I’m not going to be a prisoner of the moment and say that Sandy Alcantara is emerging as the best Marlins pitcher ever. But I don’t think that there’s a comparison to anybody in the franchise’s history that would do justice to what we’ve been witnessing lately.
Alcantara has shared characteristics with José Fernández, Josh Johnson, Kevin Brown and Dontrelle Willis, depending on what element of his game you focus on. Still, there is a different aesthetic to the Dominican right-hander’s 2022 campaign. The way in which he is distinguishing himself from his peers is special, and it’s paving the road for him to accomplish something that no other Marlin previously has: win the National League Cy Young award.
Over the last month-plus, so many of the concerns about this iteration of the Marlins have unfortunately come to fruition. A team with average-ish talent has underachieved, plummeting to the bottom third of the NL standings as we arrive at the one-third mark of the regular season. Miami is on pace for a 72-90 record. It would be even worse if not for Sandy’s individual brilliance.
Since May 11, the Marlins have won six games with Alcantara on the mound. Meanwhile, they’ve won five games with all of their other starting pitchers combined. He is carrying them with a combination of lengthy outings and run prevention that only the most extraordinary pitchers are capable of.
Sandy Alcantara is the 3rd different pitcher in the last 10 seasons to put together a 6-game streak with at least 7 IP and allowing 1 or 0 ER. He joins Clayton Kershaw (x3) and Jake Arrieta. pic.twitter.com/3msw8zk5pw— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 9, 2022
Alcantara is not flawless. You’ll find other pitchers who miss more bats overall or have better command from start to start.
However, the Marlins ace has the skill set to adapt to whatever is required to win each specific matchup. On May 28 against the Braves, Alcantara racked up 14 strikeouts, the highest total for any MLB pitcher in a game so far this season. In his latest gem on Wednesday, he threw 80% of his pitches for strikes, dealing with such absurd efficiency that manager Don Mattingly at least had to think about sticking with him for a 10th inning of work.
Donnie told Sandy that if it were the playoffs, he would have let him go 10. #Marlins— Isaac Azout (@IsaacAzout) June 9, 2022
This is so similar to what it felt like watching Jake Arrieta put it all together for the mid-2010s Cubs. Alcantara, like Arrieta, has filled out his frame to establish a terrifying mound presence. He’s been bestowed with the nastiest pure stuff in the business and has developed an understanding of how to use it optimally. These pitchers were/are uniquely capable of evading barrels against right-handed and left-handed opponents alike.
The statistical resemblance is also undeniable.
Arrieta peaked in 2015. Averaging nearly seven innings per start while making all 33 of his scheduled appearances, he maintained a 215 ERA+ (100 represents the league average) en route to the NL Cy Young. His game logs from the second half of that season are pornographic. Seriously, I’m not comfortable embedding them on this page. Open them in a new tab if you wish.
So far in 2022, Alcantara is providing his club with just as much length and carried a 228 ERA+ into Wednesday, which would be the best for any MLB starter over a full season since Pedro Martínez.
Keeping this up throughout the summer would be the absolute best-case scenario—although within the realm of possibility, it’d be unfair to expect that from Alcantara. Even Sandy’s most passionate supporters would have to admit that he’s not quite dominant enough to be earning near-perfect results.
I still love the Arrieta comp. Zoom out to include all four of his full seasons with the Cubs and check out how the ratios stack up to Alcantara:
- Jake Arrieta, 2014-2017: 3.04 FIP, 18.0 K-BB%, 0.65 HR/9, 51.1 GB%
- Sandy Alcantara, 2022: 2.96 FIP, 16.6 K-BB%, 0.44 HR/9, 53.8 GB%
The main difference between these stars is age. Alcantara turns 27 in September; Arrieta was 29 years old at the beginning of the aforementioned four-season stretch. He was already in decline when he entered free agency following the 2017 season and had to become an entirely different, less effective version of himself with the Phillies. Arrieta recently announced his retirement.
For Alcantara and the Marlins, that cliff is nowhere in sight. Bake in some regression to his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio and he’s still on the short list of best pitchers in baseball, and he’s devouring innings at a volume that makes him as valuable as anybody. And he’s doing it on a $3.8 million salary.
In the moment, Alcantara’s contract extension was regarded as the most important and team-friendly transaction of the 2021-22 Marlins offseason. Not yet 10% of the way through the guaranteed portion of the deal, it’s rapidly entering the “best all-time Marlins moves” conversation. No matter how inadequate the supporting cast seems to be, there’s always hope when the Sandman takes the mound.