Everyone knows that power hitters have a tendency to strike out, but in 2013, no other hitter with 20 or more home runs has struck out at a higher rate than Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez is currently striking out at at 32.2% rate through 99 games this season. But Alvarez 27 home runs ranks second amongst all fantasy third baseman, right behind Miguel Cabrera. That's right, he has more home runs than Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and David Wright. Granted, all of those guys are much better hitters than Alvarez, but his 70 RBI also ranks second amongst his fellow third baseman.
How does he hit for so much power with such a high strikeout rate? Well, according to his batted ball data over at FanGraphs, he is hitting more balls in the air when he actually does make contact. This season, he is hitting fly balls at a 38.3% rate vs 34.5% last year and 25.3% in 2011, so his fly ball rate is on the rise. He is also hitting line drives at a 21.7% rate this season, a career high. Finally, more and more of the fly balls he hits are leaving the ball park, as his home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB%) sits at a career high 30.0% right now.
Of concern for fantasy owners is whether or not his 30.0% HR/FB rate is due for some regression or not. Judging by the fact that the last hitter to finish the season with a HR/FB rate over 30% was Ryan Howard back in 2008, Alvarez is probably due for some regression in his HR/FB rate. But, his fly ball rate is on the rise, so fantasy owners should expect the 30+ home run power to continue in 2013 and beyond.
What could also have a negative impact on his power numbers is the fact that Alvarez is swinging at more balls this season. He is swinging at more balls outside the zone and in the zone, and making less contact than ever. His swinging strike rate is at a career high 17.2%, up from 13.5% last season, and 13.1% in 2011.
If Alvarez can start making more contact, league average would be fine, and reduce the number of times he walks back to the dugout, we could see Alvarez approach the 40 home run level. He is currently on pace to hit 41 home runs and drive in 100+ runs. Hitting for a team that struggles to score runs, that is pretty impressive.
Alvarez currently leads the National League in home runs, and with power hitters in high demand for fantasy owners, we could see Alvarez rise the ranks come draft day 2014. If you can live with the high strikeout rate, low batting average and his usual slow starts to the season, Alvarez is a very valuable power hitter that could still come cheap next season.
Alvarez is still just 26 years old and about to enter his peak years, so we could see some 35-40 home runs seasons from him down the road.
Elite power hitter. Pedro Alvarez.