The 2022 NL CY Young winner, Sandy Alcantar, who the Atlanta Braves are set to face off with on Tuesday, is off to a very slow start. The former St. Louis Cardinals prospect has a 4.84 xERA, which would be the highest of his career and his strikeout percentage of 20.8 would be the third worst career mark. In addition to that, his average exit velocity against of 90.2 MPH is the highest it’s been in his career by a wide margin. So, is it just a small sample size or has the ace’s stuff taken a step back?
Pitch #1 - Sinker - 2023 usage rate - 27.3 percent
2023 stats - .350 xBA, .615 xSLG, .445 xwOBA
Average velo - 97.6 MPH - Spin rate - 2,309 RPM - vertical movement - 20.2 inches - horizontal movement - 18.2 inches
After being thrown 24.8 percent of the time last season, which was third amongst his offerings, the sinker has become Alcantara’s most used pitch this season. The spin rate and movement on it are about the same as last season, but the extension on the pitch has made a jump. Last season it was at 5.9 feet meaning it was released 54.1 feet from the plate. This season it is up to 6.1 feet, so it is being released a little bit closer, now this is not a massive change, but it is something of note, especially with how much he has struggled this season as a whole. There are two considerable changes in the quality of contact against his sinker which largely explains the change in production. The first is the average exit velocity against it has gone from 85.9 MPH last season to 90 this year. Second, the launch angle against it was -5 degrees in his CY Young season, this year it is 6 degrees. Additionally, ground ball percentage has gone from 68.2 percent to 51.4 percent. So essentially, if Sandy starts to get this pitch on the ground more often it is going to be more effective, especially if he limits the hard contact. But, until then, it is going to continue to struggle and struggle badly.
Pitch #2 - Four seam - 2023 usage rate - 26.9 percent
2023 stats - .174 xBA, .262 xSLG, .239 xwOBA
Average velo - 97.8 MPH - Spin rate - 2.229 RPM - vertical movement - 15.0 inches - horizontal movement - 12.5 inches (3.4 inches above average)
Alcantara’s four seamer is significantly better this season than last year. The xBA in 2022 was .231, xSLG was .426 and the xwOBA was .315. The main change for this is the ground ball percentage on it going from 25.8 percent last season to 35.3 this season. Amongst his pitches, his four seamer does feature the highest edge percentage at 46.2 percent. Additionally, the in-zone swing and miss rate on it has jumped from 20.8 to 33.3 percent, with the overall whiff rate on it improving 7 percent this year reaching 31.7 percent. Surprisingly, this pitch has the lowest exit velocity against this season at 86.5 MPH, with his second lowest number being 90 MPH. Last year his four seam produced an average exit velo of 91.2 MPH.
Pitch #3 - Changeup - 2023 usage rate - 21.5 percent
2023 stats - .291 xBA, .437 xSLG, .325 xwOBA
Average velo - 91.1 MPH - Spin rate - 2,032 RPM - vertical movement - 27.9 inches - horizontal movement - 17.5 inches
Last season, the changeup was Alcantara’s most used pitch at 27.7 percent. It has been hit a lot harder this year with an average exit velo of 91 MPH, however, that is only on 19 batted ball events. When looking at the numbers, I can’t say I understand the drop in usage. The spin rates are largely the same, the whiff rate is up 7 percent this season and the horizontal movement on it is the highest it’s ever been in his career. The change is a pitch that Alcantara does lean on pretty heavily against lefties as he throws it 31.6 percent of the time against them which is tied with his four seamer for the highest pitch percentage. Against lefties, the out of zone percentage on it 60.5 percent, the most amongst his pitches.
Pitch #4 - Slider - 2023 usage rate - 20.8 percent
2023 stats - .221 xBA, .323 xSLG, .271 xwOBA
Average velo - 90.6 MPH - Spin rate - 2,340 RPM - vertical movement - 28.3 inches - horizontal movement - 0.9 inches (4.3 inches below average)
When Alcantara throws his slider and gets a batter to swing, he gets a whiff nearly half of the time at 48.9 percent. That number increases when thrown out of the strike zone as the out of zone whiff percentage is all the way up to 65.2. He is throwing this pitch away from the zone more frequently as well as the out of zone percentage has spiked this season reaching 63 percent, a 14.8 percent increase from last season. It remains to be seen as to whether or not this is an adjustment by Alcantara or a lack of command with the pitch but generally it is a good idea to throw sliders out of the strike zone. Lastly, the slider is Sandy’s second most used pitch against right-handed batters this season at 28.7 percent, with his sinker coming in first. As a result, expect the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Olson to see plenty of sinker slider sequences against him.
Key matchup - Austin Riley - This is a matchup of seasonal oddities. Prior to this season, Alcantara posted three straight years with a ground ball percentage of 50.4 percent, with two of those being slightly above 54 percent. This season it’s down to 44.4. Riley’s ground ball percentage over the last three years was 42.1, 38.8 and 39 percent. This year it’s up to 48.5 percent. It feels like whichever of the two returns to their prior form in these areas will come out on top in the matchup.