Pedro Alvarez is probably the most infamous “Cardinal killer” in recent memory. In 53 regular season games against the Cardinals, Alvarez has a .254/.304/.473 slash line. The batting average and on-base percentage components don’t seem all that scary, but a .473 slugging percentage shows that his hits “pack a whole lot of punch.”
Of his 51 hits, 11 of them were doubles and 11 more were home runs. Thus, 43% of his hits have gone for extra bases. He has knocked in 42 runners against the Cardinals–11 more than he has against any other team in his career.
So what can the Cardinals do? Alvarez is a career .235 hitter who averages 141 strikeouts per season. He must have a lot of holes for the Cardinals to exploit, right? Well, I took a look at five different graphs from BrooksBaseball.net to see where he can be attacked.
Now, I fully realize that the Cardinals already have scouts and pitching coaches relaying this information to their pitchers, but I figured it would be fun and informative for readers as well. At just 26 years old, fans will be seeing Alvarez take at-bats against the Cardinals for years to come.
As noted on the graphs, but to avoid any confusion, all zones are from the catcher’s point of view.
Against left-handed pitchers, down and away (boxed in yellow) seems to be the most vulnerable spot for Alvarez. This makes sense, though. Teams bring in lefty specialists, such as Randy Choate, to throw sweeping breaking balls down and away–daring him to chase pitches that usually end up out of the zone. Of those four squares in the bottom left, Alvarez swung and missed (aka “whiffed”) on 67 of 242 pitches in 2013. His 27.7% whiff rate on pitches down and away was 6 percentage points higher than his average whiff rate (21.5%) against lefties in 2013.
Also, if a pitcher is locating his pitches well, up and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be viable options with 50+% whiff rates in these boxed areas. However, very dangerous areas border these so it would probably be wiser to look down and away since there’s more room for error.
Like with lefties, down and out of the zone is the way to attack Alvarez if you are a right-handed pitcher looking for swings and misses. His overall whiff rate against righties in 2013 was 16.6%, but in the zones highlighted by the yellow box, his whiff rate was significantly higher at 25.2%. This was a pretty good sample size as well, considering 25% of the pitches from right-handers ended up in the boxed zones.
Enough about whiff rates, what about balls in play? I’ve got you covered there as well. However, before I get into that, let me make you aware of a quick disclaimer. I chose “linedrives per balls in play” instead of batting average because I believe linedrives are a better representation of a hitter’s hot and cold zones than average. A high average in a certain zone could be tainted by a small sample size full of bloop hits; whereas a linedrive is a linedrive–regardless of whether it’s results in a hit or not.
That same zone I highlighted on the left-hander whiff rate graph is highlighted here. As you can see, of 15 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only two of them (13.3%) were linedrives. In fact, if you look at the zone highlighted in orange just above that, Alvarez had just one linedrive in 17 balls in play–leading to a very tame 5.9%. If you put the two left-handed pitcher graphs together, the way to attack Alvarez is down and away–looking for him to chase pitches out of the zone at times, which he does at a pretty regular rate.
The same area I noted in the right-handed pitcher whiff rate graph is highlighted (in yellow) in this graph as well. Of 36 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only four of them were linedrives–11.1%. Considering the linedrive percentages in other parts of the zone, this is easily one of his weakest spots. I highlighted two other areas in orange that seem to be weak spots for Alvarez as well. However, if you take a look at the zones immediately adjacent to these (highlighted in green), a pitcher must have his best stuff if he wants to attack these two zones.
Finally, a look at Alvarez’s spray chart from 2013:
Of his 36 home runs in 2013, five were to the opposite field (14%) and three were to center field (8%). It’s obvious that much of his pop comes when he pulls the baseball. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, though–just thought it was worth visualizing.
Alvarez’s career batting average against lefties is .200 with 12 home runs. His career average against righties is much better at .248 with 74 home runs. The numbers show his bat is much more potent against right-handed pitching–also should not be news to anyone. However, as I showed in the five graphs above, both lefties and righties should attack him in pretty similar zones–down and away.
I fully realize that the majority of the zones I highlighted were pitches out of the strikezone. Yet, until Alvarez proves he can be a more patient hitter, these zones need to be exploited. Plus, if he indeed proves to be more patient next season, I would much rather walk him on four pitches out of the zone than give him the opportunity to change the game with one swing of the bat–like he has done so many times already in his young career.
I hope you enjoyed this piece because it was pretty fun to create. In the coming days, maybe even today, I will be publishing a few more hitting analyses on infamous “Cardinal Killers.”
Due up next: Jay Bruce
Until next time…