Josh Fields had a nice run for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Working mostly in middle relief, the right-hander posted a 2.61 ERA in 124 appearances for them from 2016 to 2018.
Still, he's no Yordan Alvarez.
It's safe to say this now that we know what the Dodgers gave up when they traded Alvarez to the Houston Astros for Fields on August 1, 2016. At the time, Alvarez was a 19-year-old who was only a few weeks removed from being signed out of Cuba. Three years later, he's hitting his way to one of the best rookie seasons in Major League Baseball history.
In 55 games since his Astros debut June 9, Alvarez has racked up an astonishing .333/.424/.697 slash line and 19 home runs. Factor in the 23 long balls that he hit for Triple-A Round Rock, and he's hit 42 total home runs in only 111 games this season.
- 1. Shoeless Joe Jackson, 1911: 193
- 2. Willie McCovey, 1959: 188
- 3. Yordan Alvarez, 2019: 187
In fairness to the Dodgers, it would have been nigh impossible to envision in 2016 that Alvarez would become one of the best rookie hitters ever.
At 6'5", 220 pounds, Alvarez definitely had the build of a slugger when the Dodgers signed him. But he had hit only one homer in 74 games in the Cuban National Series, and he didn't even have time to play in any minor league contests with the Dodgers before they set their sights on Fields.
It wasn't until 2017 that Alvarez got a chance to show what he could do, and he hit the ground running with an .859 OPS and 12 homers at Single-A and High-A. When he followed that with a .904 OPS and 20 homers at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018, the hype soared.
"He has a chance to be an above-average hitter in addition to having plus power, which could lead to 30-homer seasons," wrote Baseball America at the outset of 2019.
Alvarez's power has been even better than advertised. Beyond his results is a well-above-average hard-contact rate of 50 percent, plus the same average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (96.3 mph) as Gary Sanchez and Josh Bell.
But given the kind of size he's working with, all this certainly constitutes the "Yeah, duh..." portion of Alvarez's breakout. What the Astros seem to appreciate just as much (if not more) is how composed the 22-year-old is at the plate.
"The way that he puts his at-bats together—the production, the calmness," Astros manager AJ Hinch said after Alvarez's three-homer outburst against the Baltimore Orioles on August 10, per MLB.com's Zachary Silver. "He's an intelligent hitter at a young age, and he doesn't miss his pitches that he's looking for."
Alvarez's plate discipline isn't yet Votto-ian, but he's been able to work a strong 12.1 walk percentage and a less-than-disastrous 24.6 strikeout percentage. Those are the products of a below-average overall swing rate and only a slightly above-average chase rate.
To boot, the latter has recently been coming down as he's gotten better about laying off breaking and offspeed stuff outside the strike zone:
From here, there really is no next step that Alvarez must take to improve against the various pitch types.
Based on his xwOBA—a Statcast metric that measures expected production based on strikeouts, walks and contact quality—Alvarez is already far better at hitting fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches than the average major league hitter:
Looking for an easily exploitable platoon split? Well, too bad. Alvarez hasn't shown one of those either. The left-handed swinger's 1.061 OPS against left-handed pitches ranks fourth among qualified hitters.
Alvarez's xwOBA in left-on-left matchups, meanwhile, ranks second to only a certain MVP front-runner:
- 1. Cody Bellinger: .441
- 2. Yordan Alvarez: .412
If Alvarez does have identifiable weaknesses, they include a fairly standard propensity to swing and miss at high heat and a minor issue with defensive shifts. There's a 21-point difference in his batting average on balls in play with a shift on and no shift on.
But relative to his strengths, even pointing out "weaknesses" such as these feels like a reach. The ultimate truth is that Alvarez is not only a dangerous slugger but also a genuinely difficult out to get.
So the special rookie company he's keeping? There's a strong likelihood that he'll keep it through the end of the regular season. Doing so would elevate him from being the clear favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year to being an absolute lock for it.
Alvarez would be in a different spot if he had stayed in the Dodgers organization. Because of his relatively small sample size, even the same numbers would place him behind Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr. and perhaps even Mike Soroka in the National League Rookie of the Year race.
But evidently, the Dodgers simply had to have Fields three years ago. Although they were right to be enthused about the 6.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio that he had posted in 15 games for the Astros, they probably should taken a closer look at why Fields was pitching in the minors at the time of the trade.
If the Astros didn't already feel like they'd scored an all-timer of a steal back then, they certainly should now.