The brilliant Astros rookie DH Yordan Alvarez is a near-lock to win the AL Rookie of the Year next month, but he has labored through the playoffs with just a .171/.227/.244 and a lone RBI in 44 PA. After posting a .313/.412/.655 line with 27 HR and 78 RBI in 369 regular season plate appearances, he was expected to a key part of the deep Houston lineup.
Instead, he has started to move down in the lineup (5th in the first 7 games; 6th or 7th in 4 since) and will likely be an easy sit for the Astros for the games in Washington. He may have sat anyway, but if he was raking, it would’ve at least been a tough decision. So what have the Rays and Yankees done to slow the electric rookie?
His own approach has waned as he’s swinging more often and missing a lot more often when he does with his swing rate up eight points to 51% and swinging strike rate up five points to 16%. His 26% strikeout rate from the regular season was more than tolerable when paired with his elite power (.342 ISO) and walk rate (14%). In October, he’s been striking out at a 43% clip with just a 7% walk rate. He feasted on fastballs in the regular season (1.129 OPS, 19% K, 16% BB), but the opposition’s approach with heaters has been instrumental in slowing him down.
He has a paltry .095/.208/.095 line against the 113 heaters he’s faced this postseason with the high heat proving particularly difficult. He has seen fastballs in the upper third much more in this short sample, up 13 points to 53%, and he’s just 1-for-8 on plate appearances ending with a high heater, but it’s the outside heaters that are really troubling him.
He hasn’t seen that many more fastballs on the outer third of the plate (up just 3 points to 42%), but he has really struggled with the ones he is seeing. We are parsing an already-small sample here, but he has struck out on four of the eight PA ending on such a pitch – all looking. To my eye, Alvarez is stuck in between pitches at times and falls back on his heels in various appearances, almost passively hoping for a walk.
Another big change has been his performance against sliders. He torched the pitch throughout the season to the tune of a 1.176 OPS and 9 HR in his 75 PA ending on them. He did strike out 36% of the time, too, but the production was undeniable. He’s faced just 25 sliders in October, but they’ve ended nine of his 44 total PA. He has a couple hits, but he’s also fanned in five of them thanks to a gaudy 28% swinging strike rate. Righties and lefties alike are simply burying sliders and getting Alvarez to chase. He saw 60% of his regular season sliders in the lower half of the zone, but it’s up to 92% in the playoffs.
Again, I’m chopping up 44 PA which means we’re definitely dealing with noise, but he’s clearly struggling right now and if he can’t get going in the World Series, it could really hurt the Astros. As we push toward first pitch tonight in Houston, look for how the Nationals approach the 22-year old lefty slugger, particularly with fastballs and sliders.
If he can’t turn around his fortunes on high heat and layoff some of the buried sliders, it could be more of the same. I do wonder if another rough series would start to push his 2020 fantasy price down, which currently sits in the 2nd-3rd round range, despite his UT-only status.