Perhaps no player will benefit more from the Toronto-Miami mega-trade than Henderson Alvarez. Opinions are definitely mixed on the 22-year-old starter. Alvarez has shown impressive stuff, and an ability to pound the strike zone, but his lack of strikeouts have become a major issue. His 9.8 K% was the worst among qualified starters. But things got a bit rosier Tuesday night. With the move to Miami, Alvarez not only benefits by going to the National League, but also gets to leave the notoriously tough AL East. Is it enough to make him a fantasy sleeper next season?
Alvarez probably won’t have a ton of value unless he starts striking out more batters. Being in the NL should help, but will it be enough to turn Alvarez into a useful pitcher?
The above chart shows the performance of the average AL starter against the average NL starter. As you can see, NL starters last season had a K% nearly a point higher than AL starters. The problem is that the difference isn’t enough to make a difference with Alvarez. Even if we expect Alvarez to add another point to his strikeout rate, putting him at 10.8%, that would still be the worst rate among starting pitchers. Pitchers moving to the NL typically have better stats, as reflected in the chart above, but Alvarez needs to experience a much larger jump in his K% to see better results.
The other big issue Alvarez ran into last season was the long-ball. Alvarez 1.39 HR/9 rate was one of the worst in baseball. The move to Marlins park should help in that area. Toronto played friendly to hitters, particularly with the home run. Left-handed hitters had an average 100 park factor, but righties benefitted from a robust 118. The Marlins new park, on the other hand, played strongly towards pitching. Lefties had an 80 park factor on the long ball, and righties didn’t fare much better, with an 84 park factor. That’s a pretty significant difference that should benefit Alvarez.
Alvarez also benefits from leaving the tough AL East, where he was annihilated against divisional opponents. Outside of the Orioles, who Alvarez had a 3.12 ERA against, he really struggled against the other teams in the division. In six career starts against the Red Sox, Alvarez has a 4.33 ERA. In five starts against the Yankees, that number jumps to 5.08. Against the Rays, it’s even worth, at 6.28. He also escapes pitching in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards, all of which assist offense.
All signs point to Alvarez improving next season, but it’s unclear if the changes will be drastic enough to matter to fantasy owners. A pitcher that strikes out as few batters as Alvarez has to contribute in other areas in order to be effective in fantasy. There’s a chance that moving to a larger park suppresses his home runs enough to give him a decent ERA, but the lack of strikeouts probably ensures that number won’t dip below 4.00. And since the Marlins don’t look like they are going to win many games, it’s hard to imagine Alvarez contributing in that category. Don’t let the move to a more favorable situation change your opinion of Alvarez. Unless he starts striking out a lot more batters, he’s not going to be worth it in fantasy leagues.