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Stats Corner: Pedro adds contact, patience to power game

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By David Golebiewski
Saturday, April 12, 2014, 8:09 p.m.
 

Pedro Alvarez launched 36 home runs last season, tying Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the National League lead and establishing a new single-season franchise record for a Pirates third baseman. Those bombs came at a cost, though, with Alvarez's all-or-nothing approach leading to the second-worst on-base percentage (.296) among hitters going deep at least 30 times.

Alvarez is showing off his power once again as, entering Saturday's game, he paces the Pirates in homers (five) and slugging percentage (.615). But the slugger once known for chasing pitches and racking up strikeouts is displaying an ability to control the strike zone.

In 2013, Alvarez drew walks at a league-average clip (7.9 percent) and stuck out in 30.3 percent of his plate appearances, sixth-highest among qualified batters. But Alvarez has walked just as often as he has whiffed (17.8 percent) this season, working the count and making contact like a Joey Votto clone. With a more polished approach, Alvarez has boosted his OBP to .311 despite enduring some terrible luck on balls put in play (.115 BABIP).

While early-season stats can deceive, Alvarez's strike zone overhaul looks legitimate. Changes in a player's swing and contact rates become meaningful with 50 plate appearances — a mark Alvarez is fast approaching. He's hacking at fewer pitches thrown outside of the strike zone and coming up empty less often when he does let it rip.

Showing improvement

Year O-swing Pct. Contact pct.

2010-13 33.3 69.1

2014 26.8 72.6

MLB avg. 30.7 80.2

Source: Fangraphs.com

Alvarez's potential may hinge on whether he can sustain the gains. He managed to post an on-base plus slugging percentage that was 16 percent above average last year despite striking out 3.9 times as often as he walked.

However, no player has maintained that high of an OPS over a career spanning 6,000-plus plate appearances.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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