Houston Astros 2021 Year in Review: Yordan Alvarez
Yordan Alvarez, still under his first MLB contract, provided great value to the Houston Astros in 2021.
The Houston Astros have won the American League Pennant in three of the last five years, and Yordan Alvarez has been a big part of the last two.
After bursting on the scene and becoming the AL Rookie of the Year in 2019 (.313/.612/.655 with a 173 OPS+), the mammoth Astros designated hitter and left fielder only saw action in two games in the pandemic shortened ’20 season before getting both knees worked on.
The 24-year-old native Cuban was a key cog in the Astros ’21 AL Championship season, but looks to fill a few holes in his resume in the future.
Alvarez makes his money at the plate and he was Houston’s main DH, starting 97 games at the position, while he accumulated another 39 starts in left field.
Alvarez’s standard offensive numbers were not of the same stratosphere as his ’19 ROY campaign, but it’s difficult to pick apart a .277/.346/.531 slash line with 33 home runs and 104 RBI, not to mention an OPS+ of 136.
Still, Yordan had somewhat of an up and down season, starting hot in April and May before cooling a bit, at least average wise. A pre All-Star average of .294 was countered with a post All-Star average of .259, although his power and RBI did not suffer.
Alvarez blasted cutters for a .471 average and .882 slugging in 2021 though he only saw 137 of them. He also hit sliders at .307 and .659 slugging.
More interesting to me is that he struggled with changeups in 2021 batting .190, which is a massive change from his rookie campaign in which he hit change pieces at a .341 pace.
When Alvarez connects the ball generally goes far and fast. His Average Exit Velocity, Max Exit Velocity and HardHit% were all in the 97th percentile, while his Barrel% was in the 92nd.
With the likely adoption of the universal DH in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Alvarez’s days as a left fielder are likely numbered. Though he proved himself a serviceable fielder, committing only one error in 53 chances, it’s not optimal for the Astros defensive alignment or Yordan’s knees long term.
One of the criticisms of Alvarez was his dreadful ’19 ALCS against the New York Yankees where he batting .045 in 22 at-bats with 12 strikeouts. Obviously, not a good performance, but Alvarez did end up batting .412 in the World Series that season.
This season the roles were reversed as Alvarez nabbed the ALCS MVP and then struggled in the World Series and it’s difficult to sugarcoat his 2-for-20 performance and without an RBI against the Atlanta Braves.
Alvarez is under contract for the ’22 season and then becomes arbitration eligible in 2023, 2024 and 2025, prior to hitting free agent status in 2026, meaning the young Alvarez is a huge bargain for the Astros in the near term with a $575,000 salary in 2022.
On the field, he’s likely to be close to 100% DH, not only because of his size and relative stiffness as an outfielder, but also because it can help protect his surgically repaired knees over the course of a long season, not to mention the fact that the Astros seem to have a few outfielders that can play.
It’ll be interesting to see if Alvarez goes back to hitting the changeup like he did in 2019 (.341) or continues as he did in 2021 (.190), as therein lies a major part of the difference between a .277 hitter and a .313 hitter.
I’m a little mystified by Astros fans’ seeming indifference towards Alvarez, as here’s a guy with 60 home runs and 186 RBI in 233 regular season games and oh yeah, a .290 career batting average.
There’s the rub though. Regular season. Alvarez wasn’t around in 2017 to earn legendary status and some see his ’19 postseason as a failure. While he came out guns blazing in the ’21 ALCS, there’s a sour taste left in Astros fans mouths after the offensive collapse against a hodgepodge of a Braves pitching staff and Houston fans won’t be fully on board until it’s earned in the final series of October.