I, for one, didn't really have much an opinion on the Orioles' signing of Pedro Alvarez.
Of course, it isn't hard to understand. The O's have made it a point to sustain the titanic identity they've maintained over the past few years, and Alvarez is yet another pawn in the club's chess match of dingers. But all the while, the Orioles have seemingly forced Mark Trumbo into a realm beyond his limited comfortability in the field by acquiring Alvarez. The offensive addition makes for a defensive subtraction, but it is what it is.
On a one-year, $5.75M deal, if Alvarez can produce into the same radius as his career .236/.309/.441 slash, 29 HR and 89 RBI average per 162 games, his presence will have been well worth the bargain. The thing is, what if he manages to do more?
The early returns are minimal on the surface. In 21 plate appearances, Alvarez has slashed a mere .190/.190/.429 with eight strikeouts, but as Buck Showalter likes to put it, his "contact-to-damage" ratio has been noticeable. Already with one home run and a pair of doubles, Alvarez has played into his reputation as a boom or bust aficionado. Though it's far more difficult to paint positives on those kinds of numbers, I tend to craft my work with a pastel of optimism.
Again, spring training and the limited available coverage of games doesn't allow for a full market of batted ball data or much first-hand recall, but never mind Alvarez's initial statistics. His swing looks pretty good. I do the best I can to multitask Orioles games with whatever is I have to do at work, so watching games often turns into at-bats here or there. Though, with Alvarez, there have been no shortage of hard-hit baseballs. Even more surprising have been where the balls are being hit. Alvarez seems to be more willing to use the entirety of the field.
Upon a bit of research, there is ample evidence as to why Alvarez's career 41.6 pull percentage is so above the norm.
A tribute to Alvarez's sheer strength is shown in a 94 MPH fastball on the outer-half of the plate being pulled to right-center field on a screaming line drive for a home run. As unique as this swing is, it's equally unimpressive. Granted, the result of this swing leads to a perfect result, but it also hints as to why Alvarez is a stubborn, ground ball machine. In order to pull a baseball leaking towards the outer-half of the plate, one must sacrifice fundamentals.
One reason for Alvarez's disappointing 1.96 GB/FB ratio in 2015 can be encapsulated by a significant bend in his upper-half. Such a "bend" forces Alvarez to hook the baseball as he does here, which can explain his severely low 26.9 FB% last season.
The tendency to slump the torso and reach the hands outward, like Alvarez does here, typically ends with weak contact on the ground towards the pull side because it disallows the hands to properly extend outward, limiting the rotation of the hips. Instead, the swing gets round, rather than compact. Hitting a home run in a fashion such as this actually shows how a man can rightfully earn the label "El Toro".
One swing doesn't necessarily reveal a pattern, but a power-hitting lefty who owns a career 47.4 GB% may be able to attribute a breakdown in the basics as a trend. That isn't to say that Alvarez isn't capable of regaining his groove, because he's shown such a turnaround so far this spring.
Yeah, a spring training grand slam is cool, but it's even cooler when it's a 0-0 pitch middle-down and the baseball finds a new home over the left field wall.
In this instance, Alvarez doesn't try to do much, squares his hips and unloads his raw strength on a 95 MPH fastball. He is much taller en route to the baseball, which propels his potential energy into kinetic at full will. There is no bend at the waist, leaning out over the plate or even an urge to find right field. This is Alvarez at his best. When he is able to put his full capabilities into a well-balanced attack, the results speak volumes. You can even see the prototypical backspin on the baseball, a secondary reason for the ball traveling at such a speed over such a distance.
That same game, Alvarez flashes an equal swing.
On a 2-0 fastball, Alvarez isn't cheating his swing to right field, but rather astoundingly flips a well-located fastball on a line to left-center field. Alvarez allows the baseball to get deep into the plate, and he does what every accomplished big league hitter does.
In yet another episode of "What Happens When El Toro Does Good", Alvarez goes back to the fundamentals. Upright, extended hands and sheer gargantuan dude-strength, we see what happens when Alvarez doesn't try to go beyond his borders. There's no secret as to why he was picked second-overall in 2008. You see the quick bat and power to all fields. It all depends on whether or not he is able and willing to transform into a more consistent, all-around hitter.
This becomes especially more important when you take into account that Alvarez is understandably going to be shifted a la Chris Davis. Ground balls hooked to the second base side of the infield are going to keep his frustratingly-low career .292 BABIP at a level unbecoming of someone with his power. Something as simple as placing the ball to left field could transform Alvarez into the kind of hitter the Pirates thought he could be, and one the Orioles hope they've acquired.
Spring training can be a tease, and who really knows if this translates into games that actually matter, but we do know Alvarez CAN be a more balanced hitter. It's on him to do it.
*Pictures courtesy of MLB.com