Last season, the Miami Marlins celebrated their NL Cy Young Award winner, Sandy Alcantara. Alcantara was the first Marlin to ever win this prestigious award. He was also only the third Dominican-born player to ever do so. Many had cemented him as the next big thing, and with good reason. Alcantara had an incredible campaign last year. He went 14-9 with a 2.28 ERA and 207 strikeouts to his name. There wasn’t much question about who would win the award by the time it was announced. Alcantara had earned it with flying colors. So far this season, however, the success hasn’t translated, as Sandy Alcantara is encountering struggles in most of his starts.
A Tough Start
The problem began last year when Alcantara would throw many complete games. This is unusual for a modern-day pitcher. While Alcantara was able to do it last year, it was largely thanks to his teammate Pablo Lopez. Lopez was able to help take the stress away from pitching so many complete games by having a solid year himself. Now that Lopez is no longer with the Marlins, Alcantara is being asked to take on the majority of the pitching responsibilities. The Marlins pitching staff is a bottom-tier one even with Alcantara. He is being overworked like he has for the past 12 months and it is showing. He threw six complete games last season. So far, he has already thrown two in the young season.
So far in 2023, he is 1-3 with a 4.53 ERA. That is very unusual for a reigning Cy Young winner, especially for one who is only 27 years of age. His only win came on April 4 against the Minnesota Twins. Since then, the only Alacantara start the Marlins won was on Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, where he had to pitch 8 1/3 innings. The Marlins pulled out the victory, 5-4 in 14 innings. There is more to the story than just a few boxscore numbers, we can take a deep dive through Alcantara’s Baseball Savant stats.
Behind Sandy Alcantara’s Early Struggles
Let’s start with Alcantara’s walk percentage. Last season, he was in the 83rd percentile in walks, which is incredible. This season, he is in the 69th percentile. While that is still good, it is nowhere near as good as last season. Alcantara’s changeup is considered his most deadly pitch. Simple, yet unhittable. The changeup accounted for -25 on run value last year. This season, though, hitters seem to have figured it out. In 2023, nearly 8% fewer batters are whiffing at his changeup. They are also making significantly better contact when they hit the ace’s best pitch.
Sandy Alcántara, Unfair 3 Pitch K. 😧
All Changeups (93mph, 92mph and 93mph). pic.twitter.com/fvGKUxgXW2
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 2, 2023
Perhaps the most important statistical dip is in xBA (expected batting average against). This basically tracks what batting average he’s expected to give up based on his strikeouts, walks, and the quality of contact he gives up. Last season, Alcantara was elite with his being in the 75th percentile. This season, he has taken a massive fall into the 29th percentile.
Why is this fall happening? Is it for being overworked on a poor pitching staff? Or is it because guys did their homework this offseason and are now being rewarded for it? The numbers show it could be either one of those answers. Either way, the Marlins’ success relies on the arm of Sandy Alcantara. The good news for Marlin fans is that it’s only the first half of May, and Sandy has plenty of time to fix his mistakes. The bad news is you don’t get breaks in the MLB regular season. Sure, you get the All-Star break, but aside from that, it is a grueling pace. Marlins fans will hope to see their Cy Young winner return to form, or things could go south fast.
Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports