Author Archive

Sandy Alcantara Controls Nothing

Noted stoic Epictetus famously said, “Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” If we accept this to be true, then St. Louis Cardinals prospect Sandy Alcantara might need to disregard small balls of cork wrapped in yarn and cowhide.

Alcantara was called up from AA to join the big-league club on Friday, bypassing AAA completely.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume control is referring not to a pitcher’s ability to not walk batters, but by his ability to throw the ball somewhere that, by the end of the exchange, it ends up in his catcher’s mitt, be it as a ball or a strike.

By this definition, in 125.1 innings pitched for Springfield this year, Alcantara has controlled next to nothing. He has thrown 20 wild pitches and hit 15 batsmen, all with a repertoire that includes a fastball which, according to Eric Longenhagen, “sits 95-97 and will touch 101 with plus movement.”

This comes out to Alcantara being expected to either hit someone or throw the ball to the backstop once every 3.58 innings. For this study, let’s call this his “Craziness Per Inning Pitched” or CPIP. I know it would be better phrased as innings pitched per craziness, but IPPC isn’t an acronym that rolls off the tongue.

Here is a list of (as far as I can tell with my inexperienced play indexing) the lowest single-season CPIPs of all time (minimum 50 IP).

  1. 2011 Daniel Cabrera: 3.4
  2. 1995 Toby Barland: 4.35
  3. 2000 Hector Carrasco: 4.37
  4. 2000 Matt Clement: 5.26
  5. 2010 A.J. Burnett: 5.32

As you can see, Alcantara, with his 3.58 CPIP would slide right in at second lowest all-time. However, the top three on my list were all used primarily as relievers, where you can get away with a little more wildness. Only four of Alcantara’s 125.1 innings have come out of the bullpen this season. Among starters, his CPIP would rank as the lowest all-time.

Now, obviously, these are all major-league seasons, and Alcantara’s was in AA, but still, a player being expected to throw a ball that ends up somewhere other than in his catcher’s mitt once every 3 1/2 innings is some special craziness at any level. You could probably even make the argument that, due to increased competition and pressure, a prospect who is suddenly vaulted two levels higher should expect to see an increase in wildness.

With the Cardinals promoting fellow pitching prospect Jack Flaherty as well, it does seem likely that Alcantara will be pitching in relief for the Cardinals, but Cabrera’s record is still within reach if he can just allow himself to control a little less.

The Jose Altuve Adjustments

Out of the many differentiae that make up José Carlos Altuve’s thumbprint on baseball, from his 5’ 6” stature, to getting cut from his first tryout with the Astros but showing up the next day anyway, his groundball percentage would likely not rank toward the top for most fans of the Venezuelan. However, most of said fans have not seen this graph.

As you can see, after decreasing his rate consistently for four seasons, Altuve is hitting more groundballs and hitting more balls toward right field in 2017 than at any other point in his career. Although this is in a sample of just 88 plate appearances, and may be a statistical blip, I think that with a hitter like Altuve it is worth investigating.

Altuve’s BABIP is also a high, even for him, .393. Apart from being the most satisfying stat to say out loud, BABIP is also the one thing that alters early-season statistics more than any other, but .393 for Altuve isn’t like the clearly unsustainable .455 that Steven Souza Jr. is currently running. It’s just .044 points higher than his last season rate, so while it’s probably not sustainable (DJ LeMahieu led the league in BABIP last year at .388) it’s not lifting him to his 134 wRC+ by itself.

So what’s the reason for this? Is it a change in approach? A reaction to what other teams are doing? Teams don’t appear to be shifting Altuve, so it doesn’t look like he’s trying to beat them by hitting grounders through an open hole. It does, however, look like maybe teams are attacking him down and away slightly more than in the past. Here are Altuve’s heat maps the last two seasons.



There does appear to be a slight uptick in balls in the bottom corner of the zone, but it’s hard to call it a novel trend when the basic strategy against Altuve since he came into the league remains basically the same: down and away.

But the story doesn’t end there! There are two things that do appear to be starting a trend.

First, his Zone% (meaning the percent of the time that opposing pitchers throw him a strike) has been consistently trending downward since he came into the league. It’s currently at 46% according to Trackman, which is the lowest mark of his career.

Second, his Fastball%, according to Baseball Info Solutions, is at 49.7%, which is also a career low, and actually over 8 percentage points lower than the rate he’s seen in his career.

Now, this all makes intuitive sense. Altuve’s power has risen in recent seasons, and it looks like pitchers have adjusted accordingly; no surprise there. What I thinks is worthwhile in all this is that Altuve is adjusting right back. Before this past weekend in Tampa Bay, Altuve had no home runs on the year. He’s been going with what pitchers have been throwing him. They want to throw him offspeed down and away, and he’s been going with it, exchanging some of the power he took last year to keep his overall offensive profile as one of the league’s elite hitters.