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2021 report card: Jose Alvarado

The hard throwing lefty gave us plenty of heartburn this year

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Kam Nedd-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies traded for Jose Alvarado last season in the hopes they could find a left-handed reliever on a reasonable salary that could give them something they haven’t had much of lately. If the meant heart palpitations, I’d ask: did they not watch games in 2020? If by velocity, well they got that in spades.

2021 stats

55 23 IP, 1.60 WHIP, 27.1 K%, 18.7 BB%, 0.81 HR/9, 4.20 ERA (4.80 FIP), -0.3 fWAR

The good

In 2020, the Phillies’ relievers, according to Fangraphs, had an average fastball velocity of 93 miles per hour, coming in at 24th in the game. In 2019, it was 92.8 miles per hour, 27th in the game.

In 2021, that number jumped to 94.7, ninth among all teams’ relievers. While acquiring Alvarado isn’t the sole reason for this jump, he’s one of the main reasons why and it makes his acquisition make even more sense.

The team needed some power arms in their bullpen and set about getting them last offseason. Alvarado was a trade with the cash strapped Rays and Sam Coonrod was a deal with the Giants. Both had a similar profile: throws hard, not exactly sure where it’s going, so we knew the team had a type they were looking for. In Alvarado, they got exactly what they were thinking they’d get: throws hard, doesn’t exactly know where it’s going. His average fastball velocity was in the 99th percentile of all pitchers. His sinker, the pitch he threw 76.9% of the time, averaged 99.4 miles per hour, third among all pitchers that threw the pitch in 2021.

He threw hard and threw hard often, something the Phillies were sorely lacking.

He also did this.

The bad

The problem with Alvarado is that while he might throw hard, throwing accurately is still a concept in the very nascent stages of importance to him.

Among all relievers who threw at least 40 innings in 2021, not a single one of them had a worse walk rate than Alvarado’s 18.7% rate. It made an at bat against him quite uncomfortable for a hitter, something he could not take advantage of as illustrated by his rather pedestrian strikeout rate. When a guy throws that hard, you’d expect more hitters to strike out, but his 27.1% strikeout rate ranked only 73rd among 191 relievers who threw that many innings. His 8th percentile chase rate should be expected with his wildness as hitters weren’t going to chase what wasn’t in the zone. Had he been even a little more accurate with his pitches, his strikeouts would skyrocket and the team would possibly have someone to help close games.

The future

He’s due for arbitration this year and since the team doesn’t really have anyone else in the minors with his kind of stuff, coupled with a relatively low arbitration projection ($1.9 million), keeping him around for another year in the hopes he figures some things out is a no-brainer.

Final grade: C

Relievers need to know where the ball is going with at least some modicum of plan beforehand. Alvarado was not one of these men, hence the increase in cardiac events around the end of a Phillies game. He shouldn’t be trusted any time soon with a high leverage situation, but if the team can help him figure out some things to help him improve his control and command, they might have Aroldis Chapman 2.0 on their hands.

That’s a valuable thing to have.