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2019 Phillies in review: Jose Alvarez

One of the more unheralded arms of 2019 went from pretty bad to pretty good all in one season

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The numbers

59 IP, 67 G, 20.0 K%, 7.1 BB%, 3.36 ERA (4.21 FIP), 0.4 fWAR

The good

The early December acquisition of lefty reliever Jose Alvarez for longtime bullpen arm/sometime-barber Luis Garcia might have been Matt Klentak’s lowest-profile move of the last offseason. It also might have been his clearest win.

With the Angels, Garcia was what he’d been for the bulk of his Phillies tenure: a guy who threw hard without much idea of where it was going, usable for short stretches in low-leverage situations. His top-line numbers were slightly improved over 2018, with an ERA of 4.35, almost two runs lower than his 6.07 mark from ’18, in 16 more innings. But the 5.94 FIP was nearly two and a half runs higher than in 2018, and his 0.1 bWAR for a 72-90 team was even more telling.

Meanwhile, Alvarez was the Phillies’ second-most reliable bullpen arm, behind only Hector Neris. Part of that was simply availability: while virtually every other Phils reliever spent large chunks of time on the injured list, Alvarez made 67 appearances, second on the team to Neris’s 68.

A glance at his stat line shows a good/not-great reliever: 3.36 ERA (4.21 FIP), 0.8 bWAR, 2.83 K/BB ratio. But this obscures just how reliable Alvarez was over a period of more than four months, from mid-April to the end of August: after pitching to a 9.39 ERA through his first eight appearances, Alvarez posted a sterling 1.71 mark over his next 47, holding the opposition scoreless in 40 of those games. His game log gives another indication of Gabe Kapler’s growing trust, as well as the spiral of attrition among his bullpen mates: after appearing mostly in the middle innings through May, Alvarez increasingly showed up in the 7th or 8th through the summer months, as he was doing his best work.

The lefty Alvarez was stronger against same-side hitters, holding them to a .236/.277/.382 line against .328/.385/.475 to righties. Stuff-wise, Alvarez showed the same low-90s fastball he’s had for five years now, throwing it a bit more than half the time. He relied more on his changeup (22 percent of pitches, up from 14.4 percent with the Angels in 2018), while de-emphasizing the slider (18.2 percent, from 23.2).

The bad

Outside of those first few outings, nothing really.

The future

Relievers are a notoriously inconsistent bunch, particularly at the level of guys like Alvarez who most likely won’t ever sniff an all-star team. Still, Alvarez has posted ERAs between 2.71 and 3.88 in each of his last five seasons, while making at least 64 appearances per year. He’s got one more year of team control, his age-31 season, and estimates peg his likely 2020 salary at around $3 million. Given the uncertainty around him in the Phillies’ bullpen, he’s a no-brainer to bring back next year.