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Yordan Alvarez’s Improved Plate Disclipline

The Astros’ slugger continues to see his star ascend in 2022, thanks to improvements in his already impressive approach.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, Yordan Alvarez is one of the best hitters in baseball, with only the ever-impressive Mike Trout posting a higher wRC+ of 195 among qualified hitters compared to the former’s 193 mark entering Monday. One could even argue that Alvarez is not too far from being considered the best hitter in baseball, although there remain other worthy candidates to include in the running for that lofty moniker. After all, there isn’t much separation among today’s top-five hitters, but Alvarez has planted himself firmly in the middle of the conversation when his Statcast page has this much red.

One of the key developments in Alvarez’s ascension this season lies in how he has improved in the plate disclipline department. Arguably, if he had any real weakness in his batting profile outside of the occasional slump, it lied in a slightly above league average strikeout rate. For context, in 2021, Alvarez’s 24.2 percent strikeout rate was slightly higher than the league average mark of 23.2 percent. Somwhere in the 30th percentile, more or less. Honestly, a league average strikeout rate for a hitter who can mash like him isn’t much of a concern. Even if his strikeout rate stayed around the 25 percent range based on his two full season’s worth of meaningful data, Alvarez’s reputation as one of the game’s top hitters remains unchanged.

But this season we’ve seen a remarkable strikeout rate improvement (minus-8.5 percent) along with a noticeable jump in his walk rate (plus-4.1 percent). Those improvements are reflected in Alvarez’s on-base percentage, which is now sitting at .403 entering Monday. Also, out of all hitters who had least 400 plate appearances last season and at least 200 in 2022, Alvarez’s strikeout rate decline of 8.5 percent is tied for the sixth in year-to-year changes. There is a conscientious adjustment here that Alvarez decided to implement and it has helped pushed his production to new heights, which only underscores how much of his recent six-year, $115 million extension is a boon for the Astros.

This plate disclipline improvement is interesting as Alvarez’s overall swing rate is relatively unchanged compared to last season (43 percent in 2021; 42.6 percent in 2022). In fact, this season’s rate isn’t even that far off his 2019 mark of 43.4 percent. The key is his decision of when to swing as it pertains to pitches inside (Z-Swing%) and outside (O-Swing%) of the strike zone.

Swing Decision Adjustments

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing%
Season O-Swing% Z-Swing%
2021 27.4% 59.8%
2022 21.6% 63.3%
Change -5.8% 3.5%

Specifically, it is Alvarez’s new found aversion to chasing multiple pitches out of the strike zone that has helped his overall plate disclipline improve when compared to past seasons. Below is the difference in outside swing rate (O-Swing%) for 2021-22.

  • Four-seam fastball (FA): -8.9 percent
  • Changeup (CH): -5.5 percent
  • Cutter (FC): -15.5 percent
  • Sinker (SI): -6 percent
  • Splitter (FS): -1.6 percent
  • Curveball (CU): +4.5 percent
  • Slider (SL): +0.10 percent

Out of the seven pitch classifications listed above, Alvarez has cut down on his outside swing rate for five offerings. Out of the pitches seen at least 125 times in 2021 and 2022, only sliders haven’t seen a decline in O-Swing% and that gain is marginal at best. An encouraging sign to say the least as these numbers indicate that this refined approach is generally across all pitch classifications. While we may not see a decline in curveballs and sliders, it is also important to remember what those pitches are designed to do, which is to break and cause hitters to chase.

Thanks in part to this development to lay off pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, Alvarez has zeroed in on the pitches that allow him to maximize the damage. We’re seeing the fruits of that labor right now as his numbers have surged in 2022. If he continues to remain selective at this rate, then there are increased chances that he’ll finish the season as one of the top-five hitters in baseball. If everything breaks right, he could be remembered as the best overall hitter in 2022.