Major League Baseball
Astros' Yordan Álvarez might be 'the best hitter in the league.' The only question is health
Major League Baseball

Astros' Yordan Álvarez might be 'the best hitter in the league.' The only question is health

Updated May. 11, 2023 7:55 p.m. ET

ANAHEIM, Calif. — When the longest hitting streak of MLB's young season came to a conclusion late last month, Astros infielder Mauricio Dubón came to one as well. 

In a World Series rematch between Houston and Philadelphia on April 28, Dubón swung through an 0-2, 98 mph sinker from Phillies closer Josè Alvarado and retreated to the dugout befuddled. He was incredulous — not because his 20-game hit streak had ended but because, after seeing how filthy Alvarado's stuff was up close, he couldn't fathom how Yordan Álvarez accomplished what he did on baseball's biggest stage five months prior.

"I came in and told him, ‘Bro, how the hell did you take this guy deep 450 feet to win a World Series?" Dubón recalled. 

It was then that Dubón felt, with certainty, that Álvarez is the best hitter in baseball. 


The title is a mighty one, particularly after a season in which reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge launched more than 60 home runs, but it's not ludicrous considering Álvarez's growing list of accomplishments. And it's one that Dubón stands by without a sliver of doubt. 

"Oh no, I know," Dubón said emphatically. "I've seen a lot of guys come in that we've played against, and he's the best hitter in the league. Watching him in clutch situations, he's [even] more dangerous with runners on base. I think I stop running just because of that — because I know I'm in scoring position at first base."

Indeed, as overpowering as Álvarez has been since bursting onto the scene as the AL Rookie of the Year in 2019, he has been even better with a chance to bring runners home. 

For his career, Álvarez sports a 1.048 OPS with runners in scoring position. His OPS is also north of 1.000 in high-leverage at-bats. Since entering the league, Álvarez boasts the highest wRC+ and slugging percentage with runners in scoring position among all qualified major-league batters. 

Last year, while Judge led the majors in OPS, wRC+, wOBA and win probability added as the clear-cut best hitter on the planet, Álvarez sat directly behind the Yankees masher in each of those categories. The Astros slugger slashed .306/.406/.613 with 37 homers while battling through hand issues for much of the season. 

"I've been in this game for a lot of years as a player and as a coach, and he's one of the best hitters I've ever seen," Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron said, calling Álvarez one of the top two hitters in the league today. "I have a lot of respect for a lot of other guys, but he's amazing. This guy can hit for power, hit for average, hit lefties, righties, and he's clutch."

Álvarez's career .970 OPS includes nearly identical marks against righties (.973) and lefties (.966) and a powerful stroke with few moving parts. Teammate Alex Bregman marvels at the balance in Álvarez's swing, which has helped him hit to all fields for a high average while still ranking among the league leaders in hard-hit rate. 

While some of baseball's top sluggers favor mighty, violent hacks, every Álvarez swing appears fully in control. 

"This is a guy that'll take the single the other way," Dubón said, "but be able to put a ball in the seats 450 feet."

A simple swing with little wasted motion, manager Dusty Baker reasons, is why Álvarez doesn't seem to be as impacted as many hitters after missing time. That ability has become crucial, considering the various ailments that have limited the Astros superstar's availability. 

Álvarez has grown accustomed to playing in pain — he believes he has a high tolerance — and will try to fight through anything that's not impeding his ability to play. Last July, though, the inflammation in his right hand eventually forced him to the injured list. Twelve days later, he returned to the lineup as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Yankees and was intentionally walked. In his first at-bat of the second game of the doubleheader, Álvarez homered. One game later, he did so again. 

"He's just born to hit," Bregman said. 

The pain in Álvarez's hands — the right one beginning last summer, the left one later in the year — never fully went away as he went on to deliver some of October's most memorable moments. The burly 6-foot-5-inch slugger built his clutch reputation last postseason by depositing three go-ahead home runs. 

In his first game of the 2022 playoffs, he lifted a walk-off homer off Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray to cap a five-RBI night in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. In his last, Álvarez won the Astros the World Series with a life-changing three-run homer scorched 112.5 mph off the bat. Combined, Ray and Alvarado had allowed just five home runs to left-handers all season. 

"I thought it was very interesting the first one was to start the playoffs," Álvarez told FOX Sports through an interpreter, "and the other one basically to end them." 

There was no easy answer for the Mariners or Phillies to throw at the Astros lefty behemoth, who slugged .610 against southpaws and hit .295 or better with at least seven homers against every pitch group (fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches) last season. The career year was not an anomaly. 

Since entering the league, Álvarez has hit 63% above league average by wRC+ — a number that ranks behind only Mike Trout and Judge. In that time, he has hit for a higher average (.295) with a lower strikeout rate (22.7%) than the two players ahead of him. 

"People think, yeah, he hits a lot of home runs," Dubón said, "but he's a hitter."

And as natural a hitter as Álvarez may be, there is more to his success, according to Cintron. Another reason Álvarez can return from injury without missing a beat, cover any part of the plate and demolish pitchers of either handedness is that he is prepared. Álvarez studies what opposing pitchers want to do, then sticks to a plan, often hunting a pitch. 

"I tell the guys over there [in the dugout], he throws this pitch, he's going to do damage," Cintron said. "Because I know he's looking for it." 

At the same time, Álvarez doesn't panic when he gets fooled. Among the nine players who hit at least 35 homers last year, Álvarez, Mookie Betts and Pete Alonso were the only ones with a strikeout rate under 20%.

"It shows a lot of confidence about him that he can go out there looking for a changeup, for example, you throw a fastball, he's going to take it," Cintron continued. "It's a plan that he's going to go out there and look for something."

Álvarez added: "I think that's something that has improved the more I play games. Now, I can anticipate a little more the situations and be able to process them quicker. With more experience, it gets a little bit easier."

Of course, that requires him staying on the field. 

This offseason, Álvarez's left-hand injury flared up again. After playing in only two spring games, he was back at it on Opening Day, launching a homer 442 feet. His ability to produce despite missing time is uncanny. 

A couple weeks ago, Álvarez was sent home to Houston to undergo tests on a sore neck after playing through the pain in Atlanta. In those three games against the Braves, Álvarez still blasted two homers. Upon his return on April 29, he recorded two hits. 

On Wednesday, his home run helped an Astros (19-18) team in need of an offensive spark secure a series win over the Angels. Álvarez has now reached base safely in each of his first 31 games of the season. With runners in scoring position, he's hitting a major-league best .520. 

"My only goal, I just ask God to keep me healthy," Álvarez said. "After that … I think I can take care of the rest."

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner. 


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