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2021 season preview: Jose Alvarado

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The young lefty has the big arm the team has lacked in recent seasons

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the Phillies suffered through one of the worst seasons on record for a bullpen, they knew that they could not do the same in the following the season. Even with the pending free agencies of J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius hanging over the heads of the decisionmakers, there was no way that they could avoid remaking the bullpen as a unit. Once they made a decision on who would actually be rebuilding the team by hiring Dave Dombrowski, they then set about the arduous task by acquiring Jose Alvarado in a three-way deal with Tampa Bay and Los Angeles.

Now, Alvarado will enter 2021 with some expectations on his shoulders. He’ll be expected to harness the stuff that he has and become a late inning weapon for Joe Girardi to utilize in high leverage situations.

What could go right in 2021

Remember this?

And this.

These two pitches are the prime examples of why the team was willing to invest a little bit in Alvarado. This the kind of stuff he possesses that they haven’t had from a relief pitcher in some time.

The issue for Alvarado is his injuries last year took away his stuff. Take a look at the difference in what he was throwing in 2020 as compared to what he did the past.

There is a lot of blue on this list, meaning his stuff wasn’t moving as well compared to the rest of the league. Doesn’t mean it’s not good stuff because it is. What I wanted to look at a little more closely was the cutter.

2020 saw him abandon the four-seam fastball. Statcast doesn’t have him throwing one at all, but with only nine innings of work it’s possible they missed one or two. That’s negligible though since we can see that his cutter as Statcast defines it has become his second most favored pitch. There seemed to be a bit of lost feel in 2020 since it was slower and didn’t move as much as it did in the past. It became much more hittable last year as evidenced by this chart.

The Alvarado cutter

Stat 2019 2020
Stat 2019 2020
xBA 0.080 0.314
xSLG 0.080 0.360
xwOBA 0.273 0.390
Whiff% 61.4% 42.9%
Put-away% 35.2% 25.0%

Do we need to take into account the injury and smaller sample size of the pitch? Absolutely, but this is why the Rays were probably eager to get rid of him. They might have seen his injury and decline in stuff as a harbinger of doom, something the Phillies saw and possibly recognized a bounce back candidate.

The most optimal outcome for Alvarado in 2021 would be health. That health would lead to better stuff and would see the team get a late inning monster that they have not had from the left side in some time.

What could go wrong in 2021

You know what sucks? Shoulder injuries. Last year, Alvarado lost a lot of time, throwing only nine innings due to a shoulder injury that sapped his velocity, knocking it down from an average of 98 on his power sinker to a tick above 96. Yes, that’s still mid to upper nineties, but it does make a big difference. Couple that with his missing time for an injury in 2019 to his oblique and you have a player getting the “injury prone” label and getting moved to another team, something that happened to Alvarado.

The biggest thing that could go wrong for him this season would be a repeat of his getting injured again. If he is unable to shake the shoulder issues and needs to miss an extended amount of time, the team will be without a true left-handed weapon in their bullpen that is almost equally effective against right handed hitters as he is against lefties.