Sandy Alcantara Has Prodigious Flexibility

Miami Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara showed a lot of promise when he was given a spot in the starting rotation last year. His 2.3 WAR and 3.88 ERA were impressive, but there’s much more going on that meets the eye. Alcantara has a very cohesive pitch ecosystem; the design of each offering makes for a lot of interchangeable parts. Being able to adapt to situations with flexible pitch options gives Alcantara an edge that a lot of pitchers don’t have with their arsenal.

Most pitchers have one, maybe two, pitch combinations that pair well together. Alcantara actually has four, which can allow him to easily flex and keep hitters on their toes.

Alcantara operates with five pitches: two fastballs (four-seam and sinker), a slider, a tight, classic curveball, and a heavy, fading changeup.

Below is the 2019 data on all five pitches:

Sandy Alcantara 2019 Pitch Data
Usage FIP wOBA Whiff/Swing GB% HR/FB pVal/C
Four-seam 30% 4.65 .321 13.6% 31.8% 7.3% 0.3
Sinker 27% 5.81 .308 20.1% 66.2% 17.6% 1.4
Slider 24% 3.41 .290 30.5% 32.4% 14.3% 0.2
Changeup 13% 3.78 .312 30.1% 51.0% 19.0% -0.1
Curveball 6% 3.54 .300 26.0% 39.3% 10.0% -0.3

Though he made his fair share of mistakes with it, we see that Alcantara’s sinker was his highest rated pitch in 2019, followed by the four-seamer and slider. The sinker induced a ton of groundball contact and held hitters to a .158 batting average. Alcantara’s four-seamer was used heavily when he was ahead in the count, though mostly to lefties. His slider, which he favored to righties, was the pitch to throw with two strikes with a 55.7% drawn strike rate (called strikes, whiffs, and fouls). Alcantara’s changeup, mostly reserved for lefties, drew a decent amount of chases out of the zone and was a groundball-heavy pitch. Alcantara also dropped in a curveball or two from time to time, more so to lefties, and drew a 40% infield fly ball rate.

Alcantara did a good job spreading out his pitch selection with his five-pitch arsenal. Hitters got a balanced dose of the sinker and four-seam fastballs; lefties got a 3-1 balance of sliders while Alcantara split the difference between the slider and changeup to righties. The only fair guess hitters had when facing Alcantara is lefties had close to a 50/50 chance of seeing a four-seamer with two strikes.

While the evidence is mostly anecdotal, not having to favor one pitch over another in a given situation is something of an advantage to a pitcher. Hitters are kept honest and they can’t really sit on one pitch (except for maybe lefties down two strikes).

Now, you could argue that hitters could sit on a pitch from Alcantara because he threw two fastballs which generally accounted for over half of his pitch selection. However, the fastballs are designed in a way that makes it hard to do so.

Alcantara’s four-seamer is thrown with an average spin direction of 1:10, which produces mostly backspin. There’s a minuscule element of cut to the pitch (94% spin efficiency), but it gets a decent amount of lift, while the sinker creates a ton of ride and a fair amount of drop. As for spin rate, the two vary by about 30 rpm on average (the league mean is around a 150 rpm spread).

The spin direction on the sinker (2:10) sits an hour ahead of (or about 20 degrees from) the four-seamer and is thrown with slightly less gyro. This is a bit above the league average of 52 minutes for pitchers who rely on both types of fastball variations. Once you start getting below that mark, it becomes advisable to go with one fastball or the other, as they can become redundant in your arsenal.

Here’s a look at how they interact using the Driveline EDGE tool. Alcantara rarely paired the two together (just 23 times) and went more four-seam/four-seam or sinker/sinker sequence when using his fastballs. The metrics for both are using Alcantara’s 2019 averages.

 

Let’s piggyback off Alcantara’s fastballs by pairing them with his secondary offerings. We know that when Alcantara faced righties, he mostly used his slider along with both fastballs. His spin direction on the slider is around 9:30, and in terms of mirroring potential, it fits the sinker better than the four. I must point out that given the gyro orientation, it’s more of a two-dimensional mirror than a true spin mirror. The sinker has its axis more parallel to the catcher while the slider’s axis is aimed mostly at the catcher, and their gyro orientations create something of a perpendicular axis spin contrast. The two separate effectively, albeit less linearly (think 6:00 curveball and 12:00 fastball, both at 95-100% spin efficiency).

Additionally, the sinker/slider combination was far better when you look at the tunneling metric comparison.

Sandy Alcantara Fastball Pairings with Slider
Sequence Count RelDist PreMax PlatePreRatio
FF-SL 9 1.92 1.78 9.3
SL-FF 5 2.75 1.68 11.5
SI-SL 11 2.84 1.13 19.8
SL-SI 13 1.42 1.08 16.1
SOURCE: Baseball Prospectus

When leading with the sinker, Alcantara’s release point spread left a little to be desired, yet the distance apart at the tunnel point (PreMax) was small, and the ratioed difference once they reached home plate (PlatePreRatio) was quite large.

Here’s a visual example of how they work off each other:

Of course, Alcantara also uses his changeup and curveball on righties but neither more than 7%; those two are featured more against left-handed hitters. Alcantara leans a bit more on the four-seamer when facing lefties, and that’s good because his curveball design matches the pitch pretty well. Between the two, there is a good spread ratio once they reach home plate given the small amount of ride, strong lift on the four-seamer, and the equal sweep and depth on his curve.

We can’t forget about the changeup, which was a pretty good pitch for Alcantara last year. Its movement profile isn’t very far off from the sinker and is only about 20 minutes later (or 10 degrees off). That’s not a vote of confidence for their pairing because the velocity is a little too close (95-mph sinker, 89-mph changeup), and if not properly located with a sizable span, Alcantara could end up throwing one of them into the bat of a hitter who’s geared his timing the pitches.

Alcantara imparts heavy fade to the changeup, and that design is recommended to be at least an hour (or 30 degrees) off a fastball. That’s the case with his four-seamer, but there’s a different pitch that pairs better.

Alcantara’s changeup sits right around a 2:30 spin direction with heavy sidespin. The slider is thrown at 9:30 and doesn’t sweep as heavy as the changeup fades, but it still makes for a pretty decent spin contrast (about 150 degrees). Alcantara threw them in tandem just four times in 2019 because the changeup was almost exclusively to lefties.

So what would this duo of slider and changeup look like?

We again see the gyro orientations are not set up for true mirroring, but as with the sinker and slider, their movement profiles are set up to work off each other so long as Alcantara can keep them in a tunnel.

As we can see, there are a multitude of ways Alcantara can manipulate his pitch sequences. Instead of only having, say, a curveball to counter a four-seamer, Alcantara has at least four strong pairings (four-seam/sinker, four-seam/curveball, sinker/slider, changeup/slider). With the way Alcantara spreads his pitch selection out, this facet of his game is the icing on the cake. The only knock on Alcantara was a questionable command history, but in 2019, he dropped his walk rate down from about 16% to just under 10%. If he can continue to improve his command (and control) and can dynamically deploy his repertoire, his pitch pairing flexibility could turn him into one of the better pitchers in the National League, if not in all of baseball.





Pitching strategist. Driveline Baseball pitch design-certified. Systems Administrator for a high school by day, I also provide ESPN with pitching visuals and am the site manager for SB Nation's Bucs Dugout.

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