What should the Houston Astros expect from Yordan Alvarez in 2021?
The Houston Astros offense struggled mightily at times in the 2020 regular season, most of which was played without the reigning Rookie of the Year, Yordan Alvarez. After he played in only two games this season and underwent surgery on both knees, what can the team expect from their young slugger in 2021?
They’ll certainly hope he’s healthy for the full year, and he appears to be doing well in his rehab. With George Springer all but gone, the Astros will need Alvarez’s bat in the lineup to replace some of that lost production. Michael Brantley is a free agent as well, and though it’s possible he returns, it’s not a given.
Alvarez was sensational in 2019, hitting .313/.412/.655 with 26 doubles, 27 homers and 78 RBIs in only 87 games. He doesn’t turn 24 until next June, so he still has plenty of room for growth. But given that 2020 was basically a lost year, there is the risk of the proverbial sophomore slump in 2021. The projections seem to bear that out.
What the Numbers Say
FanGraphs does its annual ZiPS projections for each team and player, and it looks for Alvarez to experience a bit of a decline in 2021. The projections call for him to hit .282/.365/.560 with 25 doubles, 28 homers and 82 RBIs. However, those counting stats are only based off 449 plate appearances, which would be less than a full season.
If you extrapolate those numbers over, say, 550 plate appearances, which would be closer to a full season, that would come out to around 30 doubles, 34 homers and 100 RBIs. That would certainly be a solid season for Alvarez, even with the slight regression from his 2019 numbers. But is that really what we can expect?
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It’s certainly possible that Alvarez hits .330 with 45 bombs, and I wouldn’t bet against him. But that might not be the most realistic expectation given his missed 2020 season and the fact that young hitters will often see a regression in their second seasons as opposing pitchers adjust to their weaknesses.
As long as he’s healthy, Alvarez is going to hit some mammoth home runs and be a force in the middle of the lineup. But those 2019 stats were amazing, and they also came in the year of the juiced ball. We can dream of seeing him replicate those numbers next year, but it might not be fair to expect that of him.
I think of Alvarez as very similar to David Ortiz — if he can stand in the box and swing, he’s going to be an impact hitter. But it took a while for Ortiz to become Big Papi, and though Alvarez had a much more impactful rookie season, we should probably give him a little time before we’re betting on him to win an MVP award.
I’m not knocking Alvarez by any means. I think he’s an incredible young hitter who could break a lot of franchise records if he stays in Houston for the next 15 years. But we should keep in mind that he’s still a young hitter and may need to make further adjustments in order to continue putting up the numbers we saw him compile in his rookie year.