Just months ago, Sandy Alcántara was a three-pitch hurler. In 2020, he dominated almost exclusively with his sinker, fastball, and slider. That has changed in 2021, though. This year, he’s throwing his changeup more than ever. It has rapidly emerged as his signature pitch.
A year ago, Alcántara didn’t use it that much because, honestly, it wasn’t producing the desired outcomes. He went from using his changeup 10.3% of time in 2020 to 28.0% through his first 11 starts in ‘21.
Opponents know all about Alcántara’s changeup at this point, but they are helpless against it.
Alcántara is allowing a .108 average and a .135 slugging percentage on this nasty offspeed pitch, with only two extra-base hits (two doubles). The changeup has accounted for 26 of his 64 total strikeouts so far in the season. That is 41 % of his punchouts!
Alcántara was getting hit hard on his changeup last year. However, there’s been a big improvement from him in that department, with his opponents’ average exit velo dropping from 91.2 MPH to 84.9 MPH this year. The Dominican righty is also inducing ground balls at an insane rate—67.3 % of all changeups put in play have that trajectory. It’s a simple formula: soft contact + grounders = OUTS, BABY!
Alcántara’s new approach includes using his changeup as a frequent putaway pitch. Sandy was relying on his fastball and slider in almost every 0-2 count last year, but he has now decided to select his changeup in many of those situations instead. The Marlins’ ace threw only two 0-2 changeups during the 2020 season (3.7% of all 0-2 counts); in 2021, that percentage has spiked to 45.6%, including a 61.8% rate against left-handed batters.
Alcántara’s changeup is just as valuable as Ian Anderson’s and Gerrit Cole’s in terms of run value (-7), according to Statcast. Alcántara (.108) is second in the MLB in opponent batting average with that offering (80 PA minimum), just behind Cole (.102). In K% with his changeup, Sandy ranks sixth in the Majors, with a solid 32.1%.
As you can see, Alcántara has not stopped working to become a better, more complete pitcher. As long as he maintains his “feel” for the changeup and has the stamina throughout this season to uphold its exceptional velocity, it will combine with his massive heater to establish him among baseball’s most dominant pitchers.