Henderson Alvarez: Marlins Pitch F/X Scouting Report

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins' newest pitching acquisition is former Toronto Blue Jays flamethrower Henderson Alvarez, who has tantalizing stuff that fails to induce swings and misses. How will his Pitch F/X scouting report from 2012 match up?

The Miami Marlins need a variety of players to step up and perform in 2013 for them to have a competitive core surrounding Giancarlo Stanton and prospects Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. Many of these players are potentially decent starting pitchers, and one of those examples is Henderson Alvarez, the team's latest pitching acquisition. In Alvarez, the Marlins picked up a hard-throwing right-hander who does a great job of inducing ground balls but seems to have difficulties with both home runs and strikeouts.

How well will that description match for Alvarez when we look at the Pitch F/X data? I looked at his 2012 data courtesy of Brooks Baseball's player cards to find out.

Subjective Scouting Report

Before we get into how good his scouting report is by the numbers, let us look at his subjective scouting report of his stuff. For him, we have a few sources from his campaign after the 2011 season, during which he put up a 3.53 ERA and 3.97 FIP.

Jays Journal had this to say about him.

Despite his diminutive size (listed generously at 6’1", 200 lbs), Alvarez has seen his fastball improve significantly over the past two seasons. After sitting 87-90 mph only two years ago, Alvarez now pitches at 92-94 mph with his four seam fastball, averaging an impressive 93.3 mph and touching 97 mph. Alvarez relies upon the pitch heavily, throwing it a staggering 62.9% of the time in 2011. In addition to the four seam fastball, he also works a two seam/sinker hybrid pitch at a similar velocity. By taking only 1-2 mph off the pitch, Alvarez is able to generate an additional 2-3 inches of vertical break with significant arm-side run. Despite accounting for only 10.1% of his pitches thrown in 2011, the pitch is an important piece of his repertoire, as he utilizes it to induce weak contact, particularly against right handed batters.

To back up the fastballs, Alvarez features two offspeed pitches that he throws aggressively in two-strike counts. In 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts, he throws the pitches 40%, 34%, 56%, and 48% of the time respectively. The changeup is at least a plus pitch, and could realistically be argued as plus-plus. The pitch comes out on a plane similar to his fastballs, but the bottom falls out as it approaches the plate. Beyond the vertical break, the pitch has excellent velocity separation, averaging 85.1 mph in 2011, roughly 8-9 mph slower than his fastballs. His slider has flashed some potential, but Alvarez is still very inconsistent with the pitch. That inconsistency is directly measureable in velocity, as his sliders were clocked as high as 88 mph, and as low as 80 mph in 2011. The pitch has nice two plane movement, but with the slider accounting for only 10.6% of pitches thrown in 2011, Alvarez is obviously not fully confident with it just yet.

In addition, the Baseball Prospectus 2012 had this to say in a quick blurb about the righty.

The Venezuelan righty was probably the biggest gainer in an impressive year for the Blue Jays farm system. Seen prior to the season as a live arm with little to show for it, he went from High-A to the majors in less than 100 innings—even after he lost a month to injury. Alvarez sits in the mid-90s with his fastball (which has electric late movement), generates plenty of ground balls, and has an advanced changeup. His best start of the season was a 97-pitch, eight-inning outing against the Orioles. He allowed just three hits and no walks while recording five strikeouts and 18 ground balls. He’ll be slotted into the back end of the rotation next year, but his ceiling is considerably higher than that.

Of course, since then, Alvarez had an awful 2012 season to follow up on his strong 2011 campaign, so it is difficult to tell where he is right now. He was highly touted by a lot of talent evaluators after that 2011 campaign, given that his performance looked as though it was finally matching up with his tools. Now, it seems questionable whether that will ever happen.

According to what was mentioned above, Alvarez boasts a mid-90's fastball that can touch high-90's and has good sink. It is possible that the two-seamer has more sink and a lower velocity. The remaining offerings are decent, but unspectacular, though they apparently have promise. His changeup is the big promising pitch, as it was labeled as "plus" and "advanced." He was working on a slider as late as last season as well.

Pitch F/X: The Basics

Pitch Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam (FA) 530 19% 94.79 -4.78 7.30 -2.08 6.37
Sinker (SI) 1423 50% 93.69 -8.15 4.37 -2.19 6.27
Slider (SL) 406 14% 85.85 2.33 1.91 -2.13 6.36
Changeup (CH) 484 17% 87.57 -4.01 2.19 -2.36 6.19

This table matches up fairly well with the scouting report given. Alvarez is boasting four different types of pitches, but the one that stands out clearly is his two-seam fastball or sinker, as it was the predominant pitch in his arsenal. Given that it has been reported that he is throwing two different types of fastballs, I feel confident in reporting two different types as well. The two-seamer has three more inches of "sink" according to the Pitch F/X measurements, and it is indeed at least one mph on average. The four-seamer looks pretty generic, but it does match up better with his so-called "mid-90's" velocity.

The changeup was the second-most used pitch outside of his fastball,s and it does not resemble the fastballs particularly well. It certainly has more sink than the average changeup, and the speed has an appropriate six mph drop in velocity. He uses it more often versus lefties than overall, throwing it at a 24 percent clip against them, but he was not afraid to use them against righties as well, to the tune of an eight percent clip.

The slider was a major project that he tried out in 2012, as he threw it almost as often as his supposedly strong changeup. Alvarez upped his slider usage to 25 percent versus righties, making it his go-to secondary offering to same-handed hitters. As expected, when he was ahead in counts, he went to the slider 36 percent of the time, and with two strikes that number sat at 33 percent, meaning that he intends to use it as a punch-out type of pitch.

Pitch F/X: Performance Metrics

Alvarez, 2012 Balls/CS Swing% Whiff% BIP GB% BABIP SLGCON
Two-seamer 1.8 45.5 9.0 435 63.5 .302 .353
Four-seamer 1.5 41.3 11.0 110 49.1 .344 .650
Changeup 3.1 47.1 18.9 107 51.4 .309 .589
Slider 2.3 48.3 18.9 96 50.0 .250 .438

If there is one thing that this breakdown confirms, it is that Alvarez's sinker is indeed an elite pitch and thus not the source of his problems. The pitch is easy enough to place in the zone and gets a lot of ground balls, to the tune of a 63.5 percent rate. It does not induce swings and misses, but two-seamers rarely do and are not designed to be strikeout pitches. The pitch oddly enough does not work significantly better versus right-handers, as its only major change is that the ground ball rate jumps to 67 percent. The SLGCON, a measure of slugging percentage of balls contacted, shows just exactly what the effect of sinker pitches are: hitters just cannot muscle up those balls, and despite a perfectly average .302 BABIP, the slugging percentage is minuscule.

The two-seamer is so strong that it makes the four-seam fastball look a little weak in return. The big issue it had last season was that, when it was hit, it was hit extremely hard, as he allowed 10 of his 29 homers allowed in just 110 balls in play with the four-seam fastball. In addition, it seems as though it was hit for a lot of base knocks in general, as he posted a .344 BABIP with it. Much of that may be not repeatable, but it is concerning for the mid-90's pitch that he could not get any lefty to miss on it (5.9 percent whiff rate); he may be placing it too well in the strike zone, leading it to being too "hittable."

As for the secondary offerings, the so-called "advanced" changeup seemed like anything but advanced, as it was his worst pitch for called strikes and control and failed to outperform the slider in any way. Lefties swung and missed at about the same rate at the changeup as righties did to the slider, so it was not as if it was that more effective as a strikeout pitch. It did perform decently, better even, versus righties, but that is likely to regress, as he only threw 103 changeups at righties. In addition to all of that, the slugging percentage on the changeups was not good at all, though that is subject to regression as well.

As for the slider, it performed admirably compared to the changeup at its job of fooling righties, as it got them to swing and miss at 19.5 percent of them. This, however, is still well below the average we would expect from an out pitch; in comparison, Nathan Eovaldi posted a 26.9 percent whiff rate with his slider in 2012. The slider is enticing hitters to swing, but they do not have a hard time making contact, making the pitch lacking in effectiveness. On the positive side, at least the pitches they do hit tend to be on the ground as well, much like much of Alvarez's arsenal.

Grades

How did Alvarez's stuff grade out after looking at his 2012 performance?

Two-Seam Fastball (60): I came out of this analysis truly impressed with Alvarez's two-seamer, which may already be one of the best in the game. It does everything you want it to do: it is placed in the strike zone decently, gets ground balls, and prevents home runs. The fact that he does not generate swings and misses with the pitch is irrelevant, as most pitchers do not do that with sinkers. Its job is to get batters to hit worm-burners, and that is exactly what it does. He even managed to throw it well and consistently versus left-handed hitters without a significant problem.

Four-Seam Fastball (45): If you look only at the stats involving the strike zone, you would be fairly happy with Alvarez's four-seamer. It has velocity and he can place it in the zone. The problem may be that it is too easy for him to place it in the zone, and perhaps a lack of command rather than control is making the pitch too hittable. Maybe Alvarez is failing to nibble the corners and is instead rearing back and firing these 95 mph pitches straight down the middle, where major league hitters have no issue going.

Changeup (40): The changeup did nothing as far as I saw. He was neither getting called strikes nor particularly excelling in getting swinging strikes. Hitters did offer at it, but they did a decent job of making contact and putting the ball in play. It did get a 50 percent ground ball rate, but that is a small consolation prize for what was otherwise an underwhelming season for the pitch. It was also Alvarez's second-hardest hit pitch.

Slider (40): The slider gets a similar grade for being a similar pitch. Like the changeup, it got swings and misses, but not even close to the amount it needed to induce in order to be an effective big league out pitch. Yes, hitters were hitting this pitch into the ground as well, but you can only do so much when you are depending entirely on your defense. This one was hit slightly lighter than the changeup, but the pitches seem very similar in caliber.

Overall, Alvarez showed exactly what we might expect from a pitcher with his numbers. He has some superlative peripherals, such as his ground ball rate, that are attributable to perhaps the best individual pitch any Marlins pitcher has. With that pitch, Alvarez is already ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, it is likely he does not have one above-average pitch after that, and he desperately needs to develop one before he gets shelled in the majors with his secondary offerings.

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