Giancarlo Alvarado is a 35 year old journey man who has never pitched in the Majors. He was signed out of Puerto Rico by the Pirates and started playing professional ball in 1995. After maxing out at AA in 2001, Alvarado had a stint with the Brewers A+ before going to independent ball, to the Detroit Tigers’ AA, then to Taiwan before going back to independent ball. In ’06, he finally reached AAA with the Reds’, but spent all of ’07 in the Mexican League. After a couple of high strikeout seasons in the PCL, Alvarado signed in Japan. After 3 years with two teams in Japan, he pitched in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico. It ended up being a showcase for him, as the Rockies have signed him to a minor league deal. Because he pitched in the WBC, we know have some Pitch F/X data for him (For some reason we have 22 fastballs from him, at just over 90 MPH from 2009. However, there aren’t any game logs from that game, and it was 2009, probably in spring training, so we will just look at 2013 in this post).
The first thing you notice is that Alvarado has been throwing basically all fastballs, even though his fastball percentage in Japan was just under 70 %, not an unusual number. 97% 4-seam fastballs is quite an unusual number. It looks like his fastball saw an uptick in the WBC, with a 88.65 MPH average and 87.59 in Japan in 2012 (86.66 MPH the year before).
According to NPB Tracker data, he threw a lot of sliders (nearly 30% of the time), but we didn’t see it in either of his WBC outings according to the Brooks Baseball tags. He was basically a fastball/slider guy (probably a sinker, which he threw a couple of times in the WBC), with a very rare change or even more rare forkball.
The MLBAM data actually makes more sense when looking at Alvarado, but barely. When looking at his 68 pitch outing against Italy, his slider shows up according to MLBAM data, but only twice. This version says he threw just 13 4-seam fastballs and 51 cutters. Obviously, no one throws that many cutters. It may help us to look at movement comparisons:
At 87.83 MPH, the cutter is roughly average velocity for relief pitchers. If truly a cutter, it has extreme vertical dip and below average horizontal movement. Such extremes usually point to it being a different pitch. Sliders with that much vertical movement don’t exist, as no one is close to as much movement as his, and it also has about twice as much movement vertically than the pitches labelled as a slider. Sinkers usually have much more horizontal break than Alvarado’s pitch does. While it would be below average in both horizontal and vertical movement, it does fall in the parameters of a 4-seam fastball. So does he just have two different fastballs? His “4-seamer” (as listed by MLBAM) has more movement than his “cutter”. Just from a cursory look at pitchers, matched with general understanding, 4-seamers are going to have more vertical drop, but less horizontal movement than cutters.
Bizarrely, everything Alvarado throws has the same spin, it is just the rotation that has difference, and that seems more inconsistency than anything
Whatever the pitch was, whether some kind of quasi-cutter, or just a different type of fastball, Alvarado threw it for strikes over 3/4ths of the time, and he was definitely facing inferior competition, but it was a successful pitch overall.
His release point is somewhat low and definitely out away from the center of the rubber. I think the below graph shows the absurdity of the “outness”:
He isn’t quite a sidearmer, though his release point doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the fact that he stands at 6-4:
Technically, Alvarado can start. He has thrown up to 140 pitches in an outing in Japan, but walks were a problem. Despite this, he still had a 3.89 kwERA in Japan, which certainly isn’t bad (especially since K/BB rates in Japan are fairly normal, it is the homers, as well as BABIP that have really regressed). He clearly doesn’t have the repertoire or release point of a starter.
I was really curious as to how he pitched against lefties. He threw almost all cutters, even a little more than usual, throwing almost no 4-seamers (according to the MLBAM tags). His location charts were a little curious:
He clearly goes away, away, away, against righties, but there is no real plan showing against lefties. In fact, if there is one, it is just to throw an absurd amount of strikes. This clearly won’t do. Strangely, looking around at some of his starts in the NPB, it looks like he actually preferred to work armside, and it wasn’t really close. Perhaps we are just looking at too small of a sample size when looking at his data from the WBC.
Alvarado really takes the idea of speed differential being overrated to the next level
You see that everything falls into about a 5 MPH spread. This is fine, though he has below average velocity, but again, you wonder how he can get any lefty out. All of his pitches basically work the same. Alvarado is clearly a guy that is going to basically try to get you out with slight variations of one pitch. Even without great velocity, coming from a strange angle, should help him get righties out, even in the Majors. It would be cool to see him finally get a shot in the Majors, but obviously he is not an impact arm, and if nothing else, he has had success in the PCL.