Baltimore Orioles

Pedro Alvarez surging as designated hitter

02 June, 2016: Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Pedro Alvarez (24) in action during a match between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo By: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)
(Photo By: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)

It’s a little bit sad that baseball has become so specialized that there are players out there that can’t handle both hitting and playing in the field. But as long as there’s a designated hitter or utility-man spot in the fantasy lineup, it makes no difference to fantasy owners.

Actually, in some cases, they might prefer their players to just concentrate on hitting. That’s definitely the case for Baltimore Orioles third baseman/designated hitter Pedro Alvarez.

“El Toro” came to Baltimore with extremely low confidence as a fielder. Alvarez was tied with the third-most errors in the league among qualified players during 2015, which was an incredibly bad feat considering he played first base, started just 121 games in the field, and was taken out for a defensive replacement every time the Pirates had a lead late in a game. His 23 errors were more than twice as many as the second-most errors by a first baseman in the league.

The prior season was even worse. Alvarez had 25 errors at third base, the most of anyone at the position, in just 95 games as a starter.

Regardless of what he did with the bat, Alvarez had become such a liability in the field, no National League team could justify starting him. He had to find an American League suitor and sign with them during the offseason.

He did just that, agreeing to terms with Baltimore, but after a slow April for the slugger, manager Buck Showalter was giving Alvarez some starts at third base in May. Part of the reason why was the injury to J.J. Hardy. In nine of 19 games that month, Alvarez played at least one inning at third. He started at third in six of those games.

Maybe it had no effect on him, but May was not a very successful month for Alvarez at the plate, as he slashed just .167/.258/.333 with two homers, eight RBI and 15 strikeouts in 54 at-bats. For the entire season, he had a .194 batting average, three home runs and a .644 OPS at the end of May.

However, since June 1, Alvarez has appeared at third base in just one game. At the plate during that time, he is slashing .312/.342/.674 with 15 bombs, 28 RBI and 24 runs in just 138 at-bats.

The 29-year-old became particularly hot, especially in the power department, after the All-Star game. Over the last 19 games, Alvarez is hitting .294 with nine homers, 13 RBI and 11 runs in only 68 at-bats. During that span, he hasn’t appeared in the field even once, as all his at-bats have been as the designated hitter or a pinch hitter.

Heading into Monday’s game, five of his eight hits in August have gone for home runs.

It goes without saying that this current hot spell isn’t going to continue. Alvarez has always been a very streaky hitter and his 40.9 HR/FB ratio over the last 30 days is absolutely unsustainable.

That being said, the 29-year-old is probably benefitting from very limited innings in the field during the last two months. Not only is more of his practice time going towards improving his swing rather than his atrocious defense, he no longer has to deal with a bruised ego at the plate as the result of an error or bonehead play in the field from earlier in a game.

Although all professional hitters obviously have to deal with that sort of stuff all the time, it would be silly to suggest Alvarez’s poor fielding hasn’t at all been a detriment to his confidence at the plate.

In Pittsburgh, his at-bats were limited due to his poor defense, but with access to the DH in Baltimore, the Orioles can start him every night. They basically have since the All-Star break.

Based on his history, owners can’t assume he will continue to hit over .300 as he has since the start of June. Alvarez is just a .238 career hitter. But with regular at bats, and if kept only a DH, “El Toro” still has some of the best power in baseball. His 13.4 at-bats per home run rate is second-best in the league among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances.

Pedro Alvarez: third baseman was no good. But Pedro Alvarez: designated hitter has been excellent for Baltimore, and should continue to.

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