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So Far, Josh Bell Is Pedro Alvarez 2.0

Josh Bell has brought some excitement to the lineup, but overall he’s not that great of an offensive player. Yet.
Photo by Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Josh Bell has long perplexed me. I remember when he signed for $5M in the 2011 draft as a 2nd round pick, it was shocking.

I did a guest spot on Stan Savran’s radio show at the time and remember how disappointed he was when I told Stan that he wasn’t a ‘5 tool player’, but rather a ‘3-1/2 tool’ player because of his limited defensive abilities. People expected so much for that bonus amount that it felt like he would end up disappointing people no matter what.

Josh Bell missed a whole year because of his knee injury that eventually required him to do platelet-rich infusions in order to get it to heal quicker. Through his minor league career, whether it was due to the knee injury and lingering after effects or inability to tap into his power, his home run totals were always lacking for me. This was especially true once it became apparent that 1B was going to be his position on the field. The most he hit in a single minor league season was 14 last year with an overall isolated slugging percentage was just .173, below-average for a 1B.

But what Bell lacked in power in the minors, he compensated for with strong batting averages and excellent on-base percentages stemming from his high walk rates. Both of these things translated fairly well during his major league debut last year when he put up a triple slash line of .273/.368/.406 — only 3 homers, but a very good walk rate, and a slim isolated slugging percentage of .133. It seemed to me as if he would be a J.T. Snow-esque type of 1B — high average, low power.

All of that has changed this year, as Josh Bell has transformed himself into the exact opposite — low average, high power 1B. His 19 HR’s are 5th among all rookies in MLB, which is impressive considering the top two (Judge of NYY and Bellinger of LAD) are going to win their respective Rookie of the Year awards handily.

However, lost in all of the excitement of another Josh Bell home run deep into the night, followed by a Twitter reaction filled with timely bell emoticons and clever puns, is the fact that Josh Bell is just a shade above an average offensive player. In fact, at this point in his career he’s just an upgraded version of Pedro Alvarez.

Just bringing up the name ‘Pedro Alvarez’ probably causes some of you indigestion, but I’d like to remind everyone that this town had a love affair, albeit brief, with Alvarez at one time, too. Lost in all the teeth gnashing about his strikeouts and sudden aversion to throwing the baseball to 1B (followed by a year of butchering the position while at 1B) is the fact that Pedro Alvarez was once in possession of a strong and accurate arm at 3B. There were many an occasion when he would uncork a laser from the hot corner over to 1st. If his mental acuity were stronger, he could have been a perfectly acceptable 3B in the mold of Aramis Ramirez, but it wasn’t meant to be. Occasionally, I wondered if his cannon of an arm could have translated out to RF where his mobility may have been hidden a bit.

In terms of offense, Pedro Alvarez was low average, high power, too. His high strikeout rate was partially offset by his ability to get on-base via drawing walks. This is what Josh Bell has replicated this year for the most part. Let’s look at a comparison of the two players in their first full seasons. I’ve put their ages at the time in parentheses.

Player Year Average On-Base % Slugging % BB% K% wRC+ WAR
Pedro Alvarez (25) 2012 0.244 0.317 0.467 9.70% 30.70% 112 2.2
Josh Bell (24) 2017 0.253 0.327 0.474 9.90% 19.10% 109 0.7

Josh Bell clearly has better strike zone judgement than Pedro Alvarez, but the rest of their rate stats are pretty well in line with each other. That year in 2012, Pedro hit 30 homers. To date, Bell has hit 19, so he’s roughly on pace to approach that number, too. But if you look at the rest of his offensive package, Bell is only producing 9% more offense than a league-average player, regardless of position. This was similar to Alvarez’s boom or bust offensive portfolio.

Pedro Alvarez was playing a passable 3B back in 2012 (certainly not great, mind you), so that helped buoy his defensive component of WAR. He was also a much better baserunner, especially on going from 1st to 3rd, than many give him credit for. Baserunning is certainly not a strength for Josh Bell.

With Pedro Alvarez, there was no real growth as he progressed through his Pirates’ career. His triple slash line was more or less his line during his entire tenure. His defensive ratings would swing his worth in WAR from 3.0 down to 0.0, but his wRC+ would have a much narrower range of 103 to 113. The cement had dried on his development. The question is whether or not the same is true of Josh Bell.

Josh Bell is an extremely smart individual. He also does not appear to have the mental quirks/hangups that Pedro possessed, so there is a capacity for growth and change in him that Alvarez just could never produce. It’s entirely possible that Bell finds another gear that will allow him to improve his batting average while not sacrificing either his power or ability to draw a walk. But until he does, Josh Bell appears to be the next version of Pedro Alvarez with just better strikeout numbers.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

11 Comments on So Far, Josh Bell Is Pedro Alvarez 2.0

  1. This is a bad bad bad bad take

    • Kevin Creagh // August 10, 2017 at 3:47 PM //

      Let me hear yours, since I showed mine with cold hard stats. Plus the fact that Alvarez played a more important defensive position for most of his Pirate career.

  2. Kurt Streams // August 13, 2017 at 8:40 AM //

    I see your point, but I hope your wrong and base that on this being Bell’s first full season and it’s risky to project the future on a rookie experience. Great rookies have sophomore slumps and shaky career starts develop. In short, the comparison is based on a small sample size, but it’s a good “brake check” on Bell’s possibilities.

  3. Bell was asked to learn a completely new position and for the most part at the MLB level. The comparison begs a question? Why do buc “can’t miss” prospects never quite make “full potential”? Poor scouting? Poor coaching? Elias Diaz? Bell? Pedro? Marte? Polanco? Cole? What say you?
    Osuna should be our 1B. Bell should have never left OF. We should have traded Marte for Giolito and Robles in offseason and worked on extending Cutch. If not? We still have Frazier and Robles. Short sighted plan. We dont deal from our strength.

    • Kevin Creagh // August 13, 2017 at 9:34 PM //

      Very, very few prospects are “can’t miss”. They usually are confined to Top 5 overall and even then, injuries and lesser production levels get most prospects. Check out 2016 MLB Surplus Value for the exact percentages by Top 100 for pitchers and hitters. I don’t believe in the breathless, over-hyped projections for prospects anymore. It leads to far less disappointment.

  4. I don’t agree with this, based on your own analysis.

    He is a year younger, better defender and has better offensive numbers. Bell is also a switch hitter, which brings added, value.

    Is he light years ahead of Pedro, nope. Is he better AND younger at this stage of his career, yep.

    I think another advantage for Bell, albeit one I admit I can’t quantify, is his physical fitness versus Alvarez.

  5. Your analysis is wrong and has wrong figures.
    Until now Bell, 24 years old, has 161 games played with 600 PA batting 261/342/467 line and 11.1% BB/17.5% SO and 34% extra-bases in his hits, with 82 runs scored and 75 rbi.
    Pedro Alvarez in his first two seasons (2010 and 2011 finishing the second one in his 24 years old) played 169 games and took 648 PA with 230/304/392 line and 9.4 BB%/ 30.4 SO% and 39% extrabases in his hits, with 60 runs scored and 80 rbi.
    Bell has been the far better hitter with 112 points of OPS.
    Bell has accumulated 1.7 WAR in his first 161 games Meanwhile Alvarez had -1.5 WAR in those 169 games, a difference almost 4 WAR between both.

    • Kevin Creagh // August 13, 2017 at 9:28 PM //

      The premise of the article was comparing their first FULL seasons: 2012 for Pedro, 2017 for Bell. Bell has altered his approach so his overall numbers you show reflect his high avg/low power 2016. 2012 Pedro and 2017 Alvarez have both produced at roughly the same rate, as shown.

      • Any premise that does not compare equals is cherry picking and not comparing oranges to oranges. In this case what means equals? means the same number of games, same AP, same ages. In fact, the first two seasons of these two players is a great point of comparison because they are practically at the same ages playing the same number of games.
        If your point is a statement to Pedro Alvarez higher power you are right but that is the start and the end of the case for Alvarez. Bell has not the same power level but the difference is not something to shame of him, and his others skills as players are far superior than Alvarez.

  6. Kellen Nebelski // August 13, 2017 at 7:43 PM //

    A big difference between the two players would be what was said of them throughout their minor league tenures/developments. With Pedro, it was clear not long after being drafted that he would be a relatively low average/high power/high K player with defensive challenges.

    With Josh, the profile was quite different. He has always been recognized for his hit tool and discipline, two major areas for which Pedro received little to no praise. In addition, having stayed in RF, Bell would have developed into an acceptable OF option in all likelihood. The move to 1B has hurt his defensive contribution.

    The only “cold hard stats” that line them up are Bell’s play thus far in 2017, which does not coincide with his long-held profile. Perhaps he has changed, or perhaps this is an anomaly. Perhaps, as you mentioned, he will be able to figure out how to merge his former profile as a hit tool player with his newfound power surge. That would be awesome.

    Let’s also not forget that had Pedro maintained his rookie-level performance, he would have been a solid contributor. 2.5-3.0 WAR isn’t anything to scoff at. As you mentioned, he imploded in some areas while not progressing in the others, reducing those numbers to near 0.0 WAR. I don’t see that happening with Bell. He is VERY “baseball smart.” (Pedro is actually quite intelligent, but seems to lack what could be called “MLB-level” baseball IQ)

    • Kevin Creagh // August 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM //

      2013 Pedro actually peaked out at 3.0 WAR before regressing, so he did have an “impact year”, as I term it. Again, I hope that Bell who does have a high baseball and real IQ can combine his 2016 approach with his 2017 power. But as of right now, their production levels are roughly equal.

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