- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez continues to be dropped by many of his fantasy owners, to the point that he's owned in barely half of ESPN standard leagues. But after he mashed his third home run of the season Monday night -- and more importantly, his third in five days -- it sure seems time for a reminder about who this guy is from a statistical aspect. Alvarez swings and misses quite a bit and he doesn't hit for a high batting average, but the power is very much legitimate, which is why it seems a bit strange that a 16th-rounder in ESPN average live drafts is available in so many leagues available just three weeks into the season.
Sure, owning Alvarez isn't a party all the time, but owners who stuck with him have been rewarded in the past week, and there are more good things to come. This isn't Adam Dunn, after all, even though Alvarez entered Monday with the fourth-lowest batting average among qualifiers for the batting title, hitting a Dunn-like .125. (Only Aaron Hicks, Dunn and Jason Heyward were worse.) On Monday, Alvarez added 25 points to that batting average with his first multihit game of the season, as he also singled. Tony Gwynn he's not, but Alvarez will, believe it or not, continue to raise his current .150 batting average, maybe even 100 points if he continues to make small strides with his walk rate and grows a bit more competent against lefty pitchers.
Alvarez hit .244 a season ago, which certainly isn't good but doesn't tank an entire fantasy team, and he did so despite striking out 180 times, fifth-most in the majors. Two of the guys who whiffed more topped the 40-homer plateau (Dunn, Curtis Granderson), and it's reasonable to think Alvarez has some power growth in him after hitting 30 home runs at age 25. Frankly, fantasy owners shouldn't worry about his massive strikeout totals, unless it's an actual statistical category in their leagues. This is who he is. Batting average matters, but one can live with a .244 mark, as trusted colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft showed in his early April article on batting average killers. Cockcroft also discussed Alvarez's propensity for streaks like the one in the past week. Since then, the streak has been positive with the three home runs.
The point is, if you drafted Alvarez, and he was drafted in pretty much every league, you knew what you were getting. Of the 158 players taken before Alvarez in ESPN ADP, Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is the only hitter currently owned in a fewer percentage of leagues. (The pitchers in that group are Jason Motte and John Axford.) The fact that Moustakas was dumped so quickly seems odd as well. Moustakas was fine last season, certainly showing power promise. I actually like him better than Alvarez, but each is still worth owning in a 10-team league. Alas, low-average power hitters can be a bit of an acquired taste, but at least give these players through April to hit a bit.
The home runs Alvarez hit in the Atlanta Braves series over the weekend were serious clouts, including one out of PNC Park, and then Alvarez connected off Philadelphia Phillies rookie right-hander Jonathan Pettibone for a no-doubter in Monday's 3-2 loss. Fantasy owners don't get extra credit for longer home runs, but again, it's a reminder that the power is real. Alvarez whiffed against right-hander Jonathan Papelbon to end the game, not exactly unexpected since he began Monday among the top 10 in strikeouts as well. Earlier this season, Alvarez and his fantasy owners weathered a 24-at-bat hitless string, but it's also worth noting that his current .176 BABIP will rise.
Alvarez got off to a notably slow start a year ago as well but still finished as one of 27 players to hit 30 or more home runs. The former second overall pick from the 2008 amateur draft hit .203 in April and .207 in May. From June 1 on, he hit .259. Nobody is saying that's awesome, but he did improve. Perhaps he's starting that improvement a bit earlier this season.
Here are some other thoughts on three Pirates hitters:
• I've been asked quite a bit about rising left fielder Starling Marte, who is hitting .315 after he doubled in four at-bats Monday, but I just can't get past his three walks versus 21 strikeouts. He has 11 walks and 71 K's in his career. Last week, Marte had a game in which he struck out five times in five at-bats. I see a guy who could hit 15-20 home runs and steal 35-40 bases, but he's not even Alvarez in terms of plate discipline. The batting average will plummet to .250.
• Former Toronto Blue Jays castoff Travis Snider hit second in the lineup Monday but went hitless in four at-bats and saw his batting average drop from .357 to .326. Snider is more disciplined; he had drawn a walk in three consecutive games, and in the Atlanta series he had three multihit performances, hitting four doubles. There remains modest power upside, and Snider is still only 25. If he received 400 at-bats and didn't have to face lefties on a regular basis, I could see 15 home runs and a .260 batting average. Maybe that's not Garrett Jones-like, but it's a start.
• Catcher Russell Martin started April slowly, dragging a .103 batting average into the Atlanta series (the Pirates took the final three of the four games), but now he's at .241 with his fourth multihit performance in five days. Like Alvarez, Martin is never going to win a batting title, and he hasn't hit .250 in a season since 2009, but there's 20-homer power here. Martin hit 39 home runs the past two seasons for the New York Yankees. He also has more walks than strikeouts, making him more palatable in OBP formats, and he's one of the few catchers who steals bases.
Eric Karabell takes a closer look at the Pirates lineup, including his 2013 expectations for third baseman Pedro Alvarez.