Henderson Alvarez Dominates Rays, Longoria- a Pitch fx Analysis


I think Henderson Alvarez is interesting to watch to pitch because unlike Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi or many other power pitchers, he can’t blow hitters away with his stuff. He doesn’t have 100 MPH heat or a knee-buckling curveball. Alvarez functions primarily as a sinker/slider groundball pitcher who’s bread and butter is to induce groundouts and when necessary double plays.

Alvarez pitched a complete game 8 hit shutout last night. What made this performance even more impressive was that Alvarez did so without walking a batter. His amazing command of his pitches along with three well timed double plays meant that Alvarez faced 30 batter only 3 more than the minimum.  Alvarez’ economy of pitches throwing a complete game while only throwing 88 pitches is another feat to be taken away from last night’s start.

Alvarez finished off his night by throwing 16 pitches in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings last night.

Pitch F/X analysis is grounded in the simple idea that certain pitches are expected to be thrown at certain speeds in certain parts of the strike zone. Each pitch’s horizontal and vertical movement as well as speed determine its kind. Pitch f/x registers three main kinds of pitches “hard,” breaking” and “change.”  The chart below shows the primary pitches recognized by the pitch f/x system.

Splitters/sinkers are thrown in the general area of a two-seam fastball and one can look deceivingly like the other.Alvarez usually features a sinker, fastball, slider mix with the occasional changeup but tonight for whaterver reason the pitch f/x system read Alvarez’ sinkers as two-seamers and that simple fact might have contributed to his success.

Below is a graph of all the pitches thrown by Alvarez and their pitch type.

As a sinker-slider pitcher usually does Alvarez worked down and away from Rays hitters.  Both the two-seamer and the slider were working well and had good bite. Allowing a pitcher that usually works on the basis of working inside-outside to have more “verticality” to his approach.  The ability to throw a good slider with bite to it is imperative to keeping hitters off-balance and being able to work other parts of the strike zone.

The two charts above show the correlation between pitch selection and the results of the at-bats.  Most balls that have the movement  of the two-seamer went for ground outs or outs, the slider was similarly effective.  Alvarez’ straight fastball  was his worst pitch getting no whiffs with it and it was the pitch that Kiermaier hit for the triple.

I think at this point it is easy to make some general conclusions about why and how Henderson Alvarez is effective.

1. When he throws strikes he is more effective than when he is wild. (Duh) This might might be common wisdom but it is particularly important for pitchers that pitch to contact, if they are able to throw more strikes they are more likely to get outs.

2. When he keeps the ball down he is more successful. That is usually a big challenge for young sinkerball pitchers actually keeping the ball down. It is about mechanics, confidence and command. If he has all three going at once he can dominant as he was tonight or to close last season against the Tigers.

3. He is not a strikeout pitcher and don’t  expect him to become one. Simply put he is at his best when he can keep hitters off balance by exploiting the late brake of his two-seamer/sinker and its similarity to the four seam fastball. The slider is not much of a weapon just a  second option to put hitters away late in the count.

4. He is at his best when he is efficient. His longest at bat last night was six pitches. If he is able to get the batter to hit the ball in play. It will more likely than not  be a groundball which the Marlins infield will be able to care off.

These four ingredients were clicking and Alvarez was able to exploit them and take the Marlins to a victory against their cross-state rivals.