I’m about to go record this week’s edition of the Getting Blanked Podcast, so I don’t have much time for preamblin’, except to say that here I’ve got for your raging pleasure the Jays-related tidbits from this week’s Keith Law chat at ESPN.com, including a pair of questions that echo what just about anyone who isn’t wearing fan-blinders will tell you about Henderson Alvarez: that while he’s a very good pitcher, you can’t look at him as a top of the rotation type with such a low strikeout rate, and without a weapon that’s going to miss bats.

Though… as I said last week when Kevin Goldstein apparently incensed people on Twitter by saying that the ceiling for Alvarez is a three– um… that’s pretty fucking good. By nobody’s measure is Ricky Romero anything but a two, so if Alvarez is a three? Yeah, that’s pretty damn good. (Law, as you’ll see, isn’t quite that high on him, even.)

Anyway, here’s that, and the rest…

Kevin (Toronto)
Is it possible that Henderson Alvarez’s pitches have enough movement to sustain a low BABIP, yet not enough movement to increase his K/9 rate?

Ryan (Fredericton)
Have you started warming up to Henderson Alvarez as a SP? I think I read previously you thought he was better suited for the bullpen, however IMO he’s been great as a #3 starter
I don’t believe I ever called him a pen guy – but he needs a better and more consistent breaking ball to be a starter. Again, check that K rate.

Mike (Toronto)
Is D’arnaud THAT much better than JPA. Would he be better used as a trade chip instead of going through the pains of a rookie C all over again?
Yes, he is.

Mike (Toronto)
do you see AA going with BPA [Best Player Available] with the Jay’s picks in the top 60. Any other insight into what the Jays may do?
I can’t imagine they veer away from that. They’ve built a great farm system by drafting high-upside guys. Why change now?

Comments (70)

  1. I think Kevin’s question is really interesting. Any thoughts/ideas why the answer was simply “no”?

    • I don’t think there is much to say. His low BABIP is simply unsustainable. It’s as simple as that. The only way Alvarez will succeed in the long term is to increase his strikeouts.

      • Travis had a great piece on Getting Blanked about Alvarez’s shortcomings, particularly his lack of movement on his breaking ball.

        next to his sinker, Alvarez’s greatest weapon may actually be Brian Butterfield and Torey Lovullo. but im skeptical as to whether even their badass positioning can keep Alvarez’s ERA below his xFIP for much longer.

        • For pitchers, a large contributor to BABIP is the defense, which is a major reason why Alvarez has such a low BABIP. The Jays’ infield defence has been phenomenal this year, especially on the left side with Lawrie and Escobar. With Alvarez being an extreme groundball pitcher, a well above average fielder for a pitcher (in 112 IP he has a DRS of 6), and with the well above average infield defence, you would not expect Alvarez to come anywhere near his defense independent pitching stats.

          Note that this is not necessarily in praise of Alvarez. With an average infield defence, he is not nearly as useful a pitcher. He needs to strike more batters out to become a top of the rotation starter. With that said, as long as he remains an above average defender and extreme groundball pitcher, you should always expect him to outperform his xFIP.

      • BABIP is the stupidest stat they have come up with yet. You do not need to strike guys out if you can get them to consistently roll over on balls and hit ground balls. Ground balls are more often then not caught and plays are made on them. Not to mention that they ofter result in double plays. This notion that because he allows so many balls in play his luck is going to turn and they are going to start falling in for hits and he will not induce any double plays is utterly ridiculous.

        • that’s ridiculous. BABIP is probably one of the most meaningful stats. it’s incredibly useful to be able to quantify luck. that way you can tell if a player’s slump will be long lasting or will soon return to the norm.

          BABIP actually measures something important. unlike say Saves or RBIs.

          • Your trying to tell me a player who is consistently popping up or rolling over baseballs is just getting unlucky. On top of that your telling me you can quantify this. Think about this for a second a guy can have an absolute terrible swing make light contact constantly and have an absolute terrible BABIP and your trying to tell me he is just unlucky… No I’m sorry he is just a bad player.

            As for pitchers if they are constantly inducing light contact and have a low BABIP that shows that they are good. Not lucky. I can understand BABIP stat if it were only on hard hit balls and you can justify that they are just hitting it at people. But for all balls in play that is utterly ridiculous and is clearly a stat developed by people who have never played the game themselves.

          • in order to look at pop ups you’d look at the batter’s line drive ratios and ground ball ratios and fly ball ratios to see if they’re out of whack his career norms. it’s pretty straightforward to do actually.

            similarly you can look at a pitcher’s ground ball rates and see if his success will be sustainable. Alvarez’s GB rates are good but they’re not great. he’s no Derek Lowe… yet.

            “he is just a bad player” – great analysis there by the way. if you’re a major league GM you actually need to a little more to go on than that.

          • BABIP is vastly different for pitchers and hitters. BABIP is useful for pitchers but does rely on defence. BABIP can be useful for batters but look at Aaron Hill’s 2010 BABIP of .196. That isn’t bad luck, that is bad hitting.
            The Jays good defence does not change who Alvarez is. It changes how useful he is compared to a fly ball pitcher with the same K and BB rates. The defence also inflates his trade value to teams who will ignore the peripherals and focus on his ERA, which is a good thing.

        • And you do know that with a low BABIP there’s no way he’s going to constantly give up ground balls, right? Got to remember also that home runs don’t affect BABIP, and he has a fugly 1.30 HR/9.

          His 13.1% line drive rate is also unsustainable, and when it goes up, so does his ERA

        • If that was the case, why would there be so many pitchers that have essentially the same career babip, none of which is anywhere near 230 that alvarez has?

          • And how many of those pitchers have only two pitches?

          • People need to start accepting that low BABIPs are sustainable on this Jays team as it is presently constructed. This infield (especially the left side) has exceptional range. The lion’s share of errors made by our infielders are throwing errors or Lind fucking up at 1st base.

            This isn’t an ordinary defense. It’s not random luck that virtually every starting pitcher on this team has an BABIP on the low side of .300. This is especially true of a groundball pitcher like Alvarez.

            Alvarez’s BABIP although not to its current level perhaps, but certainly on the low side of .300, is very much sustainable. Barring long-term injury to one of Lawrie, KJ and Escobar, I see no reason for his BABIP to not be among the lowest in the league.

            Hell, Alvarez’s BABIP arguably should be even lower than it is right now, given Escobar’s failure to get to two groundballs last night that he would’ve gone to but for the fact he appeared to be shaken up earlier and was struggling to get to his left.

      • His great BABIP isn’t impossible to maintain.. The guy can consistently induce pussy ground balls and has a great (excluding the pylon on first) infield to take care of business.

        Don’t forget.. Strike outs are fascist ;)

      • Bert Blyleven..

  2. Ive been saying this for a while. Its not by design like the blue jays will tell you. Its a lack of stuff, particularly secondary pitches. I see very few swing and misses even on his fastball which is supposed to be 94-96 MPH. No way this guy is our ace of the future with that K rate. #3 at absolute best.

    • The guy will be the ace of this staff in two years. Book it.

    • Remember he is only 22. I wouldn’t right off his potential now. Remember most pitchers don’t crack the majors until 25/26 and hit there prime around 28-30. He has plenty of time (6 years) to develop a swing and miss slider.

      As for the Babip debate. Look at Hellickson’s. Not enough of this shows the ability of the defense. If Alvarez had a poor defense he would be looked at as a borderline 5th starter right now probably in AAA to work out a new pitch.

      I wouldn’t get stressed about a guy with a high nineties fastball at 22 (some pitchers are just leaving college at this age) in the majors with a sub 4ERA.

      Chill out

    • Well, he’s now started 17 games – call it half a season. His career ERA is 3.13 and ERA+ is 138. What would you call that – #3 stuff? #2?

      Your smug claim that he is a “#3 at absolute best” basically means that what we’ve seen from him so far is absolutely the best we will ever see from him. He will never accomplish more than he’s accomplished in the first 17 games of his career. And he’s 22 years old.

      I’m not suggesting he’s a future ace – I have my concerns about his peripheral numbers too. But the absolute certainty with which you make your claim, relying entirely on his K/9 to the complete exclusion of his actual results is, well, a bit ridiculous.

      • All I meant was at the current k rate or even slight improvement he is a # 3 starter at best. His K rate needs significant improvement if he wants to a #1 or #2 starter. Not that its impossible for him to get there just very unlikely at this stage. He is young but how much improvement in his k rate can be realistically expected? Hes not going to become tim lincecum all of a sudden.

        • Fair enough, I suppose. But you might want to be a bit clearer on what you mean by his “current K rate”, when you ask how much improvement can realistically be expected.

          Do you mean this year’s rate (2.6), which is admittedly absurdly low? Because note that last year, in a larger sample size, his K/9 was 5.7, still not tremendous but certainly more comforting (and, it should be noted, comparable to a few of Halladay’s seasons as a Jay, when he was the very definition of a #1 starter).

          So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that his K rate will revert to the 5-6 range; do you? And if it does, can we all chill a bit and enjoy the fact that he’s accompishing some pretty impressive things?

          • If Alvarez could get his k/9 rate to the 6-7 range that would be fantastic and with all his groundballs a #1 or #2 starter label isnt so crazy. I just see that as a significant leap and not so realistic after watching him pitch. Even though he is young, strikeouts were never something he was good at, even in the minors.

      • Agreed!

    • He is 22 and not close to a finished product… his slider still needs a lot of work

  3. Keith Law also said Ricky Romero would be lucky to become a backend starter and was likely a pen guy. Law frequently dismisses one crucial factor: players develop.

    Alvarez does need to improve his K, but the guy is 21, let him develop that changeup and slider a bit more and he will be an absolute beast. He has command of an incredibly heavy fastball. That’s an ideal starting point, and the changeup has a ton of potential as well.

    • did KLaw actually say that about Romero? can you send a link? I think Ricky’s wild card that makes him a strong front end starter is his attitude and work ethic – it’s insane. the guy works so damn hard.

    • You’re not wrong about the fact that Alvarez is at a decent starting point and could develop, but the suggestion that Law dismisses the possibility and walks around believing every 21-year-old is always going to pitch the way he does now, never changing, is fucking ridiculous.

      • Yea because Law “walks around believing every 21-year-old is always going to pitch the way he does now, never changing” Is exactly what i said you jerk.

        But my point that Law tends to view pitchers in particular as is, and focus more on stats than stuff, is the reason he misses on pitchers in general.

        And Laws disdain for Romero is pretty well documented, and used to scoff at the idea that Romero was a better prospect than Cecil.

      • Law dismisses players all the time! He never says that ’21-year-old x will always pitch the way he does now, and never change’, but really who would ever say that?

        Still, Law comes off very dismissive of a ton of players, which frankly I would expect from someone who has to somehow keep track of hundreds and hundreds of players that very few people have heard of and for whom data can be hard to come by. Add to that that he responds to so many fan questions about often-obscure prospects and the poor guy probably has a hard time keeping up without reverting to deterministic, sometimes terse evaluations of these players.

        • Law actually really likes Alvarez. Check out the chat archives and see what he wrote about him last year. Thinks he’s a mid-rotation starter if he never develops a decent breaking pitch and has the potential to be much more with a developed breaking ball.

          Right now, he’s just pointing out the red flags of a low strikeout rate and a very low BABIP. Doesn’t mean he hates Alvarez now, just pointing out his approach may be unsustainable. As for whether the Jays’ defensive shifts contribute to lower BABIPs, it’s still too early to say.

  4. Alvarez is only 21. I have faith he can develop a better slider. It doesn’t even have to be above average, just an average slider will do.

  5. Alvarez is also one of the best fielding pitchers I have ever seen, that has got to account for some of the reduced BABIP, however, obviously some regression should be expected.

  6. Henderson ‘Fuck Sabr’ Alvarez

  7. I don’t understand why people get excited just because Keith Law says something. He’s Captain Obvious a lot of the time.

  8. Maybe I’m not seeing the forest for the trees here, but have people gone a little too far off the statistical deep end with picking apart players? We’re really this concerned with the potential of a 22 year old pitcher who has kept a light hitting team in 6 of his 7 games this season because he doesn’t “miss enough bats”? Like jesus-tap-dancing-christ here, he’s 22 years old. It’s equally possible that instead of a regression to the mean of BABIP due to luck or whatever other factors could be keeping his BABIP low, Alvarez continues to develop as a player, you know, as you would expect a 22 year old to do and his overall performance balances out. Do you need stats to know that Lind is a big bag of useless? Are we really that concerned about the other shoe dropping here that we need to find reasons for him to fail before he fails? As much as arm chair scouts and GMs think that advanced statistics are the be all and end all of player development and management, there are still some of those “intangibles” that everyone likes to dismiss because they can’t be quantified. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    • I agree with this comment. We have stopped realizing that this kid is 22 YEARS OLD. He has accumulated a 138 + ERA in 116 innings. That is not easy. Go look at the list of pitchers his age who have done that. And he has faced good teams. But judging by the comments on this website and on BBB you would think he is like a ticking time bomb and basically the worst pitcher the Jays have. Then on top of everything people quote WAR like its be all end all of stats. You know know flawed fWAR is – according to fWAR Hutchison has given this team more value than Alvarez and according to fWAR last year Brandon Morrow was more valuable than Ricky Romero which is probably the dumbest thing I have heard. Let me further add to how stupid it is to use one stat to define a player – bWAR has Alvarez at 1 WAR so far and for his career 2.5. Dramatically different from fWAR no?! You know how we all laugh at wins as a dumb stat I am pretty certain in a few years we will all laugh at how dumb WAR is.

      I have no idea how he will develop but he will because like I said before he is 22 YEARS OLD – who knows whether he will be an ace because really very very few pitchers ever are. But even with all his flaws I am fairly certain that all 30 GMs in this league would take him in a heart beat.

      OK I am done rant over.

    • Nope yer wrong there buddy. My 5 year old had a ridiculously low OBP in tball. And his k/bb rate sucked. So I sold him to some guy I found on craigslist. Fuck that. I’m not wasting the next 15 years hoping my kid will somehow turn it around.

      And no, he did not have a future in broadcasting. He could barely put forth two sentences in a row that didn’t have major grammar omissions.

    • I’m in love.

  9. Great fielder? Low K/9?

    Henderson Maddux!

    Excuse me, I have a parade to plan…

    • At least Maddux K’d over 6 batters per 9 IP

      • he didn’t k over 6/9 until his 5th year in the majors.

        ALvarez is far from a finished product.

        pitchers DO add pitches all the time. I mean who was cliff lee before his cutter?

  10. LOL at calling a ceiling on a guy who JUST turned 22. The fact that he’s in his second season at this point is fantastic. In fact, we’ll only be able to really compare him with Morrow IN 6 YEARS!

    Sure he needs another pitch. He’s been working on that by all accounts. Even if he develops something passable – his dirty fastball movement and sinker are enough to let him pitch deep into ball games. We saw a figure yesterday that FB velocity typically starts to die off at 25-26 years old. Why don’t we all sit back and enjoy the next 4 years?

    I have no idea what his ceiling is, but I think its critically stupid to suggest that what he has accomplished thus far through 17 starts is “luck” due to an inflated BABIP. And why on Earth does “luck” only go one way? Can we not make the same assumption then that his ridiculously low K rate is also BAD luck – and that over time, he’ll be able to bring that number back to a higher rate?

    I’m not saying Alvarez is a #1. I do think that he needs that third pitch to develop – but he’s 22 years old and has a fastball and sinker that make him incredibly effective groundball pitcher. That’s enough for me.

    • /agree…this notion that he even has to be an ace pitching 3rd in the order is ludicrous. If he can keep the score reasonable till the 7th or 8th inning he will be doing a hell of a job and will give the team a chance to win every time he pitches.

  11. I think the assessment is more than fair that if he can’t improve the K rate his ceiling is a #3 starter. However, there is a good chance that is a #3 INNINGS EATER which is VERY valuable.

    Regardless, if he has a FIP of a #3 his ERA could be like a #2 with our infield defence.

    Just look at Tampa last year. All the starters had low BABIPs. Obviously I’d rather our pitchers have the talent to have strong K/BB ratios…but if they can’t, at least our D can help prevent runs.

    If I’m not mistaken, Law was the 1st prospect guru to be high on Alvarez. I believe he said something like “I’m not sure if he’s a #1, 2 or 3″. And right now that seems fair.

    I’ll take a mid-rotation innings eater at age 22 who may or may not be able to improve.

  12. Toronto sports fans: Where we are so accustomed to being losers that we need to find a reason for someone to fail.

    “Well, we’re up by one in the bottom of the 9th in game 7 of the World Series, our bullpen hasn’t blow a save in 60 straight tries….statistics tell me we must blow this game”

    Instead of focusing on how succesful Alvarez has been on essentially 2 pitches, fans are talking about how he’s going to fail….eventually. LOL.

    • I’ll go one step further: the guy, one day, will fucking die. How bad is that? Our pitcher is going to die. Then what?

  13. Big fucking deal. As long as he keeps dealing this year Alvarez is going to be and Ace even if he is pitching in the 3 spot…and frankly he doesn’t even look like he would give a shit about that anyways, as long as he can keep runs off the board for 7 or so innings he has done his job.

  14. the reason his babip is low is because he’s given up a lot of home runs

    • Even if you count the home runs it is still only .245. We’re talking about seven hits here.

      MLB batters are hitting .225 on ground balls this year. Henderson Alvarez’s BABIP on grounders? .143.

      • I’m willing to bet that all of the jays starters have lower than average babips on ground balls

      • what is your point drew? what is ever your point? why can’t you just use BA? his BA against is .225. nothing outrageous. is he hot yes? is he lucky no. is his BA likely to go up yes. can he pitch a whole season with a .225 BA yes, halladay did it.

        and how many ground balls have you seen get by lawrie?

  15. So many idiotic and reactionary comments to a fair post and some fair comments. No one is trying to diminish what Alvarez has done thus far. No one is saying he is not a sweet pitcher who will be a valuable commodity on this team. What people are saying is that expectations that Alvarez is an ace in the making needs to be tempered.

    As you are all fond of pointing out, the kid is only 22. He has pitched under 150 innings. There are probably batters he hasn’t even faced yet. So to speculate on what he is going to become, you cannot go with your hopes and dreams, but you can look at the over ONE HUNDRED YEARS of statistical data which strongly suggests that without a higher K rate, he will not be a top two guy. And moreso, without a good defensive club behind him, he would not be sitting as pretty stats-wise as now.

  16. I for one would love to see him develop a nasty curveball that he can use to change the batters eye speed. If he could also add even more break to his fastball and slider, he could certainly take a step forward. But I am a sucker for a curve.

  17. Yeah he did, good call! I don’t think he’s thrown it in a game for a few years now.. Another classic Eephus was Dave Stieb’s dead fish pitch. Brings back memories :)

  18. Alvarez is an ace because Gregg Zaun said so. He is totally unfazed on the mound. If Morrow or Drabek had half his swagger they would be winning Cy Youngs.

    End of discussion.


    • Zaun also hates the Vlad signing because it is gonna hurt EEs feelings or some such shit.

      • Sick of Zaun already. You aren’t Bob McCowan. Stop entering your opinion on everything. Tell us how Vlad “is a potential HOF, hits balls in the dirt ha-ha, this is an interesting signing” and then shut up so we can watch baseball or a nice soothing commercial. And enough with the pompous clothing. Who the fuck dresses like that?

    • no actually you should read my comments on the bottom of his blog where I destroyed him for saying EE was about to implode and hill was going to rebound

    • Although this article specifically is talking about BABIP from a hitters’ perspective, which is fundamentally different from BABIP from a pitchers’ perspective, I do agree with the overall premise applied to pitchers. (Although I think a hitter’s BABIP speaks to true talent level far more than a pitcher’s)

      BABIP for a pitcher does need to be analyzed in context without blindly shouting “LUCKY!” or “UNLUCKY!” based on which side of .300 a particular pitcher’s BABIP is.

      Henderson Alvarez would not have the same BABIP that he does now if he was making the exact same pitches against the exact same hitters, but the Tigers defense was behind him. That is not a function of luck or randomness, that is a function of an infield defense with excellent range versus an infield defense with atrocious range. As somebody mentioned above, just look at Tampa Bay last year.

      With our infield, any groundball that isn’t a laser shot is basically an automatic out save the occasional (far too common) throwing error.

  19. Whats more likely.. for a pitcher like drabek to develop a feel for his pitches, smooth out his mechanics and develop good command.

    Or for a pitcher like alvarez, who already has smooth mechanics, and feel for his pitches and good command, to develop another pitch, ideally one that can miss bats.

    • It’s a good question. You would think that the polished guy has the skill to master a new pitch… But the guy with stuff just needs to get over himself and grow the fuck up and concentrate. Neither is guaranteed.

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