In the movies, there’s always that one background character who’s got such an interesting storyline you can’t help but focus on them. While the protagonist is on some wild life-changing journey, the side character is silently fighting their own battles and making their own progress. And in the end, the protagonist needs that side character to complete their quest. Think: Jim Craig in Miracle, Marla Hooch in A League of Their Own, or... Mushu in Mulan.
It’s a weird comparison, but Jose Alvarado was that background character for the 2022 Phillies. While the stars of the show were fighting their own battles (Harper’s injuries, Segura and Realmuto’s quests to finally reach the playoffs, the entire infield’s rivalry with playing defense, etc.) Alvarado was in the background on his own journey. Cast off to Lehigh Valley in May like an actor without a speaking role, Alvarado completed his character arc in silence and returned to the Majors on a mission to be the star of his own storyline.
And be a star, he did.
2022 stats: 59 G, 51.0 IP, 38 H, 21 R (18 ER), 81 K, 24 BB, 3.18 ERA (129 ERA+), 1.0 WAR
In the final few months of the regular season and throughout the playoffs, not only was Alvarado one of the best relievers in the Phillies’ bullpen, he was also one of the best in baseball. After coming back from his time with the Iron Pigs in June he was by and far the team’s best reliever and, when partnered with Seranthony Dominguez, became half of one of the more effective one-two relief punches early in the playoffs. The major difference was in the success of his cutter, which he was throwing both harder and with more accuracy.
5 World Series pitches with over a 50% Whiff Rate (reg season):— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 26, 2022
5. Bryan Abreu's Slider (51.3%)
4. Ryan Pressly's Slider (51.7%)
3. Hector Neris's Splitter (52.4%)
2. José Alvarado's Cutter (55.7%)
1. Seranthony Domínguez's Slider (57.1%) pic.twitter.com/BdvjSLeffU
José Alvarado, 101mph Fastball and 95mph Cutter, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 29, 2022
Good luck. pic.twitter.com/TKETCUlmz4
In his 17 appearances prior to being sent to Lehigh Valley on May 27, Alvarado was the undignified owner of a 7.62 ERA and looked like he was headed for more of the same “consistently inconsistent” production we’ve all come to expect from him. He was so bad that if it wasn’t for his minor league options, it’s likely Alvarado would have been gone entirely rather than sent to the minors.
Alvarado is in the final year of arbitration and is projected to make about $4 million in 2023. His future with the Phillies beyond that is an interesting dilemma. It’s hard to argue that Alvarado wasn’t an integral part of this Cinderella story playoff run, and it would be great to lock in one of the top two bullpen arms for longer than one year. But the Phillies might not have a lot of salary wiggle room if they add high-quality free agents to address their obvious needs. And if Alvarado’s 2023 is in line with the second half of his 2022 season, he might be out of their price range once he hits free agency. Regardless of what they spend elsewhere, if I’m Dombrowski, I’d look to extend Alvarado now and not wait until next winter.