Hitters Keep Seeing Sandy Alcántara And It Doesn't Matter
It has been a little over 2 months since the 2022 MLB season kicked off. While many pitchers have had trouble going late into games without a proper Spring Training to warm up, Sandy Alcántara is not one of them. The Marlins ace has thrown far more innings than his peers, and he only gets better with time.
Pitch by Numbers
Coming into this year, Miami Marlins SP Sandy Alcántara was trending upwards. A 2019 All-Star, he ran a stellar 2020 campaign in which he had an even 3.00 ERA in 42 innings on 7 starts, following it up with a 3.19 ERA in 205 IP in 2021, good for an ERA+ of 131. Alcántara is known for a high velocity fastball averaging 98 mph, an incredibly effective sinker and breaking balls that he loves to throw on 2-strike counts. He's clearly proven to have ace stuff, something the Marlins were hoping to see more of as the 2022 season got underway.
And boy, did he deliver.
Through 12 starts, Alcántara is sporting a 1.61 ERA, with a sub-1 WHIP, thanks in large part to his effectiveness with his entire repertoire. His fastball is still the explosive showstopper averaging 97.8mph, which is second in the MLB among starters. His changeup has a 32.5% Called Strike/Whiff%, up from just under 28% in 2021, and his slider has a batting average against of .129, possibly due to adding 5mph since 2017. Combine all of this with his sinker, which induces a groundball on almost three quarters of batted balls with a 3.4% barrel rate, and the fact that these 4 pitches are all thrown in almost equivalent proportions...you have the recipe for a very good starting pitcher.
This hasn't come without adjustment. During his time in the MLB, Alcántara has tinkered with his pitch utilization, and notably has begun throwing his changeup significantly more, from 12.7% utilization in 2018 to 26.2% utilization so far in 2022.
In fact, compared to his first year with the Marlins in 2018, Alcántara has been a very balanced pitcher, not overly-relying on one pitch. He also eliminated using his curveball, which had significantly less than average movement according to Baseball Savant, likely due to his increased velocity.
The change in utilization has impacted his sequencing as well, as his offspeed pitches have accounted for 55.4% of his strikeouts on the season, and are his most thrown pitches in any 2 strike count. When combined with his tendency to throw his fastball when ahead in the count, it allows for a devastating mix of speeds in high-pressure counts for the hitters.
To be sure, Alcántara's pitches individually are deadly. However, it's the alternation that fools hitters long enough to allow him to go deep into games. Much deeper, in fact, than anyone else in the MLB currently.
Through 12 starts, Alcántara is leading the league in innings pitched at 83.2, an average of almost 7 per start. He's also the only pitcher in the MLB to average more than 100 pitches a start. He's doing all this with the 3rd best ERA in baseball.
Like A Fine Wine
On June 8th, Alcántara pitched 9 scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals. While he was saddled with a no-decision as the Marlins won 2-1 in the 10th, during the broadcast, the Marlins commentary team discussed how well Alcántara does as the lineup continues to turn over. Impressive, when one considers the challenges a pitcher faces when returning to the top of the batting order.
Fundamentally this makes sense, as the best hitters on a team tend to be towards the top of the lineup. Additionally, major league hitters are very good at adapting, and pitchers tend to lose effectiveness as their pitch count climbs. In fact, numbers have shown that a pitcher's stats get worse the more Times Through the Order (TTO) a pitcher goes in a single game.
One of the more impressive points to Alcántara's success this year is that the further he goes into games, the better he becomes.
Above, we've used ERA to establish pitchers who are having what would be considered great years. Now let's see how a less run-centric stat, OPS, changes based on how many times each pitcher has faced a batting order in each outing.
Only fellow Marlin Pablo Lopez, and Detroit Tiger Tarik Skubal join Alcántara in having a lower OPS against in their 3rd TTO than their 1st. Even more impressive, of the 10 pitchers above, Alcántara's OPS on the 3rd TTO is clearly the lowest at .471, which would be the lowest OPS in the league currently among qualified hitters, and this is after each batter has had 2 at-bats to see his pitches and study the video after the fact. Truly wild stuff.
What's even wilder is that he hasn't stopped there.
Not only does Alcántara excel when facing an order for the 3rd time in a game, incredibly, it continues to translate when he goes around again.
Here are the same 10 pitchers above, ranked by innings pitched on their 4th TTO.
Not only is Alcántara the only pitcher with enough innings pitched to have conceivably completed a full fourth TTO, he's done so with the lowest OPS, a ridiculous .333 with 18 batters faced.
Sandy Alcántara is having a tremendous start to 2022 for the Miami Marlins, and will certainly make the All-Star team for this year's Midsummer Classsic.
The only question now is if he'll get the start.