Henderson Alvarez is a difficult pitcher to figure out. He throws very hard often ramping his four-seam fastball into the mid and upper 90s, but he doesn’t generate many swinging strikes with the pitch as it lacks movement. His two-seam fastball moves more, but he throws it in the zone too often to be a swing-and-miss pitch. His changeup is excellent for inducing weak contact, especially on the ground, but again, he’s not going to strike many Major League hitters out with it. His slider is a well-below-average pitch at this point and although that could improve, it’s nothing more than a “show-me” offering.

I’ve said often that I don’t have particularly high hopes for Alvarez succeeding in the daunting AL East. If you look at pitchers who are successful there, they have some kind of swing-and-miss offering, usually a breaking ball, which keeps hitters flailing.

Yet, despite my pessimism, Alvarez continues to pitch well. Last night, he threw his first career shut-out completely nullifying the struggling Angels’ offense. He allowed six hits, four of them singles, walked just one and struck out three while needing only 90 pitches to collect his 27 outs.

Alvarez threw mostly four-seam and two-seam fastballs, using his changeup only six times in the game or roughly half as regularly as normal. He induced only seven swings and misses (five with his two-seamer, two with his four-seamer), but had 14 groundballs on the 27 balls in play.

If you look at Alvarez’s movement chart from last night, it’s clear that his pitches just don’t move as much as they should for him to be an above-average pitcher.

Compare that to David Price’s movement chart from last night when he completely dominated the Oakland A’s for eight innings, striking out 12, and you can see one of the things that makes a pitcher like him so great.

Alvarez’s ability to induce groundballs is certainly encouraging, but it also leaves him exposed to the wily exploits of the BABIP dragon and unless you have some kind of strikeout offering, that dragon will eventually light you on fire.

Not to take anything away from last night’s performance, but his batted-ball average now sits at a miniscule and unsustainable .200. Before Jays’ fans crown him the heir apparent to Roy Halladay’s vacant thrown, it should be remembered that eventually that will catch up to him.

Still, if he can develop into a solid back-end arm, the Jays will more than likely be ecstatic.

And the rest:

Dave Cameron, czar and overlord of FanGraphs, takes a gander at the odd career path of the begoggled Vance Worley.

His colleague Paul Swydan takes a look at relievers after they leave the friendly confines of PETCO Park in honour of the recently traded Ernesto Frieri who was dealt to the Angels this week. He finds out that the drop off is not that drastic.

Joe Girardi is going to split the closer role between Rafael Soriano and David Robertson in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s knee injury [Bryan Hoch, MLB.com].

Speaking of that injury, Rivera says he’s coming back next year [Bryan Hoch, MLB.com]:

“I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going down like this. God willing and given the strength, I’m coming back.”

Heath Bell continues to be terrible as the Marlins closer and manager Ozzie Guillen appears to be nearing his breaking point. Guillen also believes that the struggling Josh Johnson may be hiding an injury [Clark Spencer, Miami Herald].

After running the franchise into the ground and being rewarded with a $2.15-billion sale, former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt will continue to profit from the team. The rent on the parking lots he owns around the stadium is set at $14-million a year [Bill Shaikin, LA Times].

Daisuke Matsuzaka will start his rehab assignment on Monday [Alex Speier, WEEI.com]. Barring setbacks, he should be able to rejoin the team within the next 30 days.

Jay Jaffe over at Baseball Prospectus tells you which NL hitters are underperforming even Albert PuLOLZ (Gentle flyball to shallow centerfield to Dan Christopher for the new nickname).

For all your Getting Blanked needs, follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook. Do the same for our friends at DJF [Twitter/Facebook].

Comments (44)

  1. alvarez post makes me long for a time when we were afforded the luxury to enjoy it while it lasts.

    • I certainly am.

      • can a pitcher with the statistical profile that you outlined make up for it in any other way? makeup? confidence? pitches quickly? poise? have their really been no ground ball pitchers with low strikeout numbers that have excelled in the AL East?

        • im not trolling, im interested in your answer

          • There are always exceptions (although I can’t honestly think of one off the top of my head), but it certainly doesn’t happen often.

            I think groundball pitchers can get away with lower strikeout rates for sure, but even successful groundball guys have some breaking ball offering that can generate some swings and misses. Halladay comes to mind there.

            Command also helps and Alvarez does seem to possess that. I just feel like he gives up too much contact, eventually it’ll catch up with him.

          • I’m sure being able to field his position well also helps. In an interview, Alvarez himself even mentioned that sometimes he is going to get hit hard.

        • There have been several doom-and-gloom blog posts here and elsewhere (http://sbn.to/J82EZ) about first Morrow and now Alvarez’ current pitch-to-contact approaches and low number of K’s. The argument is that pitch-to-contact in lieu of pitch-to-miss (i.e strikeouts) is a ticking time-bomb and unsustainable approach.

          Which is totally a incorrect argument because pitch-to-contact is not about replacing strikeouts, it’s about replacing WALKS.

          In fact, the low strikeout numbers are direct side-effect of pitch-to-contact (let’s just call it throwing strikes). Last night, Alvarez averaged 3.0 pitches/AB. He had 3 innings where he only threw 8 pitches in each inning. In the 4th inning, he spread 8 pitches over 4 AB. STATISTICALLY, he’s not going to get a lot of strikeouts averaging 2 or 3 pitches per AB!!!

          When opposing batters take a couple of pitches to get their timing down against Alvarez they are going to be in an 0-2 hole. That, plus he doesn’t give up many BB means they don’t have the luxury of taking many pitches to get their timing down.

          One intangible about Alvarez’ throwing-strikes approach is that it commands respect from the umps. He had a couple of borderline pitches at the knees called strikes (I think one of his strikeouts was on one of these) because he showed all night that he was had command of the strike zone. They’ll help a pitcher who helps himself. That’s pretty remarkable command (in every sense of the word) for a 22 year old kid.

          Then, opposing batters know that the umps are calling anything close forces them press in an even worse way.

          Alvarez’ approach is extremely mature and efficient and it’s great to see such a savvy stone-cold strike zone assassin .

    • Jimmy Key comes to mind

  2. > the heir apparent to Roy Halladay’s vacant thrown

    I see what you did there.

  3. it’s entirely possible that babip can’t be sustained, but it’s also possible it’s so low because his control combined with the downward force on his ball is lethal and the hitters just can’t lift it, it will be interesting to find out

  4. i can’t disagree with the words you are writing, but every time i’ve watched alvarez pitch, he’s looked great. i have much more confidence in him than anyone on the team outside of rickro and morrow… and even they are prone to blowing up (rickro’s 3 walks and 5 runs vs. texas being the most recent example).

  5. I think Alvarez’s biggest weapon is his command. He can paint the corners and sit right at the bottom of the strike zone. When he does that, he is really hard to square up.

    Also, while his vertical and horizontal movement isn’t that much, you have to remember that these are 93 mph 2 seamers and 95 mph 4 seamers that he’s throwing, not breaking balls. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that that type of movement on a 93 mph 2 seam and 4 seam fastball is much higher than most pitchers, which explains why hitters can’t seem to square him up consistently.

    • Exactly! I was waiting for someone to write this, how can you compare the movement on one pitchers fastballs to another’s slider or curve? it doesnt make sense – when I watch Alvarez pitch he shows excellent command, perhaps the best outright command on the team. yes, i said it. And the other thing i notice is his fastball dances all over the fucking place, way more than morrow’s for sure and probably more than ricky’s, and ricky’s got great movement on his fastball.

  6. You’ve also got to remember it’s only his second season. I think he has the ability to develop a swing and miss pitch.

  7. I don’t know if generating weak contact is a sustainable ability, but Alvarez seems too.

    Love watching him pitch, hopefully he can keep it up.

  8. So, Price’s breaking pitch moves more than Alvarez’s fastball, which is basically all he throws? Quelle surprise.

  9. BABIP on groundballs is just not that high (I think it’s around .220 in years past but I need to look it up). Infield shift together with good infield defense and range should lower it even further. Why then is his low BABIP so unsustainable? Once they start hitting line drives, then BABIP goes way up (over .7). Ground balls, not so much. Stringing together 3 consecutive ground ball hits is a very low probability event.

    You really need to separate out BABIP into the hit type. He DOES have some control over the type of hit he’s inducing.

    • fair enough, but .200 is very, very low. I don’t doubt he can keep his BABIP lower than league average.

      • .200 is definitely low. You’d expect it to be lower than average and “more sustainable” if the Jays infield (and positioning) is better than average (they lead league in defensive runs saved), but yeah, he’s getting some luck too :)

      • I’m a little surprised by this, shouldn’t we actually expect his babip to be lower than the average for all the reasons the guy above just mentioned?

  10. I have not yet noticed him bounce a slider in a 2-strike count. If he can be convinced to snap off the slider and not worry about bouncing one now and then, the swings will come. He’s 22, got his whole career ahead of him, and nothing about him looks like ‘back of the rotation’ to me.

    • it’s worth repeating, how many 22 year old pitchers dont have a swing and miss pitch and later develope one? we dont have a long list of them we can remember seeing because usually they dont get to the MLB until they have one

  11. Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Bronze age Roy Halladay did okay as GB guys without many Ks.

    • oh yeah, and that dude… what was his name.. could barely strikeout anyone… GREG MADDUX

      • Maddux could strike you out. He threw in the mid-nineties in his prime. People forget how hard he threw when he was dominating the NL.

    • But all of those guys had (in their prime) the ability to strike guys out when the situation called for it and all had much better stuff than Alvarez has. I’m not saying he won’t be successful, just that we should maybe temper all the “future ace” talk.

    • Hudson struck out just over 6K/9 while posting 60% and higher GB rates.
      Derek Lowe struck out high 5 to low 6 K/9 while posting groundball% between 60-65%.
      Roy Halladay had a 50-60% GB rate while striking out 6.87K/9 over his career and over the past few years has pushed his single season K/9′s up to mid 7K/9.

      Alvarez has a 56.8% GB this year, 54.8% for his career, and a 2.61 K/9.

      There is a significant difference between Hudson, Lowe, Halladay and Henderson. Not only are Lowe/Hudson/ putting up GB% that’s at minimum 5-10% higher than Alvarez, but they’re also striking out nearly 3 times as many batters. It’s just not a valid comparison.

      And as someone else mentioned, Maddux managed a 56% GB rate late in his career so he was likely higher during his prime (closer to 60%). Additionally, he had a career K/9 of 6.1K/9, and during his prime struck out 6.8K/9.

      I want Alvarez to be successful, but he’s not going to be nearly as good as Lowe or Hudson if he’s not striking out at least 5K/9. Groundballs are underrated, and it’s possible that Alvarez can induce weak contact. But even accounting for that, there’s no chance he’s successful if he’s striking out only 2-3 batters per 9 innings.

      • He struck out between 6 and 7 per 9 throughout the minors and struck out nearly 6 last year. Isn’t it possible that the 2.6 so far this year is a bit of an anomaly? If he had it at 8 or 9 through 6 starts everyone would point out, “He’s never done that before, small sample size,” but when its at the 2nd lowest out of 111 qualifying pitchers (right ahead of Derek Lowe) the assumption is that’s what he is.

        Madison Bumgarner is at 5.08K/9, the Giants should trade that bum (to us), he’s never going to be an ace.

  12. The GB crew has always been somewhat low on Alvarez, he’s been one of our most consistent pitchers since his arrival. How you can compare mostly 94mph fastballs with a pitcher who throws a variety of breaking balls is beyond me. I could compare Price’s average speed with Alvarez and declare Alvarez a much more dominant pitcher based on him throwing consistently harder.
    Alvarez strength is amazing location with speed. He has his low 2 seam sinker, and when he gets the 4 seam going as well, he’s great.

  13. fun fact about Alvarez: So far in his career, he’s walked 1 RHB.

  14. Travis, have you taken into account the success Alvarez has had throughout his minor league career pitching the same way? I don’t think his success in the majors so far has has been purely BABIP driven when you consider he has dominated the minors being the same type of pitcher, BABIP would’ve caught up to him along time ago in the minors.

    And no one really gets ecstatic about about a back-end of the rotation starter.

  15. Someone asked Goldstein on Twitter about Alvarez. Goldstein’s take was that Alvarez projected to be a very good number 3 guy a la Fausto Carmona (when he was known as Fausto Carmona), but with better command and control.

    Nothing wrong with that. Jays fans often paint their young pitchers as potential number 1 guys. In reality, there are only a handful of number 1 guys in the AL.

    Its interesting how Alvarez has been able to fly through the minors with low K rates and then have good periphials at the MLB level with even lower K rates.

    I’ve always thought that if Alvarez could adopt some form of true out-pitch, like a splitter, he would rack up some K’s. At 22 years old, he has time to work on his out-pitches.

    • I’m not sure who’s calling Alvarez our next ace, but he’s got plenty of time to figure out how to throw an out pitch, and if he does – then he could become one. Is he more likely to just be a very good #3 in a strong rotation? yes, probably. and thats fine with me, the guy is good.

  16. Look folks, the entire BABIP thing has long been figured out. You can try to think your way out of it and explain it away, offerring some postulate as to why THIS GUY is going to break the mold.

    The problem with that thinking is that going back to the origins of baseball, retrospective data mining has shown that pitchers cannot control their BABIP. It is true that a normal BABIP for one pitcher may sit lower than another’s, but even then, the differences between the two don’t consistently remain that significant.

    so while we can sit here and argue why Alvarez has such a low babip , there is no argument as to its sustainability.

    In other words, Alavarez may very well be one of those pitchers who year to year induces a lower babip than average, but the idea that the average will be this low is 100 percent wrong

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