CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – There was a time when power ruled the land.
Those who wielded heavy lumber with which they’d slay opposing hurlers were baseball’s darlings. Chicks dug the long ball.
But much like this style of writing, the view of free-swinging power hitters has drastically changed. So has the game, which has evolved from the value of archaic and out-of-date statistics to a more modern and matured way to quantify and evaluate talent.
Things just aren’t what they used to be. And that’s not a bad thing.
But with an ever-changing understanding of what makes a player valuable to his club comes the need to adapt. That has never been more evident than recently, when it was reported that the Cleveland Indians have interest in recently non-tendered free agents, Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter.
On the surface, it’s easy to understand the Tribe’s desire, at least on some level, in the two players.
Cleveland — and more notably, their fan base — has been chasing a power bat for the better part of the decade. The Indians’ inability to procure such an offensive player has created twitter hashtags and led to predictable phone calls to sports talk radio shows — at least the ones not afraid to discuss some baseball — and round and round we go on the never-ending trip through the revolving doors of free-swingers.
Mark Reynolds didn’t get it done. Neither did Brandon Moss. The search goes on.
But the truth about players like Alvarez and Carter is one being realized more and more by clubs around baseball: one-tool players aren’t coveted like they used to be. That was apparent when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros elected to not tender them contracts for 2016, making Alvarez and Carter free agents.
That isn’t to say both don’t provide some value. And it’s not that they wouldn’t fit on some level in Cleveland.
Both have been above average offensive players in their careers. There’s something to be said for that. Alvarez boasts a 106 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), while Carter has posted a 111 mark in his career. For some clarity, wRC+ measures how far above or below league average the player is in run creation (106 is six percent above average, 111 is 11 percent above average).
That value does lie in their power. Alvarez has clubbed at least 27 homers in a season three times — with a career-high of 36 in 2013. Carter has smacked 24 homers or more in three straight seasons, reaching a peak of 37 in 2014. Their ISO (isolated power) numbers are also appetizing (Alvarez: .205 / Carter: .235).
Clearly, the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark is not an issue for the pair of 28 year olds.
Admittedly, those sorts of totals would look great in the heart of Cleveland’s order, especially after the Indians finished with baseball’s 16th-highest slugging percentage total last season. Adding some pop to the lineup — while hoping some head scratching and often unlikely struggles with runners in scoring position don’t repeat — appears to be a goal for the Tribe. But it’s important to note: While the dinger totals make them attractive, Alvarez and Carter have their limitations.
With great power, comes great swing-and-miss potential. Alvarez and Carter bring it by the boatloads.
Alvarez owns a 29.1 percent career strikeout rate. Carter dwarfs that, checking in at 33.4 percent. On top of that, neither walks particularly often, with Alvarez walking 9.3 percent of the time and Carter drawing a free pass in 11.5 percent of his career plate appearances.
Those sorts of whiff rates, coupled with lower walk totals, can often lead to prolonged stretches of ineffectiveness. A good eye can help supplement a slump, exactly what makes Carlos Santana’s skill set appealing (despite what some off-base commentary would lead you to believe).
To say Alvarez and Carter are streaky is putting it in the friendliest way possible.
Of course, neither is capable of helping at all defensively. Both are essentially designated hitters, who can occasionally slide into the lineup at first base. That fact certainly adds into why the left-handed hitting Alvarez (0.2) and right-handed hitting Carter (0.3) finished with low WAR totals in 2015.
Which all comes back to the original point — both provide some value, but their impact is often greatly limited to one area. And when the homers aren’t flying, production isn’t coming. Knowing their limitations and lowering your expectations is a necessity.
At the right price — a very cheap one — Alvarez or Carter could be a decent fit for Cleveland on a short deal. Both would give the Indians something their lineup is currently lacking: More thump. But understanding their value and realizing their impact is not on a game-changing level would be most beneficial.
And it’s not worth paying them on that level.