Jeff Goldblum is my favorite actor. I think it really started with Independence Day, but maybe it was Jurassic Park, or maybe it was something even earlier. I really can't remember.
The thing about Goldblum is, he does one thing, and he does that one thing better than anyone. If you need a quirky scientist (or, very occasionally, a quirky TV guy), you cast Jeff Goldblum. If you need a heartthrob, or a gangster, or an athlete, no. But a quirky scientist? You cast Goldblum, and he knocks it out of the park.
Knocks it out of the park.
See, Alvarez (like Goldblum) isn't versatile. In real baseball, he's (optimistically) an average defender, and he's an on-base sink. Heck, in fantasy, he's not doing anything for your batting average, and he's currently sitting at four stolen bases in four seasons. But oh, that power.
So since these two are so inextricably linked (read: since I wanted to write about Jeff Goldblum), I'm going to use some Goldblum movie quotes to break down Alvarez.
"Yes, yes. Yes. Without the ‘oops.' Thataway." - David Levinson in Independence Day.
Alvarez kind of false-started his career. He was decent as a 23-year-old rookie in 2010, but his 2011 was a disaster, with a .191/.272/.289 slash line and only four homers. It resulted in him heading back down to the minors, and the "bust" rumors started. They only intensified through the first two months of 2012, when Alvarez hit .205/.263/.424, with eight home runs. Something changed then, though; for the rest of 2012, he hit .259/.339/.484, and he followed that with .233/.296/.473 in 2013. All told, Alvarez hit 66 home runs over the last two seasons, tied for fifth in the game.
"I'm saying ... I'll hurt you if you stay." - Seth Brundle in The Fly.
There is so much downside to Alvarez. Adding him to your roster either means you are punting batting average, or you are counting on super-high totals from the rest of your roster. You aren't getting stolen bases. With Neil Walker, Russell Martin, and Gaby Sanchez hitting behind him, even runs scored aren't a guarantee - of the top 20 in home runs in the last two seasons, Alvarez is last in runs scored.
"Our team is red hot! Your team ain't doodley squat!" - Professor Brody in Cats & Dogs.
The flip side of that last point is that these Pittsburgh Pirates aren't necessarily the struggling offense we've grown accustomed to. Starling Marte has a year under his belt, Walker is healthy, Gregory Polanco could be up before too long. The lineup that struggled to help Alvarez score might be considerably better in 2014 than it has been in the past. Of course, Alvarez has to get on base to score, but at least his chances of being stuck there are shrinking.
"Oh yeah, ooh, ahh, that's how all of this starts, but then later, there's running, and, and screaming ..." - Ian Malcolm in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
There are more right-handers than lefties. We all know that. And, for the sake of Alvarez, it's a good thing. Dude can't really hit lefties - .200 average against lefties lifetime vs. .248 against righties, with homers and all power coming at about half the rate (.233 ISO against righties, .132 lefties). If Alvarez could face righties all the time, there would be all those "oohs and ahhs," but you have to cringe and hide at much of his lefty work.
"Yeah, but John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists." - Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.
Ultimately, I just wanted to use this quote, because it's great. But hey, "Pirates" is right there. Anyway, in fantasy, Alvarez fits perfectly onto a certain type of roster, and horribly on another. If you are punting batting average (a totally viable strategy, and one that I have used with decent success), grab guys like Alvarez, J.J. Hardy, Jose Bautista. Heck, grab Adam Dunn. You'll smoke the homer category. You'll probably carry RBI and maybe even runs.
Of course, if you have much of any desire to hold batting average, you can't really use Alvarez. You could have Miguel Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Mauer - the top three batting averages in baseball last year - on your roster, but adding Alvarez to that mix moves your chances in batting average from "good" to "dicey" immediately. Heck, streaky as Alvarez is, there will be some weeks in head-to-head leagues that he'll lose it for you on his own.
There's a clear top third baseman - Cabrera - and a clear next tier - Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, and David Wright. I have Alvarez fifth behind those guys; he comes in seventh in our consensus ranks. I view his ability to carry an entire category as superior to that of guys like Ryan Zimmerman, who will help you in several but won't rule anything. Either way, Alvarez is pretty firmly in the back half of the top 10 at worst. He's not versatile, but he's always going to do that one thing he's good at.
Sort of like Jeff Goldblum.
(And I didn't even work in "Must go faster.")
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