Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
If Henderson Alvarez develops a change-up that he can use as an effective strikeout pitch, he could be the best pitcher in baseball. Discuss.



Polished beyond his Years | 69 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
greenfrog - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 11:35 AM EDT (#255846) #
Greg Maddux BB/9 IP (career): 1.8

Roy Halladay BB/9 IP (career): 1.9

Cliff Lee BB/9 IP (career): 2.1

Henderson Alvarez BB/9 IP (career - 105 IP): 1.5
92-93 - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 11:36 AM EDT (#255847) #
It's interesting, because when Alvarez came up all he had was a fastball/change and he needed to develop a breaking ball. It's possible the coaching staff is emphasizing that he works on his slider in the early going, and that we'll see the changeup:slider ratio normalize to last year's levels as the season progresses.
TJ Caino - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 11:54 AM EDT (#255848) #
In 2009 and 2010 he was rated by BA as having the best change up in the Jays system as well as in the MWL and FSL respectively.

(Best fastball in the Eastern League in 2011, Best Control in Jays System in 2009).
uglyone - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:01 PM EDT (#255849) #
The 2seamer and change both look like K pitches to me....if he was willing to throw them down out of the zone. but he seems perfectly content to throw them in the strike zone, knowing that hitters have a devil of a time making any solid contact on them. We'll see if he's forced to adjust but so far so good.

either way, is this the best start to a jays' hurler's career.....ever?
robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:07 PM EDT (#255851) #
either way, is this the best start to a jays' hurler's career.....ever?

I've not done any research about that but going by memory, I'd say Juan Guzman is pretty close to the standard bearer in this regard.
DiscoDave - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:22 PM EDT (#255852) #
I have to agree. At least in the time I've been aware ('87 & later) of the Jays, Guzman has had the best career start I've seen.

A case could be made for Stieb, but I didn't witness it, so I won't try to make it.
Mylegacy - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:25 PM EDT (#255853) #
My wife and I refer to Mr Alvarez as, "our little Henderson." She has also referred to him as a "funny little goat." I shan't tell you the nicknames she has for me - the mind boggles.

To my untrained eye - HA throws a pitch I don't believe I've ever seen. It's a form of fastball - I say that because it's bloody fast - to a right handed batter it would appear to come in with a corkscrew motion. I swear - the thing actually starts out straight, seems to roll over (like a jet fighter making a roll) and finishes up in the catchers glove for a strike - all while the batter stares at it with a decidedly - WTF? - look on his face.

Romero - the near Ace - leader of the pack. Morrow - the strikeout phenom learning to become an Ace. Alvarez - the world's best calm and disciplined advertisement for chewing three pounds of gum each inning. Drabek - a magic arm - learning from his peers to become a monster. Hutchison - the kid who's just a tick short of the stuff of his peers - but who obviously has shown in his short career an otherworldly control and command.

And then - deep in the minors there lurks a gaggle of little Jay birds. Sanchez, Syndergaard, Nicolino and Norris - to name two braces (OK - I know that technically a "brace" is usually a "male" and a "female" bird - but none of you ass*oles know that - right?).

I know winning is EVERYTHING. But, for me, I'm just enjoying watching our little birds learn to master their wings and eventually master their universe. This reminds me SO MUCH of the teams 1982 - 1984 years. I gotta buy me a few more bottles of scotch. Just in case I get too buy watching the team(s) and forget to get to the liquor store.

TJ Caino - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:44 PM EDT (#255854) #
brace yourselves, a sick rotation is comming.
Anders - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 12:57 PM EDT (#255855) #
If Henderson Alvarez develops a change-up that he can use as an effective strikeout pitch, he could be the best pitcher in baseball. Discuss.

As mentioned, Alvarez already throws a good change-up. He lacks an effective slider.

greenfrog - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:00 PM EDT (#255856) #
Juan Guzman was dominant when he came up in 1991 and 1992 (ERA+ of 142 and 154 his first two years) and subsequently had several very good years (in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 1999). So far Alvarez has a career ERA+ of 133.

However, Guzman and Alvarez are two very different pitchers (for one thing, Guzman walked 4.0 batters per nine innings in his career, compared to Alvarez's 1.5). The wonderful thing about Alvarez's control combined with his ground ball tendencies - remarkable at such a young age - is that he's so efficient, which will presumably help protect his arm and his team's bullpen.
robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:02 PM EDT (#255857) #
As mentioned, Alvarez already throws a good change-up. He lacks an effective slider.

This may be, but it doesn't seem to be a strikeout pitch (in the mode of Johan and Pedro). His strikeout rates are very low, even in the minors, given his above average stuff. He won't be the best pitcher in baseball averaging less than 5k per 9 IP, I promise you that. And I really think he has that potential. He has phenomenal control, great movement, a good fastball, emotional control (seemingly).

He has EVERYTHING except that strikeout pitch.
robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:06 PM EDT (#255858) #
He won't be the best pitcher in baseball averaging less than 5k per 9 IP, I promise you that.

I mean of course, he won't be the best, if he continues to average less than 5k per 9. He may already be the best low strikeout pitcher in baseball.
greenfrog - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:16 PM EDT (#255859) #
I don't see Alvarez as necessarily becoming the best pitcher in baseball, but rather a very consistent, effective and efficient AL East starting pitcher. In my view, his lack of a strikeout pitch may be making him a *better* pitcher (as opposed to a thrower). It may be that not having a wipeout slider (like Santos's, say) has forced him to develop a more workmanlike approach based on relentlessly throwing strikes, changing speeds, and inducing groundballs.

It's not as sexy as the "big arm" approach of a Guzman or Santos, but dang if it doesn't get the job done.
ayjackson - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:25 PM EDT (#255860) #
Alvarez had seven swinging strikes on fastballs last night, which is pretty awesome when they know it's coming.  He threw 17 sliders (mostly lifeless ones) and 6 changeups, but had no swinging strikes on them.
robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:48 PM EDT (#255861) #
I don't see Alvarez as necessarily becoming the best pitcher in baseball, but rather a very consistent, effective and efficient AL East starting pitcher.

Wouldn't you like to see him try? There aren't that many pitchers around with the potential to do it - he's one of them.
Mike Green - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 01:59 PM EDT (#255862) #
I have to pay attention to Alvarez' defensive abilities.  He leads the league in pitcher assists and DRS says that he has been very good over his career to date (in a small sample).  He doesn't catch your eye positively like Shaun Marcum or Ricky Romero, but I don't remember ever thinking that he missed a ball he should have had. 

Alvarez can be one of the top 2 or 3 pitchers in the league (of the Halladay/Maddux type) if he strikes out 6-7 per nine.  That certainly seems to be possible, but I would venture a guess that if it does happen, it won't be for a year or two.  For now, having just turned 22, he's probably looking at pitching quietly efficient games of 6-7 innings and 90-100 pitches.

Mike Green - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:11 PM EDT (#255863) #
The AL East is laying waste to the rest of the league, so far.  It will be interesting to see how the division does in interleague play.  While I do not think the O's and Rays are as good as their records, the Yankees and Red Sox are undoubtedly much better than their records. 
uglyone - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:29 PM EDT (#255865) #
I decided to do a wee bit of research before I headed out to enjoy this gorgeous sunny day...but I'm going to limit this to a comparison between only Alvarez and the one contender named so far for "best start ever for a Jays' hurler"....Juan Guzman.

Guzman was a rookie in 1991....he was 24 years old that year, but given his october birthday he was more appropriately described as 24.5 years old when he first started. Alvarez, with his April birthday, was a true 21yrs old when he debuted, so he was a full 3.5 years younger than Guzman when he started his career. Quite a big difference I think.

Here's how each did in their first 16 starts of their careers:

J.Guzman: 16gs, 93.1ip, 5.8ip/gs, 68h, 46bb, 82k, 33er, 7.9k/9, 4.4bb/9, 1.8k/bb, 1.22whip, 3.18era
H.Alvarez: 16gs, 105.0ip, 6.6ip/gs, 97h, 18bb, 52k, 38er, 4.5k/9, 1.5bb/9, 2.9k/bb, 1.10whip, 3.26era

In spite of being 3.5 years younger, Alvarez has managed to average near 1 full inning more per start than guzman had to this point. Their lines are similarly impressive, though.

With similarly impressive rate numbers, I've got to give a solid edge to Alvarez due to Age and IP, so i think Alvarez wins this battle of "best start to a Jays' hurler's career".

Who's the next contender?

greenfrog - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:31 PM EDT (#255866) #
Alvarez definitely has the potential to be one of the elite starters in the game, but when you're talking about top 2 or 3...you're getting into heady territory (e.g., Verlander, Sabathia, Hernandez, Halladay, Kershaw). Could happen, but those guys are unbelievable, dominant pitchers and I don't toss around those comps lightly.

Alvarez doesn't have to produce 6 - 8 WAR annually to be a tremendously valuable player. He could be a high-performing, durable pitcher who is 3 - 5 WAR a year (Cain/Garza/Hamels/Shields/Haren territory) and that would still be very, very good. Few pitchers reach even that second tier of excellence.
92-93 - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:34 PM EDT (#255867) #

Ashby was amazed by Alvarez's defense last night and referred to him as "Skates".

Current BlueJays hitters have a career .288/.382/.530 line vs. Angels SP CJ Wilson, and that includes a 1/6 from McCoy & Snider. Let's win tonight. http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/batvspitch/_/id/6311/cj-wilson

sam - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:37 PM EDT (#255868) #
Anders is right. Alvarez is a slider away from being an excellent pitcher, not a changeup. I think he's going to be a dominant contact pitcher, but never upper echelon because he doesn't strike people out. Like last night, when he works that two-seamer down and in on righties they just can't do much with that pitch. I mean when Albert Pujols can't beat you to that spot then you know you've got something special in a fastball.

He needs something that goes away from right handed hitters though to strike people out. Hitters compartmentalize the plate. They say, I'm going to look middle in on something that goes in one general direction. The two-seamer and change-up move in the same direction so hitters can sit on that, yet Alvarez stuff is so heavy and nasty with those two pitches, hitters still have issues. So they might make contact, but never sufficient contact. It's when you get hitters thinking and two sides of the plate or with multiple pitches that do different things that you've got strikeouts. So if he were to start working a cutter or slider, something that moves away from right handed hitters then he might have strikeouts. The slider as it is right now is more of a show me slider before he goes back in with the two-seamer. It lacks depth and bite. He's had so much success with the two-seamer you're probably hesitant to have him throw the slider more, but I'm sure in his side sessions they're working with him to develop that pitch. He's so young and if his body holds up he's going to have a nice career.
tstaddon - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:41 PM EDT (#255869) #
Here's a little pre-season look at Alvarez in-depth:

http://www.therichardandmartin.com/2012/02/29/projecting-henderson-alvarez/

As others have commented, no obvious problems with the changeup here. When he avoids getting too much of the plate, he can be very effective, as evidenced by his quality outings this year and last.

robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 02:59 PM EDT (#255870) #
I don't think of fastball/slider pitchers as potential elite starters - unless the slider is exceptional and breaks out of the zone while appearing to be a strike.

When a starter throws everything "at the same speed" hitters will eventually get locked in. If Alvarez "merely" becomes a fastball/slider pitcher that does not bode well for his future.
Spookie Wookie - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 03:50 PM EDT (#255875) #
According to fangraphs:
 - his changeup and slider are roughly the same speed (85.4 & 84.4, respectively) while his fastballs are well into the 90s.
 - his changeup graded out as by far his best pitch last season, and his slider as below average, but this season the data show the opposite
 - this year he's been significantly more successful against rhb, while last season he was showing a reverse split.  As a rhp, this supports the pitch f/x data suggesting that his breaking ball has been more effective this season.

Now, this is all sss, and depends on the accuracy of pitch f/x in recognizing pitch types.  But so far this season, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of empirical evidence that suggests the slider is the problem. 

I know Keith Law recently stated that Alvarezz needs a strikeout pitch and that he hasn't developed a breaking ball, but let's remember that although he might be more objective than your typical Jays fan, we've seen a lot more of Alvarez than he has and he is probably basing his opinion on, for example, the low K rate this season (again, small sample size) and remembering his pitch f/x data from last season, as well as maybe one not-so-recent New Hampshire start that he saw him in person (or whatever).

I do think of fb/slider pitchers as tending to be elite starters (Stieb, Guidry, etc), although I agree that Alvarez's slider does not look like a strikeout pitch so he doesn't really fit that mold.

In any case, if he does continue to develop and stay healthy a comparison (though not in stature) might be Derek Lowe but with better control, which would be really great.

Hodgie - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 06:34 PM EDT (#255878) #
Two things to consider when trying to project Alvarez. First, I believe he has only been pitching since being converter from third base by the Blue Jays as a 16 year old. In baseball terms he is relatively new to pitching. My 14 year old son has friends that have been pitching longer. Second, and this is very early I know, but I did a quick search for pitchers that had compiled at least a 133 ERA+ through their age 22 seasons with a minimum of 100 IP and I only found 18. Some of the names on the list.....Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Tommy Hanson, Dwight Gooden, Dave Righetti, Mark Prior, Scott Erickson, Burt Hooton, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Kiely, Mark Fidrych.....some very impressive names and some cautionary tales to be sure.
ayjackson - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 06:56 PM EDT (#255879) #

Who's the next contender?

Hopefully in two months we'll be saying it's Hutchison.  Despite the 5-run second inning, I was very impressed by his Texas outing.

TamRa - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 07:46 PM EDT (#255881) #
Was digging around the B-R leader list for K/9 ratios looking for a suitable comparison for Alvarez.

Using these figures for his career so far:

3.26 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, 4.5 k/9


there's Dennis Martinez, from age 23 to 34 his stats were:
3.90, 1.31, 2.7, 4.5

Jim Palmer from age 27 to 36:
2.85, 1.17, 2.8, 4.5

Steve Rogers (career)
3.17, 1.23, 2.8, 5.1

Dave Stieb 21-24
3.53, 1.22, 2.8, 4.2
(might be some interesting harmony here. During the next six years, the hard-working peak of his career, he boosted the K/9 to 6.0 and his BB/9 wet up a bit also, to 3.4 but his WHIP remained constant)
Dave Stieb 31-35
3.56, 1.25, 3.3, 4.7

I think if he could pitch as well as Stieb (absent the 260+ IP totals) we'd all be really happy with him, no matter how that compared to the Verlander's of the league.

In any case, I think that there's a case that it CAN be done (pitch really well while averaging less than 5 K/9 but it's rare enough to make any scout skeptical that the pitcher before him is one of those special guys who can pull it off.

Irrational optimist that I am, I think Alvarez might well be one of those exceptions.
robertdudek - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 07:52 PM EDT (#255882) #
TamRa,

All those guys pitched in eras in which strikeouts were less common or far less common than they are now

What matters is not absolute k rate, but k rate relative to league.

Richard S.S. - Saturday, May 05 2012 @ 11:12 PM EDT (#255890) #
What a contrast in starts between Drabek and Alvarez. Alvarez had 69 pitches through 7 innings while cruising to his complete game shutout. Then Drabek wakes the sleeping giant with his tenuous grip on his control exceeded his pitch count alarmingly. Alvarez looks like a finished piece while Drabek is still work-in-progress.
John Northey - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 12:45 AM EDT (#255891) #
Painful game as I was really hoping Farrell would not be a slave to the 100 pitch count and pull Drabek after 5. He was wild and clearly very lucky to get through 5 with just 2 runs. Sigh.

Ah well. With the lack of offence it would've been a loss anyways.
Mike Green - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 09:21 AM EDT (#255895) #
I am puzzled by Farrell's choice of relievers in last night's game.  Frasor needed the work and was a good choice, but Perez and Carreno were the two in the pen who did not need the work.  Villanueva, Cordero and Janssen all need some work hopefully by today's game.  It would have been better if one of them (at least) had the work instead of Carreno.

Managers sometimes have off-days, and you had the feeling that Farrell was on auto-pilot last night.
bpoz - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 09:25 AM EDT (#255897) #
I love this topic robertdudek. Thanks. We get to compare actual results with other great pitchers.

Just staying with good or potential good pitchers as comparison. How do you think he does when he gets in trouble. I know it is a small sample size. But if I remember correctly Morrow's performance faltered when he was in trouble. Steib reacted strongly to errors and umpire calls, and it seemed to distract him. Jimmy Key however never seemed to bat an eye if he had to get an extra out.

John Northey - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 11:05 AM EDT (#255902) #
Young pitchers are challenging to figure out. Interesting to check where Alvarez is right now in Jays history though...
ERA+: tied with Roy Halladay at 133

Starters with ERA+'s better than Alvarez as a Jay (didn't count Downs or Eichhorn as their starts were nightmares then they became great relievers)...
Roger Clemens: 196 (67 starts)
Shawn Hill: 163 (4 starts)
David Cone: 145 (24 starts, 25 games)
Tom Candiotti: 142 (19 starts)
Frank Castillo: 142 (25 games, 24 starts)

A few surprising names there, but only Clemens had a full season's worth of starts.
92-93 - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 02:15 PM EDT (#255906) #
I was less puzzled by the usage and more puzzled by the timing Farrell used to go to his bullpen. It was pretty obvious to everyone that Drabek just didn't have it yesterday, and with an off day tomorrow and a perfectly fresh bullpen I wouldn't have sent Drabek out to start the 6th - that's when the game was lost for me. I understand the argument that Drabek is young and Farrell wants him to work through these things by showing confidence in him, I just don't agree.
greenfrog - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 02:26 PM EDT (#255908) #
Yes, this is probably the main criticism I have of Farrell - waiting too long to long to get an obviously struggling pitcher out of there. I realize it can be a tough call, however. At times the pitcher he's left in has worked out of the jam.
TamRa - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 03:39 PM EDT (#255911) #
"What matters is not absolute k rate, but k rate relative to league."

Why?

Mike Green - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 04:21 PM EDT (#255912) #
"Polished beyond his years" is actually a pretty good description of Hutchison too. 
sam - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 06:14 PM EDT (#255914) #
Pretty frustrating game again today. Edwin hits the ball hard in three previous at-bats and essentially takes off his at-bat in the eighth. Jose Bautista is caught guessing again in the seventh with runners on. Rajai Davis fails to pick up a pop-up and then fails to essentially fall into Erick Aybar when Aybar is trying to "deke" him out. It's one of those baseball plays where Davis could literally cuff Aybar and it would be on Aybar to move. Mental mistakes are starting build-up for Davis. Today was one of those rebound games after last night's debacle that good teams win and show some fight in.
robertdudek - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 06:39 PM EDT (#255915) #
"What matters is not absolute k rate, but k rate relative to league."

Why?


Because your value as a major league pitcher is a function of how well you pitch relative to your peers.
BlueJayWay - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 06:40 PM EDT (#255916) #
Well I'd say the Jays did show "some fight".  They were down 4-1 and made it 4-3 and quasi-threatened a couple times after that.  A couple mental gaffes and some unluck and that was that. 

This team can't afford to slide right back to .500 again.  Kick ass in Oakland and Minnesota.

Dave Till - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 06:41 PM EDT (#255917) #
If I didn't know anything about Henderson Alvarez's age or temperament, his stat lines would contain two huge red flags. The first is his extremely low K rate - 12 strikeouts in 41 innings. That's way, way below the dreaded Michalak Line, and is about the lowest K rate I have ever seen. The other is his HR rate - 6 in 41 innings. The two together, taken out of context, suggest a pitcher with so-so stuff who is getting by with location, but might not get away with it for long.

But Alvarez is unique - from what I've heard, his poise is off the charts. Absolutely no one gets to the big leagues this quickly at his age without first enduring a difficult transition period. Because there's virtually nobody like him, it's difficult to predict what will happen to him.

If we're looking for a candidate for "best pitcher in baseball", I think that Brandon Morrow has a better shot at it than Alvarez. I was startled to discover that Morrow's control has been excellent this year - 8 walks in 41 2/3 innings. His control is even better than Alvarez's. It's way too early to reach conclusions - watch him walk five in his next start and make me look dumb here - but if he can retain command of his fastball and his slider or whatever that is, and be effective with his changeup, I don't see how batters are going to be able to hit him. As I've said before, Morrow has all the good bits of A. J. Burnett without the bad bits - the Jays made a good decision when they gave him his contract.

robertdudek - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 06:53 PM EDT (#255918) #
If we're looking for a candidate for "best pitcher in baseball", I think that Brandon Morrow has a better shot at it than Alvarez.

I see it the opposite way, though they are not far apart in my book. Morrow's control has improved, but his walk rate this year overstates it. Morrow is a lot older and has already lost a bit off his fastball from his rookie fireballing days.

Alvarez is more like a blank canvas right now. He has the pinpoint control, the composure, everything he throws moves, and his raw stuff is only a shade behind Morrow's. He just needs that strikeout pitch and he is instantly a top 5 starting pitcher in this league. Morrow would need to improve a little bit in a number of areas to be that good.
BlueJayWay - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 07:03 PM EDT (#255919) #
"Alvarez is more like a blank canvas right now. He has the pinpoint control, the composure, everything he throws moves, and his raw stuff is only a shade behind Morrow's. He just needs that strikeout pitch and he is instantly a top 5 starting pitcher in this league. Morrow would need to improve a little bit in a number of areas to be that good."

Yeah, but that's the thing.  Based on what you've said here, one can argue that Morrow IS closer, because he already has the strikeout ability.  That's so important.  It's true if Alvarez just had that strikeout pitch he'd be ungodly, but that's MUCH easier said than done imo.
TamRa - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 10:44 PM EDT (#255923) #
"Because your value as a major league pitcher is a function of how well you pitch relative to your peers."

I disagree, within the context of this discussion, in two regards:

1. if the argument is that the offense was so much weaker in those days than now, that would need some statistical support. but even if it's true, I'm not sure it supports the thesis that you can't be an above average pitcher today with a K/9 rate lees than 5. The so-called "post-steroid" era of lower offensive production is relatively new and what worked in the 80's might very well work now.

2. Saying "relative to his peers" means very little. Was success with a K rate that low common in the 80's? If so, then it's that much easier to argue "it can be done" - if not, then those who did so did so relative to THEIR peers.

Also, success is measured "relative to your peers" it's true, but success in a particular statistical sub-set not so much. One can make a ton of money pitching like AJ Burnett with a ton of strikeouts, or one can make a ton of money pitching like Mark Buehrle. The actual success is the measure, not so much the method to that success.

Now, I agree with the use of statistical observations in terms of projecting success, and I do not dissent from the thesis "it is very rare for a pitcher to succeed with a K rate under 5"

What I do dissent from is "it can't be done." Or "no one ever has."
smcs - Sunday, May 06 2012 @ 11:48 PM EDT (#255925) #
Quick-and-dirty: Henderson Alvarez has a career 4.5 K/9. The 2011-12 Toronto Blue Jays starters have a 6.81 K/9.

Dave Stieb, ages 21-24 (1979-1982) had a 4.2 K/9. The 1979-82 Toronto Blue Jays starters had a 4.21 K/9.

Henderson Alvarez has a 1.5 BB/9. 2011-12 Jays starters have a 3.30 BB/9.

Young Dave Stieb had a 2.8 BB/9. 79-82 Jays starters had a 3.52 BB/9 -- highest in the majors.

Problem is that the team stats include the players in question and Dave Stieb averaged 211 IP a year -- 23% of innings pitched by starters -- and Alvarez has tossed 105 IP total -- 11% of innings pitched by starters.

Truth probably is that if Alvarez' BB rate stays where it is, his K rate is fine and he can try to walk the tightrope between dominant and disaster. Hopefully he develops the slider and the change and bucks up his K rate.
Magpie - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 03:33 AM EDT (#255927) #
What matters is not absolute k rate, but k rate relative to league."

Why?

The other reason is because the context matters, and to understand what a pitcher's k rate means you need to first understand that the k rate always reflects the strategy being employed by the hitters of the day. Today, almost every hitter in the game grips the bat down at the end, swings as hard as he can, and accepts that at least one time in seven he's going to strike out. Probably much more often than that. But thirty years ago, every lineup used to have at least a couple of hitters who only struck half that often. And thirty years before that, there were even more of those types of hitters hitters. Pretty well the only guys who were even allowed to strikeout 100 times in a season were the ones hitting at least 30 HRs. (And even those players - people like Mickey Mantle! - would hear endless complaints about all those "wasted" at bats.)

So it's a different context. When Dave Stieb was active, AL hitters didn't strike out nearly as often as they do today. Stieb struck out 5.7 men per 9 in 1985, exactly the same as Alvarez in 2011, 15.4% of the hitters they faced. But Stieb was almost as high above the average 1985 AL pitcher (Ks in 13.6% of PApps) as Alvarez was below the average 2011 AL pitcher (Ks in 18.0% of PApps). The very same figures - 5.7 and 15.4 - that mark what Stieb did better than other pitchers now tell us what Alvarez does worse.

So can Alvarez succeed pitching like this? In the long term - I don't know. He can definitely have some good seasons. Stieb himself had himself slipped below the league average by the end of the 1980s, and was still effective. But it would obviously be preferable if Alvarez could take better advantage of the free outs that the modern hitter offers him. I can't think of too many pitchers, and hardly any right-handers, who made a career out of getting fewer strikeouts than the average guy. Lew Burdette was a long time ago.

What's not clear, to me anyway, is where the floor needs to be. How many outs should a pitcher be expected to get on his own, how many can he be allowed to entrust to his defense. It depends partially on the type of pitcher - obviously, a pitcher who doesn't walk anyone and keeps the ball in the park won't need to strike out as many hitters.

And hey - if defensive shifts have a big impact and become the next rage, we should expect to see fewer hits on balls in play - which means that pitchers who keep the ball in the yard and don't walk hitters will, quite rightly, be the Next Big Thing. And because these types of pitchers won't have as many strikeouts and walks, they won't need to throw as mnay pitches. The games will zip along more quickly, and starting pitchers will be able to go deeper into the game. Which means you won't need to use relief pitchers to work 550 innings in a season. Which in turn means you won't need as many relief pitchers as you need now.

And then we will all live happily ever after, once the widespread use of defensive shifts leads to the end of the seven man bullpen. (That's certainly the silver lining I'm hoping for, as I think widespread defensive shifts will lead to rather boring baseball.)
robertdudek - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 09:46 AM EDT (#255930) #
And hey - if defensive shifts have a big impact and become the next rage, we should expect to see fewer hits on balls in play

If this starts to happen, you can bet there will be an influx of hitters who spray the ball to all fields.

I predict that the tend to more strikeouts will peak in 2012. A relatively new species - the 200 strikeout hitter - is already on the endangered list. It will die out when Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds lose their regular jobs in the coming years.

Getting back to TamRa's question... no matter how you slice it, every baseball stat needs context. This is a bedrock principle of sabrmetric analysis and you can't conduct any serious research without taking account of context.
neurolaw - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 10:23 AM EDT (#255935) #
A lot of Alvarez's current success will come down to BABIP and control. But since we are talking about K-rates, here are some interesting points. Henderson Alvarez has struck out at least 6 per 9 IP throughout his minor league career and struck out 5.65 per 9 IP last season. He had a high K rate in spring. So really for me given his current stuff and command I believe his rate is probably a 5 K per 9 IP.

However his future success will eventually come down to his strike out rate. An interesting point was made in an earlier post which was that he throws his 2 best pitches in the strike zone a lot something that was confirmed by Alvarez himself and John Farrell after his recent outing. I thought Farrell's comments were interesting about Alvarez's K rate. He said, and I am paraphrasing here, that as he matures and realizes that he has full control of the bottom of the strike zone he can elevate his fastball more and get strikeouts that way. And that's something I have thought of when I watched his games. He throws hard enough that if he elevated his fastball, hitters won't catch up to it. Personally I think that this will be a key part of his development.

All in all its hard to figure out where his true ceiling lies. When I watch him pitch I don't believe that his success so far is based on luck which I think is the prevailing theme among a lot of bloggers. He is 22, throws hard, has incredible command of what he throws, induces a lot of weak contact and has an ERA + of 133 through his first 100 innings. That is not to be taken lightly. I think that his 3rd pitch needs to become better, but for me I think the more important part of his development is to learn that he can do more with his 2 best pitches that can induce K's. It will be interesting to watch his development over the next little while.
robertdudek - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 10:23 AM EDT (#255936) #
Based on what you've said here, one can argue that Morrow IS closer, because he already has the strikeout ability

Definitely, one can argue it. It isn't something that can be precisely quantified so there is lots of room for argument.

The biggest factor in favour of Alvarez is that he has many more years in which to find that strikeout pitch than Morrow does to sharpen his command.
Mike Green - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 10:47 AM EDT (#255941) #
Usually pitchers who beat league average BABIPs year after year are power pitchers with good (or better) K rates like Randy Johnson.  Alvarez may be an outlier, as a ground-ball pitcher with very good stuff and an excellent ground-ball defence behind him. 

So far in his career, batters who hit fly balls against Alvarez have a BABIP of .077.  They either hit the ball out of the park or it is caught.  League average is .137.  Some of that may be due to Alvarez' stuff, and some of it is probably luck. 

uglyone - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 11:36 AM EDT (#255947) #
Why you might look past Alvarez' k-rate at the moment (but not forever) is that unlike most other low-K pitchers, Alvarez' stuff is absolutely nasty.

He's got a 4-seamer that goes up to 97mph, he's got a ridiculous hard-moving mid-90s 2-seamer, and he's got a very good changeup. And he's got pinpoint control.

Most low-K guys (like the Litsch/Towers type) you worry about more because they clearly don't have the Stuff to make it seem like they're anything more than lucky, but Alvarez' stuff is really, really nasty.

I honestly think a good comparison here is none other than Roy Halladay. He's minor league K-rates, and his K-rates in his first year or two in the bigs, were very similar to Alvarez' - but like Alvarez, Halladay had nasty hard, moving pitches that made you look past the low K-rate at that point.

Of course Halladay is a helluva guy to try and compare anyone to, and Halladay arguably had more quality pitches in his arsenal at this point than Alvarez does, but he's the first comparison of this type that comes to mind as a Jays' fan. And note of course that Alvarez' off-the-charts control is better than Halladay's was at that point, too.

MILB

R.Halladay (18-21): 493.2ip, 5.9k/9, 3.3bb/9
H.Alvarez (17-21): 405.0ip, 6.5k/9, 1.7bb/9

First 2yrs MLB

R.Halladay (21-22): 163.1ip, 5.2k/9, 4.5bb/9
H.Alvarez (21-22): 105.0ip, 4.5k/9, 1.5bb/9


Now Halladay would never have become the pitcher he became if he didn't re-invent himself, and in particular suddenly turn himself into a superb control guy much like Alvarez is already, so these Halladay numbers aren't exactly the numbers that made him what he was - but it is a good example of a guy whose pure stuff prevented his early career low K-rates from being a sign of certain regression.
greenfrog - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 12:10 PM EDT (#255948) #
I can see the Doc comparison up to a point (great sinker, great control/command, groundball tendencies, good composure and feel for pitching). But it should be noted that Doc eventually developed what many considered to be the best curveball in the league ("filthy" was a typical adjective). So Alvarez has some work to do on that front. But, as noted, he is still very young.
Ryan Day - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 12:11 PM EDT (#255949) #
Who's the better imaginary pitcher - Henderson Alvarez with a great strikeout pitch, or Kyle Drabek with consistent command of the strike zone?

Personally, I'd prefer Shaun Marcum with another 5-10 mph on his fastball, but that's slightly further away from reality than the other two examples.
John Northey - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 02:09 PM EDT (#255955) #
Well, if we are adding control and mph to a pitcher then add 50 mph to my fastball and add control as well then I'd be the ideal #5 starter (well, shave about 20 years off my age too, but I am younger than Jamie Moyer).

In the end with players the best thing is to see what you have and then see what others with similar stats have done. If you have extra info like type of pitches and body type then you can make more accurate predictions but even then there are limits.

Pitchers are a nightmare to project. For every Randy Johnson (flamethrower who finds control) there are dozens (if not hundreds) of burn outs. For every Jamie Moyer (5 years under 5 K/9, just once over 6.1, cracked 6 once a decade) there are many more Gustavo Chacin's.

Best to see what they are doing, check the components (BB rate, K rate, HR rate) and cross your fingers. Some things can happen (improve BB rate) others won't (increase MPH on fastball after age 25 approx). Won't stop us from dreaming though :)
neurolaw - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 02:46 PM EDT (#255956) #
I agree with uglyone's comparison of Roy Halladay. Another comparison that comes to my mind is Kevin Brown who had a power sinker and very mediocre strike out number albeit at a time where strikeouts were not as common. His K-rate in his 1989-1991 seasons were between 4.1-4.9 which began to steadily increase as he gained experience. Kevin Brown also had low K rates in the minor leagues in the 5ish range. However his control early in his career was nowhere near as good as Henderson's.
robertdudek - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 04:39 PM EDT (#255960) #
Who's the better imaginary pitcher - Henderson Alvarez with a great strikeout pitch, or Kyle Drabek with consistent command of the strike zone?

Is this a real question? Pitcher number 1 would be akin to Pedro Martinez in his prime; pitcher number two would be like Roy Halladay with slightly worse command.

I know which one I'd pick.
robertdudek - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 04:42 PM EDT (#255961) #
If Henderson Alvarez develops a change-up that he can use as an effective strikeout pitch, he could be the best pitcher in baseball. Discuss.

Yes, of course. And if he develops a batting stance that he can use to hit home runs, he could be the best hitter in baseball.

After all, we know that it is impossible for a pitcher to develop/refine a pitch such that his K rate goes up significantly (sarcasm).

Spifficus - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 04:59 PM EDT (#255965) #

Is this a real question? Pitcher number 1 would be akin to Pedro Martinez in his prime;

Wouldn't that be Pitcher #1 with an additional 2 strikeout pitches (on top of the 1 he's already being spotted)? Pedro missed bats regularly with his fastball, slider and changeup.

robertdudek - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 06:12 PM EDT (#255971) #
Ask yourself how often he would miss bats with his fastball and slider if the great change didn't exist.
Spifficus - Monday, May 07 2012 @ 06:25 PM EDT (#255972) #
Oh, I know it's a combination package, but all three pitches were very highly regarded as swing-and-miss pitches individually (I can't remember his curve one way or the other).
TJ Caino - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 12:33 AM EDT (#255980) #
K/9 might slightly under report Alvarez' strike out abilities. My impression is that he has been more efficient, and consequently, faced less batters per nine innings than the common young pitcher in their first dozen or so starts.

K/PA would be more accurate and possibly more favourable to Henderson.
TJ Caino - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 12:40 AM EDT (#255982) #
Alvarez has a 1.1 career WHIP listed on ESPN.

A 1.3 WHIP and the same K/PA would have a materially higher K/9.
92-93 - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 12:56 AM EDT (#255983) #
I understand the point you're trying to make, but the only starters in MLB with a lower swinging strike % than Alvarez are Bartolo Colon and Kevin Correia.
Matthew E - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 09:06 AM EDT (#255986) #
After all, we know that it is impossible for a pitcher to develop/refine a pitch such that his K rate goes up significantly (sarcasm).


Impossible, no; but surely it's rare enough that it's frivolous to say, "all he needs to do is this." Half the pitchers in baseball, you could say the same thing about them: just develop a strikeout pitch! Why didn't they think of that?! Never read Batter's Box, I guess.
Matthew E - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 09:31 AM EDT (#255988) #
Holy smoke; how did my comment come out so small? Never saw that before.
bpoz - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 09:53 AM EDT (#255989) #
Halladay, if I remember correctly could throw a complete game in under 100 pitches. Alvarez, maybe.
Mike Green - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 10:20 AM EDT (#255990) #
Holy smoke; how did my comment come out so small? Never saw that before.

You took the wrong pill.  Don't worry.  It happens to ballplayers all the time.
uglyone - Tuesday, May 08 2012 @ 02:19 PM EDT (#255996) #
I think that's a good point by TJ there.

K% is probably a much better stat to use than K/9.

Alvarez' 7.2K% is way, way too low this year, but wasn't as bad as his K/9 made it look last year.

There were 89 starting pitchers who threw at least 50ip in the AL last year, Alvarez ranked 52nd in K% at 15.4

The other guys between 14-17% K-rates last year were:

C.Buchholz 17.0% (41st of 89)
D.Fister 16.7
A.Cobb 16.5
M.Harrison 16.5
B.Cecil 16.4
B.Duensing 16.3
T.Cahill 16.3
A.Simon 16.2
C.Tillman 16.0
D.Huff 15.9
C.Carrasco 15.9
H.Alvarez 15.4 (52nd of 89)
L.Hochevar 15.3
F.Garcia 15.3
J.Vargas 15.3
J.Hellickson 15.1
B.Chen 14.8
Z.Britton 14.6
J.Lackey 14.5
J.Guthrie 14.5
K.Drabek 14.3
P.Hughes 14.2
I.Nova 14.0 (63rd of 89)

That's with Alvarez being a 21 year old rookie, where he ranked close to the middle of the pack in K% amongst all AL SP with 50+ip.

Now that being said, median average doesn't tell the whole tale here, as his 15.4% is much closer to the bottom guys on the list (around 10%) than the top guys on the list ( around 25%).

Alvarez is going to want to get that number up at least around 18% I think, and his 7.2% this year is not going to hack it at all.
Polished beyond his Years | 69 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.