Nine starts into the 2023 season many Miami Marlin fans are wondering what happened to their Cy Young Award winning pitcher from last season, Sandy Alcantara.
Simply put, Sandy Alcantara's numbers aren't close to those of 2022
Nine starts in Alcantara is 1-5 with a 5.05 ERA, compared to last season when Alcantara was 14-9 with 2.28 ERA, won the Cy Young and was a top 10 finisher in the MVP race.
Alcantara is actually striking out more batters per 9 innings than last year and his fastball is still humming at 97.9 after averaging 98.0 in last year's campaign.
It's a little mystifying at first, as you wouldn't expect such a slow start from someone who 1.99 ERA in his first 10 starts of 2022.
Digging a little deeper shows that Alcantara is using the four-seam fastball a little more frequently than last season and the changeup a little less, but nothing substantial.
The biggest change I notice is the use of the changeup, which while thrown a little less overall, is being used a lot more against right-handed batters than was the case in 2022 and it's getting mashed.
In 2022 opponents batted .145 and slugged .194 off the pitch, which only 24% of were thrown against right-handers. This season that number has ballooned to 34% and batters are hitting .333 and slugging .392 on change-ups from Alcantara.
Another concern has to be Alcantara's increase in walks, from 2.0 per 9 innings last season to 2.7 this season. While that doesn't sound like a big increase, it works out to a 35% increase year over year.
Friday's start against the Giants shows just how an increase in walks and a little bit of bad luck can combine to cause a good start to snowball into another loss.
Alcantara walked Lamont Wade, Jr. to start off the 6th, then Thairo Estrada was credited with a single when he hit a changeup 2 feet, 60.8 MPH and with a -58 degree launch angle, that Alcantara fielded and thew wildly allowing the runners to move to second and third with no outs.
In effect, the inning, and game, were changed because Alcantara made such a good pitch that Estrada couldn't hit it hard enough (and Alcantara made an error).
But we should also recognize that 2022 could have been an outlier for Alcantara and one that may never be repeated.
Prior to 2022, Alcantara had a 20-34 lifetime record and 3.49 ERA. Better than this season, but nowhere near his Cy Young numbers.
"Career years" happen all the time in sports, especially in baseball. Is that what 2022 was for Sandy Alcantara?
The best in the sport dominate for years, year after year. Verlander, Cole, Kershaw, Scherzer.
It appears something has changed in the way Alcantara pitches (more changeups to right-handed batters), he's had some bad luck and maybe last season was an outlier.
If the Marlins are going to contend for the playoffs, they're going to need Alcantara to pitch better and odds are that he will, he's not a 5.05 ERA pitcher as his 3.59 FIP indicates.
I just wouldn't expect him to pitch as well as he did in 2022.