There were not many consistent pieces on this 2022 Miami Marlins team. Injuries, questionable coaching decisions, and cold lineups plagued the Marlins throughout the year. But there was one thing fans could count on: every five days, Sandy Alcantara was going to throw a gem.
Alcantara’s 2.28 ERA was the lowest for a qualified Marlins starting pitcher in a single season since Josh Johnson’s 2.30 ERA in 2010. He is now only behind Kevin Brown (1996, 1.89) and José Fernández (2013, 2.19).
Not only was Alcantara effective, but he was able to do it over a large sample size that is rarely seen in the current era of baseball. While many teams have opted to pull their starting pitchers after about six innings, Miami’s ace worked his way deep into ball games in a majority of his starts. He led the majors with 228 2⁄3 innings pitchers; Aaron Nola, the No. 2 pitcher in that category, had 205. Alcantara led the majors with six complete games. Framber Valdez had the second-most, with three.
Part of what allowed Alcantara to rack up innings was the ability to maintain his effectiveness in late-game situations. He had a 3.41 ERA when facing batters a third time in the same game, and a 1.62 ERA when going through a fourth time. Only three pitchers had a better ERA in such situations (minimum 200 batters faced).
During pretty much every one of his starts, watching Alcantara protest manager Don Mattingly to stay in the game almost became a game within itself.
With Alcantara posting unreal numbers in the first half of the season, many Marlins fans felt he earned the honor of starting the All-Star Game for the National League in Los Angeles. Clayton Kershaw, perhaps aided by being the hometown star, got the call instead. Alcantara instead pitched a perfect second inning, striking out Byron Buxton and Giancarlo Stanton.
Alcantara hit somewhat of a post-ASG slump, at least by his standards. In his first eight starts after the ASG, he had a 3.96 ERA and was in danger of losing his lead in the Cy Young award race. In the midst of this cold streak, he had a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers that kept him afloat. Going against the best offense in baseball by OPS (.775) and runs per game (5.2), he struck out ten and allowed just one run in a complete game.
Alcantara had a 1.89 ERA in his final five starts of 2022 to reaffirm that he’s the best at his craft. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America found his closing argument convincing, voting unanimously to give him the NL Cy Young. Alcantara even placed 10th in the league’s MVP balloting.
The Marlins have a lot of holes they need to fill going into next season. The rotation, anchored by Alcantara, is not one of them. He gave up an average of 1.8 runs in his 32 starts. If the Marlins could put together a merely average offense, Alcantara should (in theory) win every one of his starts.
It would be unreasonable to expect further improvement from somebody who just enjoyed arguably the best pitching season in franchise history. However, Sandy’s greatest assets are his availability and durability. Obsessive about his conditioning, the 27-year-old has had zero history of arm injuries during his professional career and the Marlins will be relying on that to hold true into 2023.