percentage and a .304 slugging percentage before hitting the DL with a right quadriceps injury in late May. The 24-year-old stayed in the minors after his rehab assignment was over. While Alvarez posted a .365/.461/.587 line in 18 games at Indy, neither manager Clint Hurdle nor GM Neal Huntington sound thrilled that Alvarez is back in the big leagues. Here's Amy Jinker-Lloyd of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"In a perfect world, Pedro probably would spend a little more time in the minors," general manager Neal Huntington said, announcing the move. "But this isn't a perfect world. We think it's the right opportunity to bring (Alvarez) back."


Hurdle said Alvarez has shown a good finish to his swing and good length.

"It's not so rotary. He was squaring balls up, hitting left center to right field line," he said. "Obviously we need to add offense since one of our better offensive players has just been put on the DL."

Hurdle wouldn't commit to playing Alvarez every day, but he was in the lineup yesterday, and Hurdle said he'll "get the volume of the playing."

But this is a work in progress. Alvarez wouldn't be here except for Presley's injury.

"We brought him back," Hurdle said. "Let's let him play. I think that will take care of a lot of it. We're just going to give him the opportunity to go out and play. Free him up.

Huntington added an interesting tidbit later in the article about what he thinks is the reason for Alvarez's no-show at the plate this season:

 "Pedro's biggest challenge is himself, just trusting that his best swing is when he hits the ball to left-center field. When he tries to hook, pull and launch, he's an out. He's making progress at ... realizing he doesn't need to hit the ball 700 feet."

Most of Alvarez's pop comes from the pull side: According to Fangraphs, 13 of his 18 career home runs have been hit to right field. And his slugging percentage on balls put in play to the pull side is .731, compared to .620 to center and .479 to the opposite field.

But most of that damage to right field came last year, and Huntington may well have a point about Pedro trying to pull too many pitches. He's trying to rip pitches thrown on the outside corner to the right side of the field, with lousy results.

First, take a look at where opponents are pitching Alvarez this season:

Alvarez's pitch frequency by location, 2011

For the most part, they're pounding the zone low and away. Now, look at the location in the zone that is most often producing ground balls for Alvarez:

Pitch location of Alvarez's ground balls hit, 2011

Most of Pedro's grounders (and there have been plenty of them -- his ground ball rate is 53 percent in 2011) have come on low-and-away pitches. And the vast majority of his ground ball outs have been to the pull side: twenty-five of Alvarez's 33 ground outs have been pulled to the right side of the infield.

Alvarez has gotten into the habit of trying to pummel pitches thrown away/low-and-away into the right field stands instead of going the opposite way, like Huntington and the Pirates want him to in those situations. The result? Weak ground outs instead of extra-base hits.

He's plenty capable of launching home runs to the pull side, but he can't employ a pull-happy approach all the time. When pitchers throw Alvarez stuff on the outside corner, he should listen to his GM and look to left-center instead.

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