What are your favorite stats in baseball? There are plenty of people who can name the all-time record for home runs, RBI, hits, etc., but what about those funky stats that everyone loves to forget, those ones that happened so long ago, no one will touch them. For me, it’s anything from the Deadball Era where pitchers were superhuman, able to throw near 400 innings per season, completed every single game they started and took every decision they were in.
That means, for me, my favorite is Cy Young’s 511 career wins. No one is ever going to get near that record. It’s the one of only a handful of numbers in professional sports that one can more or less engrave in stone as it simply will not be topped, no matter how hard someone tries (not that anyone should, save your arms!) But these rate stats that are being posted today, boy do they look like they’ll be pretty tough to beat.
Now, I’m a simple man. When it comes to valuing relievers, a lot of people who digest the game point to a pitcher’s strikeouts per nine (K/9) as a measure of dominance. Reflect back to any broadcast you saw during Aroldis Chapman’s heyday and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Watching him post K/9 numbers that approached 20 was something to behold. These numbers have crept upwards in the years where relief pitching has become a dominant aspect of the game, but it just feels a bit off to me. Scroll through the list of highest K/9 in a season with a minimum of 60 innings pitched, you won’t find a starter until Jacob deGrom in 2021 and 2022, 32 names into the list. Of course the dominant relievers are going to post higher K/9 numbers than a starter! That makes me pivot to strikeout rate as a more accurate way to tell which pitchers are the best at striking out batters. It shows how often the outs they record are due to their own accord. Using the same parameters as before, you’ll find deGrom’s 2021 season show up 6th among all pitchers when he struck out 42.1% (!) of hitters he faced over fifteen starts. Does this tell us anything useful? Well, no, not really, just that relievers are better at striking out hitters as the more singular way of getting outs since they have need to conserve their stuff as a starter does.
But it does let me talk about Jose Alvarado’s start to the 2023 season!
Let’s take a look at his season thus far. He’s had four appearances, throwing an inning each time. In those four appearances:
- Of the twelve outs needed to get through those four innings, eleven have been strikeouts
- He’s allowed one hit
- He’s thrown 66 pitches. Of those 66 pitches, 14 of them are swinging strikes
- His current, as of Monday, FIP is in the negatives (-2.10)
The obscene nature with which Alvarado is pitching is defying expectations. His turnaround in the middle of last season was well documented, but this is something a bit different. The Rays knew what they had in Alvarado when they traded him, but they also had a roster crunch at the time and maybe didn’t believe they could harness his stuff. The Phillies patiently kept working with him to do just that, but it took a midseason demotion and a heavier focus on his working with a mental skills coach to get him to the dominant form he took on last year. This year, he’s gone to another level to begin the season.
Jose Alvarado has faced 13 batter and struck out 11 of them. pic.twitter.com/QK0cp6bymy— Absolutely Hammered (@AH_Pod) April 9, 2023
Looking at what he’s done so far means dancing with the small sample size devil, but as they say, that’s where the details are. His Baseball Savant page has more red in it than an electoral college map of the 1984 election.
And all of that is has happened without a noticeable change to his repertoire to begin the season. He’s thrown the cutter a fraction less than he did last year, the sinker a fraction more....and that’s it. We heard whispers of his tinkering with a curveball in the spring, but so far, there hasn’t been one registered by Savant.
Not that he’s needed one.
The movement on his stuff is basically the same, so it just looks like a case of where he’s putting the pitches when he throws them.
Most of the pitches he’s thrown so far have been put into unhittable locations. Think about the bulk of his cutters and where they are located at. Unless you as a hitter know that a cutter is coming and can time it perfectly, that pitch is either moving away from you to the down/away spot as a left handed hitter, or boring into your back knee as a right handed hitter, traveling at 93 miles per hour. That’s incredible.
Will this all last? Probably not. We’ve seen ample evidence that Alvarado’s control can disappear in an instant. He can go long periods without being able to find the strike zone, rendering him near unpitchable in anything by the lowest leverage situations. That version of Alvarado seems to be a thing of the past. The new, improved version of Alvarado, if this is what he is, might be the best left handed reliever in the game right now.