If you like pitching prospects (you monster), this might just be the game for you. Two highly-regarded right-handed pitchers will go toe-to-toe tonight, as the Braves seek their fifth win in a row.
Representing the home team, Kyle Wright will get the nod. Wright had a dreadful time in his first career start, which game during the season’s third game in Philadelphia. The Braves were swept as Wright fretted and labored, allowing three runs while failing to complete the fifth. More concerning than all of that was his 5/4 BB/K ratio, which doesn’t include a hit-by-pitch on his last batter of the game. Wright also got lucky on balls in play in the game (.372 wOBA to a ghastly .464 xwOBA), so basically — he’d like to have a mulligan for it, is the general idea. But, Wright remains well-thought-of, with (perhaps eventual?) expectations of above-average performance. He ranked #39 on Fangraphs’ pre-2019 top prospect list.
Sandy Alcantara has perhaps a lesser pedigree (#127 on the same list, and only a 50 FV to Wright’s 55), but has had more major league exposure and considerably more success to date. Acquired by Miami as part of the package that sent Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis, he made seven major league starts at the tail end of 2018, and straight-up dominated the Rockies in his first start of 2019. That performance against Colorado was nothing short of stellar: eight innings, only three batters faced over the minimum, four hits, zero walks, and six strikeouts. He got a little lucky with balls in play (.150 wOBA on a .203 xwOBA), but make no mistake, he was dominant. That was actually the second consecutive dominant start for Alcantara, as he finished his 2018 with a flourish of seven one-run innings with a 10/2 K/BB ratio against the Mets. But, that’s just one side of his prospect pitcher-ness, as in the two outings before that, he lasted only a combined eight innings and managed just six strikeouts to 11 walks, with a K/BB ratio below 1.0 in both starts.
For those unfamiliar with Alcantara (which Braves fans may be, given that he’s never pitched against them), he’s somewhat of an odd duck pitching-wise. He throws very hard: his fastball averages 96 mph or so, which is akin to a top-ten mark in baseball among starters (not quite deGrom/Syndergaard territory, but not too far off). But, he’s never been a huge strikeout or whiff guy, as he doesn’t get much movement on his pitches:
The squiggly-bordered shapes above are league-average movement patterns for each pitch — you can see that his fastballs are harder than average and his other stuff is slower than average, but motion-wise, his curveball and slider break less both horizontally and vertically than average, while his other pitches don’t have much beyond the ordinary aside from some slight arm-side run. Combine this with a relatively infrequent zone rate that dovetails neatly with the fact that he’s a hard-throwing, raw pitcher, and the lack of whiffs makes more sense. Alcantara attempted to remedy this by doing something innovative in his start against the Rockies, throwing primarily sliders rather than his fastball. It worked, but with the Braves capable of rolling out a fairly lefty-heavy lineup, we’ll see if he comes up with something different. Projection systems expect Alcantara to be something like a fourth starter (< 1.5 fWAR/200) this year, and the Braves will certainly take a performance commensurate with that over him continuing his success into tonight’s game.
For his part, Kyle Wright should have a much easier time with the Miami offense than he did in Philadelphia. The Marlins are a bottom-ten team, so far, in both runs scored and wRC+, while the Phillies are top five in both; the Phillies are also top ten in xwOBA while the Marlins are 20th. This game could hinge on whether he or Alcantara are able to rein in their peripherals effectively, so let’s hope that he can do so while the Braves’ newfound patience and Alcantara’s lack of strike-throwing leads to baserunners and grooved pitches galore.
Miami Marlins @ Atlanta Braves
April 6, 2018
7:20 pm EDT
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network