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A Lessened Yordan Alvarez Spells Trouble For the Astros

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

At one point in the season, it looked like Yordan Alvarez would play himself into the AL MVP discussion, considering his performance from Opening Day through July 9 (.306/.405/.653, 26 HR, 197 wRC+). Notice that I didn’t say win — the award is Shohei Ohtani’s to lose, in my opinion — but Alvarez’s numbers as a hitter at least warranted expanding the discussion outside of Ohtani and Aaron Judge. I’m not exaggerating when I state that Alvarez was even a better hitter than Judge, who is now chasing history himself.

Alvarez’s early season performance was also one of the primary drivers for the Astros’ overall offensive value, as his numbers were partially responsible for the club posting a 116 wRC+ through July 9. Only the Yankees, with a 121 wRC+, posted a higher value than Houston through that date. Unfortunately for Alvarez, his season hasn’t been the same since that date, primarily due to a bout of reoccurring soreness in both hands. Placed on the IL on July 10 initially with right-hand soreness, the 25-year-old slugger would eventually return on July 21 and close out the month on a strong note with a .344/.500/.813 slash line in 44 plate appearances.

However, the month of August and the first week of September were not kind to Alvarez or the Astros offense in general. In his last 111 plate appearances dating back to August 1, Alvarez struggled greatly with a .223/.315/.298 slash line with only five extra-base hits, including one home run. Ground balls, in particular, were an issue for Alvarez as his struggles worsened.

During the middle of this down performance, Alvarez was also held out of the lineup for multiple games to finish August and start of September due to soreness again, this time in his left hand. While it is possible that some of Alvarez’s struggles would’ve occurred regardless of his hands, it is clear that the ongoing issue is the primary driver behind his struggles over the past month or so. Here is a gif on April 23 on a sinker in the zone that Alvarez hit for a fly ball out.

And below is a sinker in the zone that Alvarez hit for a ground ball out on September 7. I don’t have a trained enough eye to notice many of the finer details of batting stance changes, but he doesn’t look quite as comfortable at the plate as he did back in April for obvious reasons, especially as he makes contact. While Alvarez has contended that his hands aren’t an excuse behind his poor performance in the last month, it is understandable why his production has fallen off considering how vital hands are to batting.

With a postseason berth along with the division title virtually certain, along with possibly the best record in the AL, the Astros can afford to exercise caution with Alvarez, who is the club’s most dangerous hitter when healthy. With fewer off days in this year’s postseason, it would make sense for Dusty Baker to give Alvarez some extra rest in combination with the time off with a bye in the first round. For what it’s worth, Houston’s offense since Alvarez’s IL stint in July has been uninspiring with a .248/.312/.409 slash line and a 103 wRC+. While the blame for that subpar performance is not exclusively due to Alvarez, the Astros lineup depends more on his production than ever before. His performance in October could ultimately be the difference maker this year, for better or worse.