FEATURED BLOG: The Argument for Yordan Alvarez

After Yordan Alvarez hit 23 home runs in just 56 Triple-A games to start 2019, the A*tros couldn’t wait to not just call him up in June, but start him.

Alvarez debuted on June 9 with a home run. He followed up his debut with another home run the next game. Two games later, he hit another; and yet another in the game after that. Alvarez’s four dongs in five games made a huge splash, but was it indicative of future play?

Alvarez would go on to hit 23 more homers in his 82 remaining games of the season.

His second-half was among the elite, slashing .304/.412/.633. He carried a .329 ISO and a 172 wRC+. He was American League Rookie of the Month in June, July, and August before unanimously winning the American League Rookie of the Year.

His run was incredible. Not just for a rookie, but when measured against the entire league. Of all 273 players with at least 300 plate appearances:

  • Mike Trout was first with a 180 wRC+,
    • Alvarez was second at 178;
  • Christian Yelich was first with a .442 wOBA, Trout was second at .436.
    • Alvarez was third at .432;
  • Yelich first with a 1.100 OPS, Trout second at 1.083,
    • Alvarez was third at 1.067.

This is elite production.

In seasonal leagues with weekly edits, Alvarez does not carry the same drop-off when facing left-handed pitching as the typical left-handed hitter. Left-handed hitters had a 101 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers in 2019, compared to an 88 against left-handed pitching. Alvarez had 181 against right-handed pitchers and only dropped off to a 171 against left-handed pitchers. For context, against left-handed pitching, Alvarez was an everyday Mickey Mantle.

His FantasyPros ADP is #38, placing him as a late-third or early-fourth round pick. Egads!

The sample being small on Alvarez is too concerning to make him a top-5 pick or start spending $5k for him in DFS, but his power is real. Very real. Dan Szymborski adds:

“While there will be some regression, and there’s always the chance that a significant change in the ball affects his game, Alvarez proved to be a fairly polished offensive talent with a surprising amount of patience and contact ability for a young slugger. He’s never going to have much value with the glove and even less running the bases, but even if he doesn’t match 2019, I think he’s done enough to establish himself as a real offensive force.[…] ZiPS sees Alvarez’s basic story, that of a young, All-Star slugger who can maintain a fairly high BABIP, as non-fiction.”

In DFS, there is great value in Alvarez’s lineup spot, as a perpetual contrarian pick. Depth Charts projects the A*tros lineup with Alvarez hitting sixth. SIXTH! Between George Springer and Jose Altuve locked in the top-two slots and Alex Bregman locked into the three- or four-hole, there leaves behind a great jumble of Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, and Alvarez. Sure, this is shitty for plate appearances, but only relative to the A*tros ahead of him. And this A*stros lineup makes for an extraordinary amount of RBI opportunities.

The argument against Alvarez is simply that we do not know what he is.

I’m as bullish as it gets on him, but not saying he’s the next Mickey Mantle. Paul Sporer defecates on our exuberance by noting: “It’s certainly hard to envision him getting better. Just because he’s the Faller doesn’t mean he’s going to be bad and shouldn’t be drafted. The Steamer projection is still remarkably bullish on Alvarez with 37 HR and a .275/.365/.554 line over 578 PA.”

The primary indicator for regression is Alvarez’s .366 BABIP, but, as Szymborski notes, there is evidence that there is something sticky about some of the BABIP. that something is in his plate discipline. Alvarez carried a 14.1% walk rate through his time up and that’s a stat which shouldn’t really fluctuate. What is also optimistic is that he hit the ball up the middle 37.6% of the time—compared to Yelich’s 37.4%—and hit the ball hard. Alvarez’s hard hit rate was 51.1%—fourth behind Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, and Nelson Cruz, among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances.

Sure, his home run to fly ball rate was a cartoonish 32.9%, but when they hit ‘em as hard as that, there is something sticky about the power. Probably why Baseball Prospectus has the even more bullish projection for 2020: .279/.367./576 with 42 HR and 108 RBI, despite a .314 BABIP that I think is too low.

It is really difficult to pass up Alvarez in the late second round where he is always available. We don’t want to overdraft a guy, but we don’t want to lose out on a guy with so much power and RBI potential because we were playing the ADP game. We should throw ADP out the window and go by the numbers with Alvarez, treating him as he is: a questionable talent with a high floor and a top-5 ceiling. This isn’t a late third round pick.

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