Pedro Alvarez has been making the transition to first base in the last few weeks, after a season full of throwing problems at the third base position. Alvarez made his debut tonight at first, batting fifth against right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana. The move puts Ike Davis on the bench, with Davis previously representing the left-handed half of the first base platoon.
The first base platoon hasn’t been the most productive pair this year. There have been times where Davis and Gaby Sanchez have looked great, but largely they have been inconsistent. That said, Alvarez doesn’t look like a big upgrade at the moment.
This season, Alvarez has a .757 OPS against right-handed pitching. Ike Davis hasn’t been great, but has much better numbers, with a .776 OPS against right-handers. The difference isn’t just limited to this season. Alvarez has a career .790 OPS against right-handers, while Davis has a career .818 OPS. Whether the scope is the current season, or their entire careers, Davis has been the better hitter for this half of the platoon.
You also have to factor in the defense. Davis isn’t putting up the best numbers defensively, with a -4.3 UZR/150. That’s similar to what he’s done the last two years. It’s not out of the question to suggest Alvarez could post similar or better numbers one day. But will that happen over the final six weeks of the season, when Alvarez is basically learning the position on the fly?
When Alvarez was drafted, he was viewed as a guy who would carry the lineup in the future. The reality is that this hasn’t happened. He’s been a good player the last two years, but not a great player. He hits a lot of home runs, which draw attention, but that’s about it for his game. This year he isn’t hitting home runs, and the fact that there’s no other value he brings is really starting to show, especially when he starts to detract with his throwing issues.
Over the weekend, I wrote about the first base position, wondering what the Pirates will end up doing this off-season with Alvarez, Davis, and Gaby Sanchez at the position. If it’s a choice between Alvarez and Davis for the spot, the position should go to Davis. Alvarez is the bigger name in Pittsburgh, and has bigger expectations because of his history with the team. The reality is that Davis has been better throughout his career, and is better this year. If Alvarez wasn’t once viewed as the guy who would save the franchise and anchor the Pirates’ lineup (that player ended up being Andrew McCutchen), then there would be no debate at all between him and Davis.
Links and Notes
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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.