Culture / Sporting Life

Yordan Alvarez Proves He’s the Smartest Hitter In Baseball — Why the Imposing Astros Star’s Real Superpower Is His Mind

The Twins Have No Answer For This Thinking Man's Power Hitter

BY // 10.08.23

Yordan Alvarez is so physically imposing, so prone to feats of superhuman baseball strength that he sometimes is reduced to being talked about like some modern folklore hero. A Paul Bunyan for a Taylor Swift era. People watch Alvarez pulverize baseballs and just want to scream “Wow!” and marvel at the strength of it all.

But that completely misses what is Alvarez’s greatest gift. His real superpower. His mind.

Alvarez starts another postseason proving he’s the smartest hitter in baseball, a quick processing genius who makes complex adjustments in the span of a single at-bat. The Houston Astros’ star of stars completely outthinks the Minnesota Twins as he demolishes their chances of winning the all-important Game 1 in one of these fraught best-of-five divisional series.

With Alvarez hitting two home runs (one against a right-handed pitcher, one against a left-handed pitcher), the Twins are sent back to their Houston hotel 6-4 losers. Order is restored to Minute Maid Park, with this sellout crowd exiting happy (no common thing this regular season). Festivus-observing Frank Constanza would no doubt call Alvarez’s successful endeavors feats of strength.

But he’d be missing the most important muscle involved. Yordan Alvarez largely bashes the Twins with his mind.

Take the Home Run No. 1. Twins starter Bailey Ober made Alvarez look a little silly in the Astros lifeline’s first at-bat of the game. The 6-foot-9 Ober struck out Alvarez on three pitches, leaving the hulking hitter swinging at air on a changeup with the pitcher’s long limbs and the unusual movement they create, catching Alvarez off guard.

Fast forward to Yordan’s second at-bat. Ober tries to get another change up by him. . . and watches it get sent soaring into the right field stands. From a silly looking swing to a two-run home run. In truth, Ober never has a chance.

Yordan Alvarez got three pitches of data. And that’s all he needs.

“I saw a couple videos there before facing him the first time,” Alvarez explains in Spanish with Astros interpreter Jenloy Herrera relaying it in English. “And obviously it’s not the same thing seeing the videos and seeing him in person. He’s a really big guy. Has really good extension. So it surprised me a little bit the first time.

“But the second time I went up to hit, I already had a pretty good idea.”

Just like that, Bailey Ober is doomed. Listening to Alvarez talk about his quick hitting adjustment is like listening to Larry Bird explain how he compensates for different rims. Or hearing Jimi Hendrix detail how he modified his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

This goes beyond craft into genius territory. Even other star Major League hitters need to see more than three pitches to process and make this kind of adjustment.

But Yordan is Yordan. The usual rules, any customary assumptions, no longer apply.

Including the idea that the favored would be juggernaut teams need to fear these short playoff series. For while the 104 win Atlanta Braves and the 100 win Los Angeles Dodgers both find themselves down 1-0 in their series, the American League’s proven force has no such issues.

Then again, the Astros do have Yordan.

“It just says that the moment’s never too big for him,” Astros centerfielder Chas McCormick tells PaperCity on Alvarez. “It says that he’s the best hitter on the planet. He puts his work in. You can tell when the lights are bright, he’s ready to go.

“And when he goes, we go.”

The 26-year-old Alvarez now has hit eight postseason home runs. And it seems like every one of them has its own mammoth story behind it. There is the walk-off three run shot that staggers and stuns the Seattle Mariners in the Astros’ first game of the playoffs last year. There is the 450-foot soaring rocket that hits above the tall green grass wall in center field that effectively knocks the Phillies out in Game 6 of the World Series. There is the blast atop Fenway Park’s Green Monster in the 2021 American League Championship Series.

And now there’s the two home run game that gives a young, talented Twins team plenty of reason to doubt. The second coming after Twins manager Rocco Baldelli brings in lefty reliever Caleb Thielbar to face the left-handed hitting Alvarez. That left on left matchup is supposed to be a significant advantage for the pitcher. And usually it is. Thielbar hadn’t allowed a home run to a fellow left hander all season.

Then he met Yordan Alvarez, the smartest hitter on the planet. Goodbye baseball. Yordan just smacked it off the Chick-fil-A foul pole and unleashed an epic bat flip.

“He’s had huge home runs before,” McCormick notes, almost matter of factly.

The Houston Astros hosted the Minnesota Twins for the first game in a best-of-five American League Division Series featuring starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Bailey Ober at Minute Maid Park
A Yordan Alvarez bat flip in the playoffs is like thunder. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Alvarez has a way of turning customary disadvantages upside down. Even the kids in Stranger Things couldn’t figure out how to handle a creature like this.

“When I’m in there hitting, I don’t think about whether I’m facing a lefty or righty,” Alvarez says, sitting on the interview dais in the bowels of Houston’s Juice Box. “They’ve still got to throw the ball over the middle of the plate.”

That is the thing. Yordan Alvarez is willing to wait. All he needs is a pitch or two he can launch a night. Few players enjoy — or excel — at the back-and-forth chess game Major League pitchers and batters wage more than Alvarez. He’s always adjusting, recalculating with the ruthless efficiency of a super computer.

“I think it’s one of those things,” Alvarez told me earlier this season when I asked about this constant war of adjustments. “Sometimes I tell the guys, you go up in an at-bat and you only have one pitch to hit. And sometimes you can go out there and you don’t get anything to hit.

“Whenever I get that one pitch, I try to do some damage and take advantage of those pitches.”

“It says that he’s the best hitter on the planet. He puts his work in. You can tell when the lights are bright, he’s ready to go. And when he goes, we go.” — Astro centerfielder Chas McCormick on Yordan

Yordan Alvarez Embraces the Science of Hitting

Few understand hitting at the level that Yordan Alvarez does. Still, he rarely gets credit for his mind. Maybe, it’s the language barrier that prevents some from seeing it. Maybe, it’s the fact that the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Cuban fills out T-shirts like an NFL linebacker. There is plenty to distract, to make observers want to focus on the sheer power.

But make no mistake, Yordan Alvarez is one of the smartest professional athletes in any sport today. He can talk hitting like Ted Williams used to talk about hitting.

The Houston Astros hosted the Minnesota Twins for the first game in a best-of-five American League Division Series featuring starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Bailey Ober at Minute Maid Park
When Jose Altuve jumps on the first pitch, opposing teams have reason to worry. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

“I think he’s the best hitter in baseball right now,” Astros spark plug Jose Altuve says of Alvarez. Altuve is a career .307 hitter himself, a proven October supernova force who is now up to 24 postseason home runs after hitting the first pitch the Astros see out in this Game 1 statement against the Twins. But Altuve will tell you that Alvarez is on a different level these days, lurking like a Great White in any other team’s mind.

Yordan Alvarez is scarier than anything in that new Exorcist movie in October. Because of his mind. A mind that is calm, focused and always learning.

“No moment is too big for him,” McCormick says. “He has a slow heartbeat. And he is The Best Hitter In the Big Leagues.”

Yordan Alvarez is always adjusting, recalculating with the ruthless efficiency of a super computer.

When that hitter is done outsmarting the Twins, he heads to the interview room wearing a simple pale green T-shirt with a bunch of fingers raised in peace signs on it and black jeans. He’ll continue to keep things simple. Talk about hitting in a way the rest of us can understand.

The most intelligent hitter in baseball isn’t trying to prove anything. Yordan Alvarez is just doing his October thing.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Astros Playoffs
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