Pedro Alvarez provided the Pirates with 3.1 Wins above Replacement Level last season by hitting 36 home runs with a .770 OPS – and playing league-average defense at third-base.
That last sentence is in italics because it makes a difference – and Pedro Alvarez’s 2014 UZR/150 of -18.6 say that he no longer plays anything close to league-average defense. He has simply lost the ability to make the throw from third to first. And if he must be permanently assigned to first-base, it is going to cost him money and cost the Pirates wins and trade value.
Third-baseman, on average, do not hit as well as first-baseman. So, Alvarez – as a 3B – hitting for a .770 OPS and playing league-average defense is more valuable than Alvarez – as a first-baseman – hitting for a .770 OPS and playing league-average defense. Let’s take a look at the difference.
The MLB average batting line for 3B in 2013 was .259/.322/.411 — .733 OPS. The average for 1B was .261/.336/.436 — .772 OPS. As a 3B, playing league-average defense, Pedro Alvarez was provided a lot of value in 2013. As a 1B, he would have been ordinary.
Therefore, the solution to Pedro’s throwing problems is not as simple as permanently assigning him to first-base. There is a cost involved with that move. The questions are how much; and whether that cost is enough to make it wise for the Pirates to give Pedro plenty of time at 3B to prove that he is a first-basemen.
Here is the math.
Alvarez’s 36 home runs and .770 OPS were worth 3.1 WAR last year as a league-average defensive third-baseman. If he had done the same at 1B, he would have been worth 1.7 wins. That’s a big difference, to both Alvarez and the Pirates.
Alvarez’s free agent value at 3.1 WAR is about $15.5 million per year. Moving to first-base and posting a 1.7 WAR would cost him about $7 million per season, giving him an approximate value of $8.5 million/year when it comes time for him to sign his next contract.
If teams don’t believe that Alvarez can play either 3B or 1B and he ends up as a DH with a .770 OPS, his WAR falls to 1.2. That would give him a free agent value of about $6 million per year. (All, of course, assuming that his hitting rebound from his .717 2014 OPS back to his .770 2013 OPS.)
And, for the Pirates, there is a great difference in the trade value of a third-baseman with a 3.1 WAR and a 1B with a 1.7 WAR or a DH with a 1.2 WAR.
Pedro Alvarez should push hard to be given significant playing time at 3B early next season. And the Pirates should give it to him – while promoting “body armor days” for anybody with the courage to sit on the first-base side at PNC Park.
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