Yordan in LF in WS? 'A good problem to have'

October 26th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Coming off his dominating performance at the plate in the American League Championship Series in which he was 12-for-23 against the Red Sox and took home Most Valuable Player honors, designated hitter is the Astros’ most dangerous hitter heading into the World Series.

So how will the Astros configure their lineup with Alvarez, who led the club in homers (33) and RBIs (104) this season, when they head to Truist Park in Atlanta for Games 3-5 with no DH in a National League park?

“It’s a good problem to have,” Astros general manager James Click said. “Trying to get all those guys in the lineup in Atlanta is something we’re going to sit down and talk with [manager] Dusty [Baker] about and try to figure out the best way to do it.”

It would be hard to envision the Astros not having Alvarez in the starting lineup for any game in the World Series, even in Atlanta, which would mean starting him in left field. 

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Baker said Sunday.

Alvarez started 39 games in left field in the regular season (and 97 at DH), though he didn’t start a game in left until June 2. Coming off surgery on both knees performed in August 2020, the Astros wanted to make sure his knee issues were behind him before trying him in left field. Michael Brantley led the club with 80 starts in left.

“Yordan has done a tremendous job of working himself really hard and to the point to where he is a good outfielder,” Click said. “We’re blessed to have Brantley, [Kyle] Tucker, [Chas] McCormick, [Jose] Siri, [Jake] Meyers … a lot of very good options there. It’s a good problem to have and we’ll try to work it out the best we can.”

Alvarez started four games in left field in NL parks in the regular season, with Brantley moving to right field and Tucker to center each time. The Astros could also be inclined to move Brantley to the bench and keep strong defenders in center (McCormick or Meyers) and right (Tucker).

Here’s how the Astros lined up their outfield in games in NL parks this year (left field, center field, right field):

April 20 at Colorado: Brantley, Myles Straw, Tucker
April 21 at Colorado: Brantley, McCormick, Tucker
July 30 at San Francisco: Alvarez, Tucker, Brantley
July 31 at San Francisco: Brantley, McCormick, Tucker
Aug. 1 at San Francisco: Brantley, McCormick, Tucker
Aug. 3 at Los Angeles: Alvarez, Tucker, Brantley
Aug. 4 at Los Angeles: Alvarez, Tucker, Brantley
Sept. 3 at San Diego: Brantley, McCormick, Tucker
Sept. 4 at San Diego: Alvarez, Tucker, Brantley
Sept. 5 at San Diego: Brantley, Meyers, Tucker

“I think Kyle Tucker can play a very good center field, but at the same time Chas McCormick has been unbelievable in center field,” Click said. “Jake Meyers is obviously able to go get it and Jose Siri is one of the best athletes out there. It’s going to be a balance between offense and defense, and we’ll have to figure that out.”

The numbers suggest there’s not a huge difference defensively between Alvarez and Brantley in left field.

According to Statcast, Alvarez had -1 outs above average in 63 attempts in left field. He had a 79% success rate vs. an 81% estimated success rate, which means he made his plays 79% of the time when you might expect an outfielder to make them 81% of the time based on catch probability.

Brantley, meanwhile, also had -1 outs above average in 158 attempts in left but had an 86% success rate vs. an 86% estimated success rate. Brantley was more likely to make a difficult play, going 4-for-9 on four-star catches (26-50% catch probability). Alvarez didn’t make any catcher harder than three stars (nothing under 50% catch probability).

Another factor the Astros will have to consider: based on dimensions, Truist Park in Atlanta is the fifth-largest outfield in the Major Leagues. Minute Maid Park is the second-smallest (behind Fenway Park).

Also, in the regular season and the playoffs, Alvarez has hit much better while playing left field than he did at DH. He's slashed .351/.432/722 with 15 homers and 38 RBIs in 176 plate appearances as a left fielder and .266/.333/.486 in 459 plate appearances as a DH in 2021.

“We haven’t really thought about that yet because we have the first two games at home here first, but I would imagine when the time comes, I’ll be out there in left,” said Alvarez, who has started eight games at DH in the playoffs and two games in left, both in Houston (Game 2 of the ALDS vs. the White Sox and Game 1 of the ALCS vs. the Red Sox).