By CHRISTIAN CHASE
It is no secret that the 2020 Marlins overperformed in their run to the NLDS where they were swept by their division rival, the Braves. Throughout baseball, there were many who believed that the team was simply a fluke and nothing more.
Under MLBs usual playoff system, the Marlins shouldn’t have been in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t building up for similar runs soon. Many played a role in last year’s success: however, as solid as Jazz Chisholm, Trevor Rogers, Brian Anderson, and Jesus Aguilar are, Sandy Alcantara’s growth into an ace may be the difference maker.
Alcantara has developed a formidable arsenal overnight:
Sporting a traditional 4-seam, 2-seam, curveball, slider, changeup repertoire, Alcantara is one of the many silent leaders on a Marlins team that doesn’t receive national coverage outside of Jazz Chishom Jr. and Trevor Rogers.
At the beginning of his career, Alcantara threw his changeup in just 13% of his pitches, resulting in an overreliance on his fastball and slider. Between 2019 and 2020, he upped the usage of that pitch to over 22%.
This development of an elite third pitch, paired with a fastball whose average velo ranks second in MLB (97.3 MPH) has allowed Alcantara to become an ace-quality pitcher. More specifically, Alcantara’s .137 batting average against ranks 9th among the 50 pitchers who have thrown the most changeups this season. Those ahead of him include Gerrit Cole, and John Means.
Thus far, it looks like a much improved pitch than the last couple seasons. FanGraphs measures the run value of a pitch based on how often it gets good results (strikes and outs) versus bad results (balls, hits, walks, hit by pitches). Alcantara ranked below-average in that stat the last two seasons. This season, he ranks in the top 15 in terms of the overall value of his changeup.
Over the course of his first five seasons, Sandy Alcantara’s hard-hit rate has decreased consistently each year. Through his starts this season, his hard-hit rate sits at .182, which is the best on the Marlins (most notably over Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers). Alcantara has had consistently low hard-hit rates throughout his career due to his high percentage of pitches on the lower half of the plate. By sticking with this line of approach in all his starts, he indirectly became a more consistent pitcher because of the development of the changeup.
Alcantara has a 2.72 ERA, though he’s only 1-2 this season. In his last two starts, he received two no decisions after 13 innings pitched and only two runs allowed.
The heightened progression of Alcantara is further shown in the Bill James Online World’s No. 1 Starting Pitcher Rankings, which has him ranked as the 25th best pitcher in baseball now. He started the season at 49th, and this growth is due in large part to the changeup that has allowed him to put hitters away at a much more effective clip.
Alcantara boasts a fastball in the 99th percentile of velocity for starting pitchers in the MLB and has slowly become the face of a young Marlins team. He has been the Opening Day Starter two years in a row and has been the guy on the mound in big moments for Miami. Each year he has gotten progressively better and better, and with two other budding aces in Sixto Sanchez and Rogers, the sky’s the limit for the future of this Marlins staff.