The Miami Marlins went for a reboot of their roster with the 2012 fire sale trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, and part of the reboot involved acquiring a number of prospects in that deal. One of the players who was overlooked in the acquisition was 23-year-old righty starter Henderson Alvarez, who was considered a low-ceiling groundball artist who had not achieved success so far in the majors. But after a shoulder injury kept him out of the early part of the season, Alvarez returned and had a solid campaign that topped off with a great 2013 finish.
|Henderson Alvarez||102 2/3||13.6||6.5||3.59||3.18||1.9||1.9|
After a tumultuous season and change with the Blue Jays, it seemed as though Alvarez would never develop into a decent starter. His ugly 2012 season was marred by a troubling strikeout rate; Alvarez posted the 47th lowest strikeout rate for any season with over 150 innings since the modern offense era beginning in 1993. That is not particulary impressive, but Alvarez paired that up with a terrible home run rate and put up the fourth-worst season by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last year.
It was hard to tell if he would bounce back in 2013, but he did in both areas. After getting whiffs on a league-low 5.1 percent of pitches last season, Alvarez bumped his rate back up to 6.5 percent this year. While that would have ranked as the sixth-lowest mark this year, it still represents a massive improvement over his previous year's work and a return to a baseline that he set in his rookie year in 2011. The strikeout rate as a result jumped back up from 9.4 percent in 2012 to 13.6 percent in 2013.
The reason why that is important is that, with a small increase in strikeouts, contact pitchers can be useful. Contact pitchers often avoid walks, and Alvarez did just that this year. His 6.5 percent rate would have ranked 35th-best in the league had he qualified, and that leaves him at a decent two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Alvarez's balls in play will almost certainly hurt less with a decreased walk rate from last year, and adding strikeouts decreases the variability of depending on balls in play.
Of course, Alvarez happened to do well on those this year too, putting up a .271 BABIP. But it helps when he continued to force weaker contact via the ground ball, as he got 53.5 percent of his balls in play to go on the ground. Alvarez's two-seam fastball was the primary perpetrator of those ground balls, as he got 55 percent of them to hit the ground. That is actually a decrease from last year' 62 percent mark, but the compensation came from an increase in whiffs, which are more effective results than ground balls.
The other aspect of Alvarez's improvement was the lack of home runs. He allowed a whopping two home runs this season, both on the road and both to left-handers. After having major problems with homers in Toronto, having allowed 37 in 251 innings pitched in parts of two years, Alvarez's move to Marlins Park seems to have benefited his play.
Alvarez's primary problem in 2013 may have been identical to his shoulder injury partner Nathan Eovaldi's this season. Eovaldi has been lacking a strong secondary pitch, and Alvarez seems to have the same concern. He threw a fastball of some kind in 75.6 percent of pitches this season, and the majority of them were two-seamers. Those pitches are less effective against opposite-handed hitters, making him toast for lefties. Left-handers hit .266/.333/.419 (.330 wOBA) versus Alvarez last year. In comparison, righties hit .204/.261/.263 (.236 wOBA) against him. Alvarez may need to return to using the changeup he abandoned a few seasons ago in order to get lefties out.
Of course, much of this year would have been good, but not worth much fanfare. But Alvarez topped off his year with a fantastic finish, pitching a no-hitter in the last game of the regular season. Alvarez's no-hitter was impressive, like many others, and it was a great way to en the year for a player who deserved recognition. Marlins fans were swept up in the Jose Fernandez love, but Alvarez also deserved credit for a great year on the mound. Whether he can hold up for a full season with his low home run rates remains to be seen, but there is promise still there.