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Entries in Pedro Alvarez (5)

Wednesday
Feb192014

Smart Pitchers Throw Away From B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton would be the first to tell you: He wasn't very good last season.

In his first year donning the Tomahawk, the now 29-year-old posted career lows in batting average (.184), on-base percentage (.268), slugging percentage (.289) and OPS+ (53) en route to a -1.8 offensive WAR (another career-low digit), according to Baseball Reference. He also struck out at a career-high rate (33.9%), stole fewer bases (12) than in any of his 100-plus game seasons prior and again couldn't stay healthy, missing a good chunk of the season with a groin injury.

While Upton has never been one to maintain a high average (.248 career BA), lofty power numbers (.409 SLG%, 100 OPS+) or tremendous plate discipline figures (26% strikeout rate, 10.5% walk rate), his offensive regressions last season are concerning. After all, the Braves paid Upton a healthy $12.5 million last season to be less valuable (-1.8 bWAR) than a replacement-level player and are on the hook to shell out roughly $15 million on average over the next four seasons to the former Tampa Bay Rays top prospect.

Exactly what caused Upton's offensive setback last season? As in most cases, many things contributed. But there was one thing that smart pitchers picked up on: Upton's struggles with the outer-half of the plate.

Comparing Upton's Contact Rates over the Last Three Seasons

Upton's offensive regressions have stemmed mainly from his inability to put bat on ball. In 2011, his overall contact rate stood at 76.7%, fell to 70.6% the following season and plummeted to 66.9% last season with Atlanta, which was the third lowest among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, trumped only by Pedro Alvarez (66.1%) and Chris Carter (65.4%), according to FanGraphs.

Three seasons ago, he was able to place contact on just about any pitch in the strike zone -- boasting a 84% in-zone contact rate, which was just a shade under his career-high mark of 86.8% set in 2006. But over the last two seasons, his contact rate has faded almost exclusively to the inner-half of the plate. This has affected his ability to put outer-half offerings in play, posting a feeble 29.6% in-play rate on such pitches last season, which was fourth-worst among batters with 250 plate appearances. Knowing this, pitchers threw 49.4% of their offerings 'away' from Upton last season -- an increase from 45.6% in 2012.

Word on the street is that Upton showed up to Braves camp this past weekend with an improved swing that's eliminated unnecessary pre-swing movement. "He's a lot more efficient," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. For Upton's sake, I hope he's right, because pitchers are beginning to recognize and attack his most glaring weakness -- the outer-half of the plate -- which has transformed him from former five-tool prospect to liability for Atlanta offensively.

Tuesday
Oct082013

Wainwright's Curveball Key to Bucs-Cards Game 5

The Pirates and Cardinals face off Wednesday night for the 24th and final time during the 2013 season, with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line. The Dodgers' opponent in the fight for NL supremacy may be decided by whether the Bucs can accomplish something they failed to do in NLDS Game 1: Solve Adam Wainwright's curveball. Pittsburgh has struggled all year along against the curve, though a pair of trade pickups offer hope as the club tries to win its first postseason matchup since Willie Stargell and Dave Parker raked for the 1979 World Series champs.

Pirates batters are slugging a collective .268 against curveballs this season, which is 55 points below the MLB average (.323) and bests only the historically punchless Miami Marlins among all teams. In particular, Pedro Alvarez (.123 slugging percentage versus curveballs), Starling Marte (.237) and Russell Martin (.267) are flailing when pitchers snap off a curve.

For Alvarez, merely making contact against a curve is a coin flip. He's swinging and missing 49.1 percent of the time versus curveballs in 2013, the second-highest clip among qualified hitters (Dan Uggla whiffed 49.4 percent). Pitchers are well aware of his weakness, feeding him the seventh-highest rate of curveballs seen (12.6 percent) among MLB hitters. Unless pitchers hang a curve over the middle of the plate, Pedro's whiffing:

Alvarez's contact rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Marte, meanwhile, can't resist the urge to hack at curveballs thrown in the dirt. He's chasing curves at the fifth-highest rate (40.2 percent) in the National League. Like Alvarez, Marte's trouble with the curve is well-known: He has seen curveballs 11.8 percent of the time this season, the NL's eighth-highest rate. Marte expands his strike zone to go after low-and-away breakers:

Marte's swing rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Martin doesn't see as many curves as Alvarez or Marte (9.1 percent of total pitches), and he doesn't share their contact or plate discipline woes against the pitch. It's just that nothing happens when he puts curveballs in play. Martin is hitting a ground ball 62.5 percent of the time versus curves, the ninth-highest rate in the NL. Considering that Martin is a catcher with over 1,000 big leagues games to his name and his batting average on grounders (.228) is way below the big league average (.254), that's not a happy development.

Not all Bucs are scuffling against curveballs, however. Andrew McCutchen (.371 slugging percentage versus curves) and Neil Walker (.378) hold their own, while midseason trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd (.452) and Justin Morneau (.507) crush the pitch.

Wainwright, who throws the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs (27.3 percent) among starting pitchers and has limited hitters to a .230 slugging percentage (11th-best), schooled the Pirates with his signature offering in Game 1. He racked up six swinging strikeouts with his curveball, getting Alvarez, Byrd (twice), Marte, Martin and Morneau to chase out of the strike zone. Bucs batters went 0-for-11 against Wainwright's curve and didn't hit a single one out of the infield. If the Pirates are going to play for the pennant, that has to change in their Game 5 rematch.

Monday
Jul152013

HR Derby Preview: Team Wright

Citi Field's Home Run Apple will get a workout tonight, as some of the game's preeminent power hitters aim for the fences during the 2013 All-Star Home Run Derby (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). Team Robinson Cano (including Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis, Prince Fielder) will take on Team David Wright (Pedro Alvarez, Michael Cuddyer and Bryce Harper). Here's a breakdown of dingers hit by Team Wright as you ponder which tally will be higher -- attendance at Citi Field or the number of "backbackback"s belted out by Chris Berman.

Pedro Alvarez

Where he hits 'em: Pedro is a pull hitter, ripping 15 of his 24 home runs to right field. He has gone yard six times to center field and three times to the opposite side.

Alvarez's HR spray chart

 

Hard or soft stuff? He likes pitches that reach home plate nearly as fast as he sends them screaming towards the stands. Alvarez has 16 homers against "hard" pitches (fastballs, cutters and splitters), including 15 off fastballs. That ties him with Adam Dunn for the most HR in the majors against the heat.

HR sweet spot: Alvarez is feasting on belt-high pitches, launching an NL-best 18 home runs on offerings that cross the vertical middle of the plate. Miguel Cabrera (22 HR) and Chris Davis (20) are the only hitters with more belt-high homers.

Pitch location of Alvarez's HR

Michael Cuddyer

Where he hits 'em: Cuddyer has belted eight homers to the pull side, four to center field and three to left field.

Cuddyer's HR spray chart

  

Hard or soft stuff? He's an equal-opportunity slugger, hitting eight home runs against hard pitches and seven off soft stuff. Cuddyer is particularly fond of curveballs (4 HR).

HR sweet spot: Above the belt -- Cuddyer has hit 11 HR off pitches thrown to the upper half of the zone.

Pitch location of Cuddyer's HR

Bryce Harper

Where he hits 'em: Harper has spread the ball around during his injury-shortened 2013 season, hitting seven HR to right field and three apiece to center and left field.

Harper's HR spray chart

  

Hard or soft stuff? Harper runs full-speed into outfield walls -- of course he likes the hard stuff. He has eight combined home runs against fastballs, cutters and splitters, and five off soft pitches.

HR sweet spot: Unlike most of his HR Derby competition, Harper prefers when hitters challenge him with inside pitches. He has eight HR against stuff thrown on the inner half.

Pitch location of Harper's HR

 

David Wright

Where he hits 'em: The home town favorite has seven pull-side HR, five shots to center and one homer to the opposite field.

Wright's HR spray chart

 

Hard or soft stuff? Wright might want to ask his BP pitcher to speed things up, as he thrives against hard stuff. He has belted nine home runs combined versus fastballs, cutters and splitters.

HR sweet spot: He's doing most of his damage when pitchers accidentally put one right down Broadway -- eight of his HR have come on pitches thrown to the horizontal middle of the strike zone.

Pitch location of Wright's HR