Henderson Alvarez Masterful No-Hitter- a Pitch F/X analysis


Sep 29, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez (right) celebrates with teammate left fielder Juan Pierre (left) after throwing a no-hitter to defeat the Detroit Tigers 1-0 at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday’s performance by Henderson Alvarez is what makes me love baseball. In a meaningless game, the last game of the season no less, against an opponent guaranteed to go to the postseason, he goes out and throws a no hitter. Alvarez has great stuff but his big problem has been throwing his pitches for strikes. What he did yesterday was throw strikes. In 9 innings Alvarez threw 99 pitches, 66 of them for strikes. Pitching a complete game on 99 pitches is impressive, the fact it turned out to be a no hitter makes it doubly so. Alvarez faced 3 more than the minimum, with a walk to Andy Dirks, a predictable Prince Fielder HBP and Jose Iglesias reached on an Adeiny Hechavarria error. That means that Alvarez got 30 batters out in 99 pitches; what made it possible was that he only struck 4 Tigers in the process.

The charts below show the pitch value and the location and pitch types thrown by Alvarez yesterday afternoon. Alvarez has a reputation as being a sinker/slider type pitcher. Unsurprisingly his two most effective pitches yesterday’s game were the sinker and the slider. If you look at the chart Alvarez was able to keep those pitches down in the zone. By keeping those sliders, changeups and sinkers down in the zone Alvarez was able to get a 58.33% groundball percentage.

Pitch TypeAvg SpeedMax SpeedAvg H-BreakAvg V-BreakCountStrikes / %Whiffs / %SNIPs / %Linear Weights
FA (Fastball)95.7597.72-2.869.28128 / 66.67%2 / 16.67%7 / 63.64%-0.4229
SI (Sinker)94.9096.53-8.065.675235 / 67.31%3 / 5.77%19 / 52.78%-4.2172
CH (Changeup)90.5691.56-6.436.2095 / 55.56%0 / 0.00%2 / 33.33%-0.6716
SL (Slider)81.6784.174.88-3.342217 / 77.27%2 / 9.09%13 / 72.22%-1.4265
CU (Curveball)69.3373.785.77-2.5430 / 0.00%0 / 0.00%0 / 0.00%0.4195
FC (Cutter)89.00891.244.6211 / 100.00%0 / 0.00%1 / 100.00%-0.0624

Which isn’t even the highest groundball percentage for Alvarez this year, but it was still key to his performance.

I think it is very hard to pinpoint one reason a pitcher was able to actually throw a no hitter. Being able to throw your primary and secondary pitches for strikes is the key to success regardless and Alvarez was clearly able to this during yesterday’s game. Although the Tigers didn’t swing-and-miss at many of Alvarez’ pitches he got them to swing at a bad pitches outside of the zone. For the no-hitter Alvarez only threw 59.60% of his pitches in the zone and yet threw 66 strikes. If that isn’t significant I don’t know what is. The chart below shows the distribution of pitches inside and outside of the zone as the game went on.

Alvarez was able to exploit the Tiger’s impatience or more accurately their approach against them. Getting the Tigers to swing at many bad pitches outside of the zone.

I want to end on less of a technical note and more of an emotional one. 2013 has been a very hard for the Marlins and their fans. We lost 100 games and at times the team seemed entirely over-matched. This was to be expected as the guys are young and learning how to be Major League players. The pitching has been a constant bright spot, the explosion of Jose Fernandez, the resurgence of Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi’s rise and finally the emergence of Henderson Alvarez as a reliable starter. The no-hitter was a microcosm of the season, the offense struggled but the pitchers showed how good they can be. Alvarez ultimately has showed that the Marlins rotation isn’t built on potential it is actually ready to succeed. Now the offense must catch up, we’ll see how that goes in 2014 and beyond.