By now, you know that Yordan Alvarez has been good. Insanely good.
Before this season, he wasn’t considered a top-100 prospect, and yet through 46 games, Alvarez has put up a Christian Yelichian .355/.431/.733 triple slash. Because his season is young, there’s still a lot of volatility in his metrics between games, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Surely, this is not wholly sustainable. It isn’t unheard of to be really, really good for, say, a quarter of a season, but doing what he’s done for a whole season in his first year nearly is—and Alvarez just turned 22 years old.
This comes as no surprise for many. After all, his bat was never the concern. FanGraphs, for example, has him tabbed with a 50-grade future value, but that’s weighed down by his lack of savvy in the field and underwhelming speed. That hasn’t changed—despite playing in 46 major league games, he’s only started six games in the field. In any case, he wasn’t supposed to do what he’s doing now. At least not yet.
In terms of comparing with other rookie seasons, Alvarez has the advantage of having played fewer games overall than many of the rookies of past. That is, it’s difficult to be this elite for an entire season, whereas it’s more feasible to go on a hot streak that lasts a month or two. With that in mind, there’s an argument to be made that this is the strongest rookie debut—ever. At least from a pure hitting perspective.
First, from my colleague, Ben Palmer:
Combining two incredible stats I’ve seen about Yordan Alvarez into one tweet:
– he’s reached 50 career RBI faster than anyone in the last 100 MLB seasons, beating Joe DiMaggio
– he has the most RBI through a player’s first 45 games in MLB history, beating Ted Williams
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) August 11, 2019
This should speak for itself. Obviously, MLB is using a rabbit ball right now, but besting Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio in anything, really, is quite impressive, no matter the handicap. Though RBI aren’t exactly the most indicative statistic in terms of skill.
A table showing the best offensive single-season campaigns by rookies, all-time (>150 plate appearances, >40 games):
By wRC+, you’ll find Alvarez atop the leaderboard, which, is bonkers. What about by sOPS+?
Again, we find Alvarez atop the leaderboard by sOPS+, too. This is madness! As you can see, these numbers are so unprecedented that half of them occurred in the mid-1950s and earlier. Alvarez has been bananas, and he doesn’t seem interested in stopping any time soon. Just since I began this article, he’s gone ahead and decided to hit three home runs—in one game!
There’s a precedent for this, too. Alvarez, at each level:
So relative to rookies in the past, he’s been one of the best. Relative to his peers in the minors, he’s been one of the best. But relative to players now, he’s still been one of the best. By ISO, Alvarez ranks first. By wOBA, Alvarez ranks first. By wRC+, Alvarez ranks first. By xwOBA, ranks … third! No matter how you slice it, Alvarez has been one of the best, and his expected statistics support his dominance.
To be transparent, his .479 wOBA surpasses his .439 xwOBA, and his BABIP (.404) is superior to his xBABIP (.354). Nevertheless, on batted balls (i.e., xwoBACON), his xwOBA ranks fourth in the league at .557—just behind Joey Gallo, Nelson Cruz, and Aaron Judge. Plus, a .439 xwOBA is incredible anyhow. He is absolutely crushing baseballs.
So sure, he’s exceeding his expected stats, but maybe it’s not all luck, as we often assume.
At home, Alvarez has a .091 differential between his BABIP (.453) and xBABIP (.362). That’s … pretty insane. But on the road, he has just a .007 differential in his BABIP (.353) and xBABIP (.346). It makes sense, then, that we can continue to see Alvarez do what he’s doing at Minute Maid Park. This is supported by Statcast data, as across the league, left-handed hitters thrive at Minute Maid Park: On fly balls in 2019, there has been a 0.102 differential between batting average and expected-batting average. Translation? Minute Maid Park has been a haven for left-handed hitters. While Alvarez isn’t all that pull-heavy relative to the league, he pulls the ball slightly more than average, and so he is a beneficiary: On line drives and fly balls to right field, Alvarez boasts a 0.215 wOBA-xwOBA. That’s significantly more than any of Alvarez’s left-handed hitting teammates.
Earlier, I said that this isn’t completely sustainable, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that this isn’t to some extent. Especially because there appears to be an explanation for Alvarez outpacing his expected statistics.
Here is how Alvarez ranks in several metrics, by percentile:
So as it turns out, he’s pretty good, eh? If I were a betting man, I would say that each of these metrics will regress slightly toward the 50th percentile—it’s always a safe bet to assume so—but I think it’s perfectly reasonable for him to maintain something that looks like a player who walks a lot, strikes out a decent amount, and hits for a whole lot of power. That’s a recipe for quite a productive hitter.
To throw a few more metrics at you, Alvarez ranks around average in a few key areas. Alvarez, by percentile, one more time:
- O-Swing%: 42nd.
- SwStr%: 58th.
- Z-Contact%: 49th.
For Alvarez to be putting up these numbers with this plate discipline is encouraging, and for me, it helps to bolster the argument that he can keep this up. In short, it’s hard to poke holes in his skill set to deny his prowess as an elite major league hitter.
He’s shown the ability to hit all kinds of pitches too. So far, against fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches, he has xwOBAs upwards of .400. That won’t last forever, but he’s shown he can hit pitches of all kinds.
Here’s Alvarez, demolishing a 97 mph fastball:
Here, Alvarez clubs a pitch over the fence. This time, a slider:
We’re not done yet. Alvarez muscles a changeup at the bottom of the zone out to left-center field:
And here’s Alvarez golfing a changeup over the fence:
In these GIFs, some information is there and some is not. What information we can glean from these videos is that, 1) Alvarez is strong, and 2) Alvarez isn’t only murderizing bad pitches. None of these pitches were awful. What is not available to you is that Alvarez has six home runs off fastballs, six off breaking pitches, and four off offspeed pitches. So in just about every facet of his game, Alvarez has shown the balance that will make it very difficult for pitchers to expose any flaws in his game.
He’s also shown some rather novel mechanical skills, which pair well with his physical prowess:
When the pitch is too slow but you load correctly you can delay the launch even tho your foot got down. All back all fwd hitters cant make this adjustment. pic.twitter.com/wRnL9XYetX
— matt pierce (@tx_pierce) August 11, 2019
The season is inching toward its completion, and yet we are still dealing with something of an inconvenience with a small sample size. Nevertheless, we know that xwOBA can be of service, even in small samples, so perhaps this is not as much of an issue as it could be. While his home park and the rabbit ball almost undoubtedly play a role in some of his successes, everyone is playing with the same ball. What should surely not be forgotten is that Alvarez is a wildly talented hitter, which is evident in his early successes.
So far, it seems that Alvarez can hit fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches—and well, if that wasn’t clear. He walks a lot, doesn’t strike out too often, and for now, he appears to have a sound approach and plate discipline. Not to mention that this is all while displaying some insane power and solid contact skills.
Also, there’s precedent for his success, albeit at the minor league level. He has all the pieces to be one of the most-feared hitters in the league, and so far, he hasn’t shown us much reason to think otherwise. For now, we’ll try our best to suppress any knee-jerk reactions, but if there was any uncertainty as to whether Alvarez could conceivably endure this rampant pace at which he’s hitting, I hope I’ve helped to quell those concerns.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)