Pedro Alvarez single-handedly dragged the Pirates to a win yesterday with an RBI single, a solo home run, and a three-run double. Alvarez does this from time to time, as I'm sure Cardinal fans remember. His season line is now up to .223/.290/.464. That's not very good, but in this era of diminished offense it's at least adequate and useful, and it's fairly impressive given that it's June 21st and that his OPS was under .500 on April 21st and under .600 on May 16th.
Every single time Alvarez gets a head of steam going and launches some balls into the stratosphere, Pirate fans get excited and wonder if this is the time that Pedro finally makes the transformation into the reliable power hitter that we've been hoping for since draft day in 2008. That he makes what I think will have to be called the Chris Davis Leap from now on, where he gets his early-career struggles behind him and finally realizes his potential. There is a problem. Every single time Alvarez goes on a tear like this, there's one number that doesn't change: his strikeout rate.
Pretty much any way you want to slice this recent hot streak by Pedro up, the strikeouts are still there. Let's go back to April 22nd, when he had two hits and a homer and dragged his OPS over .500 for the first time since the season's first week. He's hitting .246/.314/.532 with 14 homers in 47 games since then, which is actually pretty solid. And he's struck out 63 times in 185 plate appearances — 34%. Well, OK, but then Pedro slumped a bit at the April/May border with a bunch of games against the Brewers that bedeviled him. So let's take a chunk starting on May 17th, which is when Pedro went 2-for-4 against the Astros and launched that ridiculous blast off of the riverwalk that riccocheted halfway across the Allegheny. That game put his OPS over .600 and it's stayed above since then and climbed pretty reliably for the last month. In the 28 games he's played since then, he's hit .271/.358/.635 with 10 home runs, which is ridiculously good and pretty much the ceiling for an Ideal Pedro Alvarez. And in those 28 games, he's batted 109 times and struck out in 39 of those plate appearances, which is just shy of 36%. What about since the Giants series started? The Pirates have been playing good baseball and Pedro has seriously barrelled up on a lot of baseballs in that ten game span. He's hitting .324/.419/.649 with three homers and three doubles (which doubled his season double total) in this most recent span. And he's struck out 14 times in 43 plate appearances, which is still 32.5% of his plate appearances.
Sometimes people act like Pedro Alvarez is some kind of big mystery. Like they can't figure out how he can go from El Toro, the scalding hot destroyer of baseballs, to F*cking Pedro Alvarez, the guy that goes 0-for-5 with three strikeouts twice in a three-game series. It is not a mystery. Pedro Alvarez is inconsistent because the only thing that's consistent about him is his ridiculous strikeout rate. You want to know why Chris Davis is making the proverbial leap into stardom this year? Because when the Rangers let Chris Davis play regularly in 2009, he struck out almost 36% of the time and this year with the Orioles, he's striking out less than 26% of the time.
This is not an old fogey rant about how players are striking out a ton, because strikeouts are fine for hitters up to a point. Pedro Alvarez has spent his entire career existing just beyond that point. This is me straight up telling you that a hitter that can't put the ball into play (or over the fence) on more than 30% of his plate appearances will always be a streaky hitter, even if he has Pedro Alvarez's power and ability to catch fire. Don't mistake what I'm saying here: Pedro Alvarez was a solid player for the Pirates last year and with his improved defense this year he's likely to have an even better year in 2013. He's probably been the Pirates' fourth best position player this year (after McCutchen, Martin, and Marte). What I'm saying is, don't waste time wondering if this is the transformative hot streak that alters the course of Pedro Alvarez's career, the streak that takes him from complimentary player to All-Star. It's not. Until he figures out a way to take his strikeouts down a notch, every hot streak like this is going to be followed by an inevitable slump. We're not there yet.