Alvarez needs to cut down on strikeouts

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Pirates fans loved Pedro Alvarez 36 times last season; 186 other times they weren’t so crazy about him.

Alvarez’s 36 home runs tied for the lead in the National League, but he claimed the strikeout title alone. There were 186 times when he didn’t make contact, which meant he had no chance to advance runners or put pressure on the defense to make a play. That’s an awful lot of swing and miss to put in the middle of a lineup.

That’s why Alvarez represents one of the Pirates’ most interesting decisions going forward. His salary took a leap from $700,000 to $4,250,000 this season because of arbitration eligibility, and there will be similar increases leading to his pending free agency after the 2016 season.

There’s a perception that power hitters automatically strike out a lot, but that’s not always true. Ralph Kiner struck out 109 times in 579 plate appearances as a rookie in 1946. It was the only 100-strikeout season in his major league career.

In 1949, Kiner batted 579 times and hit 54 home runs. He struck out 61 times and drew 117 walks. Then in 1951, he had 42 home runs with 57 strikeouts and 137 walks.

OK, that was a different era, and Kiner is a Hall of Fame player. There’s a more recent comparison worth noting. Brian Giles hit 165 home runs in five seasons with the Pirates, and struck out 338 times. Alvarez has struck out 366 times in the last two seasons.

Alvarez walked only 48 times last season. This could mean he lacks strike zone judgment, or it could mean opponents don’t fear him enough to pitch around him. He was only walked intentionally seven times last year.

Giles in 1999 hit 39 homers, struck out 80 times and had 95 walks in 627 plate appearances. In 2002, his last full season in Pittsburgh, he hit 38 home runs, struck out 74 times and drew 135 walks in 644 appearances.

Alvarez’s on-base percentage last season was .296. Perspective: Clint Barmes’ career on-base percentage is .294.

Defensively, Alvarez has good hands and an exceptionally strong arm. Yet he also made 27 errors last season, tops among National League third basemen.

There’s clearly room for improvement in a variety of areas, but how likely is that? Alvarez is 27. This season could be pivotal in determining whether the Pirates look to make an expensive multi-year commitment to him or start shopping him before he can leave as a free agent.

Some have compared him to Dave Kingman, an all-or-nothing power threat of the 1970s. That’s not quite accurate. Kingman never struck out more than 156 times in a season. Alvarez has topped that twice.

New voices

Fox has chosen two people to replace Tim McCarver on its baseball coverage, perhaps an indirect commentary on the verbosity McCarver brought to the booth.

One is ex-player Harold Reynolds, who has bounced back from his sudden 2006 banishment from ESPN over sexual harassment allegations. The other is Penn State graduate Tom Verducci. Shades of Howard Cosell, Verducci never played the game but he did cover it for Newsday and Sports Illustrated before entering broadcasting.

Mehno can be reached at