Yordan Alvarez has Been Historic

You may have noticed lately that Yordan Alvarez has been quite the sight to see this year. What may not be as apparent is Alvarez is measuring up with some all-time greats. Michael Ajeto digs in.

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 isand 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 changeddespite 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 debutever. At least from a pure hitting perspective.

First, from my colleague, Ben Palmer:

 

 

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):

 

SeasonNamePABABIPISOwRC+WAR
2019Yordan Alvarez192.400.3892052.5
1957Bob Hazle168.410.2241922.0
1959Willie McCovey219.379.3021853.1
1990Frank Thomas240.421.1991782.4
1991Bret Barberie162.400.1621692.0
1970Bernie Carbo470.341.2391685.6
2016Gary Sanchez231.315.3551683.1
2014Jose Abreu622.356.2641675.3
1914Benny Kauff667.400.1651679.9
1954Bill Skowron237.344.2371662.1

 

By wRC+, you’ll find Alvarez atop the leaderboard, which, is bonkers. What about by sOPS+?

 

YearNamePAsOPS+
2019Yordan Alvarez192204
1959Willie McCovey219200
1945Bill Salkeld317182
1939Ted Williams675180
1990Frank Thomas240177
1908Buck Herzog218174
2014Jose Abreu622173
1991Bret Barberie162168
2017Rhys Hoskins212167
1954Bill Skowron237166

 

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 runsin one game!

There’s a precedent for this, too. Alvarez, at each level:

 

PAHRBB%K%ISOwRC+
2018, AA1901210.023.7.290168
2019, AAA2532315.019.8.399168
2019, MLB1971711.724.4.378203

 

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 .557just 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:

 

Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

 

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 percentileit’s always a safe bet to assume sobut 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:

 

 

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 pitchesand 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.

In any case, Yordan Alvarez and Aristides Aquino have made baseball awfully interesting to watch lately. Surely, there’s much more to come from the both of them.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael co-founded Sounding Off Blog, where he wrote about the Mariners. Now he writes Going Deep articles here. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mikeyajetoPL, or you can not.

  • Avatar Michael BASH says:

    I am really regretting trading him away, but I guess if I win, flags fly forever

  • Avatar Mike says:

    Great article!

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