By: Chris Larson
The Houston Astros are just one game behind the New York Yankees for the best record in all of baseball and continue to prove how much of a powerhouse they are night in and night out. For Houston, they have everything working for them and have a tremendous amount of depth on their entire 25-man roster.
The Astros have a very potent lineup and when all 1-9 hitters are healthy, an argument can be made that it is the best lineup in all of baseball. Then, you back that up with a terrific pitching staff that features three workhorses at the top in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke along with a bullpen that is anchored down by the likes of Will Harris, Joe Smith, and Roberto Osuna. Among other things that make the Houston Astros a true powerhouse is the amount of talent they have around the diamond with Jose Altuve at second base, Alex Bregman at shortstop and third base, and Michael Brantley, George Springer, and Josh Reddick holding down fort in the outfield.
Despite all of that star studded talent and billboard names, the Houston Astros also happen to do a great job of scouting and bringing up young prospects from their farm system. In fact, one of the qualities of this year's Astros team is the fact that there is enough depth down in the minors and enough quality prospects to cover the big league team in the event of an injury. Astros General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, has had plenty of assurance all season long and there have been many instances where a prospect has been called up and made an immediate impact on the big league team.
However, no other instance sticks out more than that of when 22-year old rookie, Yordan Alvarez, was called up to the big league squad on June 9th of this season. Alvarez was acquired by the Astros from the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 1st, 2016 in exchange of right-handed pitcher, Josh Fields. At the time, with all due respect to both Yordan Alvarez and Josh Fields, it was essentially a trade of two no-named players that no one really had any idea about. Scouts weren't sure if Yordan Alvarez would be able to perform at the big league level and there was concern about the long-term durability of Josh Fields.
With that being said though, it has definitely been a trade that has worked out in the favor of the Houston Astros and one that has certainly had significant ramifications on the overall performance of the Astros offense this entire season. Heading into play today, Yordan Alvarez has a: .316/.411/.665 slash line over the span of 316 plate appearances with 85 hits, 22 doubles, 24 home runs, 72 RBI, 43 walks, and 78 strikeouts so far this season. With the impact that he has brought from an offensive standpoint, it has made an intriguing case when it comes to the American League Rookie of the Year Award and Alvarez's overall odds of winning the award.
When you begin to look around the league for other potential candidates for the award, you will likely look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays, Eloy Jimenez of the Chicago White Sox, Michael Chavis of the Boston Red Sox, and John Means of the Baltimore Orioles as potential considerations. However, Yordan Alvarez has had just as much impact, during his rookie big league stint as those six have, and has really helped the Houston Astros to once again run away with the American League West.
In order to build an argument for Yordan Alvarez though, you have to look at how he ranks among other qualified rookies around the American League. One of the more intriguing aspects of Alvarez's overall game is his plate discipline and walk rate in correlation to other rookies around the American League. In that category, Alvarez ranks second behind only, Cavan Biggio of the Toronto Blue Jays, with a cumulative walk rate of (13.6%). While Yordan Alvarez strives to hit for power with every plate appearance, he is doing just as good of a job with controlling his bat in the zone and being patient at the plate without giving into what the opposing team's pitcher is trying to throw to him. As Alvarez gains more experience at the big league level, it will be interesting to see if this trend ends up changing overtime or if he continues to be just as disciplined.
As mentioned in the last paragraph, another key selling point for Yordan Alvarez is his overall power. Among the other qualified rookies in the American League, Alvarez far and away has the highest Isolated Power (ISO) value at (.349). Second place in that category belongs to Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays, who has an Isolated Power value of (.265), nearly 90 points less than Alvarez! With Yordan Alvarez being a Designated Hitter for the Houston Astros, power is something that a typical DH exhibits and that's exactly what Alvarez profiles as.
As such, among every player in baseball with at least 50 batted ball events, Yordan Alvarez ranks fourth in Barrels Per Plate Appearance with an overall value of (11.1%). In addition, when it comes to the Average Exit Velocity, when the ball leaves the tip of the bat, Alvarez ranks tenth with at (92.6) MPH. That puts him up there with other power hitters around the game such as Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz of the Minnesota Twins, Franmil Reyes of the San Diego Padres, and Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers among others. Considering that Yordan Alvarez is only 22 years old, you have to think that the power is only going to continue to get higher and that's a scary thought for the other American League teams that will have to play the Houston Astros in the next few years.
Beyond both of those things, Yordan Alvarez leads the way in Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) at (.434) and comes in first in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) as well at (179). What's important about both of these stats you might ask when evaluating Alvarez for the American League Rookie of the Year Award? Well, wOBA is special because it attempts to measure a hitters overall offensive value and tries to put a value on the different batted ball events that could happen for a hitter over the span of a game. For instance, a home run is going to have a higher value compared to a single. Given that Yordan Alvarez leads all qualified American League rookies in that category, it shows how special of a hitter he is and the damage that he can do at the plate.
Furthermore, wRC+ is important because it strives to measure how many runs a player created and then takes out external elements, that are out of the players control, from the overall equation. For example, wRC+ would measure how many runs Alvarez creates during a single game and then would subtract the elements of the ballpark from the equation. So, if Alvarez was playing at Globe Life Park in Arlington, his wRC+ would remain the same even if he was hitting at the same level in another American League ballpark, such as T-Mobile Park in Seattle. In addition, wRC+ strives to take the era or period of time, out of the equation as well, which is significant because of how many home runs are being hit this season.
Besides all of that, another special thing about Yordan Alvarez is his ability to spray the ball to all parts of the field. When you look at his Batted Ball stats for this season, you will notice that he tends to be able to hit the ball to centerfield, go the opposite direction, or even pull the ball in certain situations. For illustration, Alvarez has an overall opposite field percentage of (21.8%), a centerfield percentage of (36.3%), and a pull percentage of (42.0%). If you are an opposing teams pitching staff, you might want to try to throw the ball and get Alvarez to hit it to the opposite field assuming that you have favorable odds of getting him out, but that's not even safe considering that (21.8%) of his batted balls have went that direction. While some might think that's a bad thing overall, it is a boost for Yordan Alvarez because any team wants a hitter to be able to hit the baseball to all parts of the field and keep the opposing team on their feet when it comes to trying to figure out how to shift someone.
Although there is plenty to like about Yordan Alvarez and the power he brings to the plate, his ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field, and his overall odds of winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, he does have a couple of flaws like any other big league player does. For starters, speed is not one of the qualities of Yordan Alvarez, as illustrated by his overall Speed rating of (1.1), according to data from FanGraphs. If you are wondering, that ties Alvarez with Grayson Greiner of the Detroit Tigers, for the second lowest Speed rating among qualified American League rookies. The good news is that the Houston Astros don't need Alvarez for speed on the base paths because they have plenty of speed with other guys on their team such as Jake Marisnick and Myles Straw.
Furthermore, another flaw with Yordan Alvarez's overall game is his strikeout percentages, which really shouldn't be a surprise considering the type of hitter that Alvarez is. When you try and evaluate any power hitter around the game, there are always going to be a lot of home runs and offensive power along with lots of strikeouts. It's just a given in today's game and something that might eventually come down for Alvarez over time considering that he's still only 22. On the year, Alvarez has struck out during (24.7%) of his plate appearances, but it's a far cry from the American League rookie leader in that category - Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays at (33.9%). For some voters, this might be something significant to consider, but likely won't make or break Alvarez's overall chances of winning the award.
Either way, the Houston Astros know they have something special in Yordan Alvarez and not only has he solidified himself with this year's Astros squad, he has also made himself a permanent part of the long-term plans of the team as well. Whether or not Alvarez ultimately ends up winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain and that's the fact that Yordan Alvarez has caught all of baseball by storm and been a guy that has essentially come out of no where. The saying might be, "Houston, We Have a Problem", but maybe it should be, "Baseball, We Have a Yordanado."