Last year, Sandy Alcantara became the first Marlins pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award. On his way to being named the best pitcher in the NL, the Dominican-born right-hander made 32 starts and pitched 228 2/3 innings — the most in Major League Baseball. Alcantara’s 2.28 ERA and 2.99 FIP were the lowest of his career. He also posted a 23.4% strikeout rate and a 5.6% walk rate.
The 27-year-old hasn’t enjoyed that same level of success in 2023, however. He’s made five starts this season and has a 5.04 ERA in 30 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate – 20.8% – has dipped, while his walk rate – 7.2% – has increased when compared to last season.
Comparing five starts to 32 is not the best way to come to conclusions, but so far this year there are some differences in Alcantara’s numbers that can explain his less-than-ideal start to the year.
From a run value perspective, Alcantara’s two best pitches last season were his sinker and changeup. The righty’s sinker had a -8 run value, while the run value on his changeup was -25. This season, the run value on both of those pitches is two.
Here are some other numbers against his sinker:
|Average Exit Velocity||85.9 MPH||90.0 MPH|
|Average Launch Angle||-5 degrees||6 degrees|
Now, here are those same numbers, but against his changeup:
|Average Exit Velocity||84.1 MPH||91.1 MPH|
|Average Launch Angle||-5 degrees||10 degrees|
Opponents were essentially hitting both Alcantara’s sinker and changeup into the ground for weaker contact last season. But this year, they are hitting both of those pitches harder and less frequently into the ground – and it’s resulting in greater success for them. The batting average and slugging percentage against his sinker and changeup have increased, too.
Overall, Alcantara’s ground ball percentage last season was 54.2%. This year, that number has fallen to 44.4%. With a decrease in ground ball rate, batters are hitting more line drives against him. In 2022, the line drive rate against Alcantara was 18.9% – it’s at 26.7% so far this year.
Start by Start
With a higher-than-usual ERA, higher exit velocities, and an increased average launch angle, it is possible one or two starts have skewed Alcantara’s numbers a bit since he hasn’t pitched a lot of innings. So here are those numbers broken down start by start.
Let’s begin with his ERA:
|Start Date||Opponent||Innings Pitched||Earned Runs|
|March 30||Mets||5 2/3||3|
|April 26||Braves||5 2/3||2|
As you can see, Miami’s ace has an inflated ERA from his start against the Phillies on April 10 — where he was charged with nine earned runs. Outside of that start, Alcantara has given up eight earned runs in 26 1/3 innings pitched – good for a 2.73 ERA.
As mentioned above, the average exit velocities against his sinker and changeup have both increased this season, so here’s a look at those numbers on a start-by-start basis:
|Start Date||Opponent||Average EV vs. Sinker||Average EV vs. Changeup|
|March 30||Mets||96.4 MPH||75.8 MPH|
|April 4||Twins||85.0 MPH||88.8 MPH|
|April 10||Phillies||86.0 MPH||95.5 MPH|
|April 16||Diamondbacks||96.4 MPH||101.1 MPH|
|April 26||Braves||95.2 MPH||82.0 MPH|
These numbers are more of a mixed bag. Three out of the five average exit velocities against Alcantara’s sinker have been higher than 95 miles per hour, which is not a good sign. But when looking at his changeup, only in two of his starts has the average exit velocity been north of 95 miles per hour.
His worst start in terms of average exit velocity was against the Diamondbacks where both his sinker and changeup were hit hard – the overall hard-hit rate against Alcantara in that game was 56%.
Lastly, here are the average launch angles against the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner:
|Start Date||Opponent||Average Launch Angle|
|March 30||Mets||-4 degrees|
|April 4||Twins||13 degrees|
|April 10||Phillies||8 degrees|
|April 16||Diamondbacks||19 degrees|
|April 26||Braves||8 degrees|
Unlike his ERA – where one bad start really impacted the overall number – the launch angle against Alcantara is being impacted by one really good start. Taking away his outing against the Mets – where the average launch angle was -4 degrees – the launch angle against the two-time All-Star in his other four starts is 12 degrees; not great for a guy who typically relies on inducing a lot of ground balls.
What’s the Same?
While some of Alcantara’s numbers are different this season, there are still some that haven’t changed much. There haven’t been concerning decreases in any of his pitch velocities or spin rates. The barrel percentage against him is very comparable to last year, as well – 5.3% last season and 5.6% this year. Lastly, the hard-hit percentage against the righty is slightly lower this year than last – 38.5% in 2022 vs. 37.8% in 2023.
Is there cause for concern when it comes to Alcantara? Maybe, but he’s only made five starts so far this season and will make plenty more if healthy. Only time will tell if he’s going through a rough stretch right now or if there are other issues at hand.
If you want to get a closer look at Alcantara, he is scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday against the Braves.