Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Henderson Alvarez: Quietly Effective

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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
The Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation has had its fair share of candidates throughout the season, but one of the frontrunners for the 2012 pitching staff might be right under their nose: Henderson Alvarez.

Coming off another strong start last night, Alvarez has very quietly put together a very impressive rookie campaign. I would dare even say impressive enough to earn him a spot in the starting rotation next season.

We saw how Kyle Drabek floundered the big league level earlier this year, and yet Henderson Alvarez miraculously made the transition from AA New Hampshire to the Major Leagues without so much as a hiccup.

Perhaps the most encouraging news about Henderson Alvarez was his ability to go at least five innings in all 10 of his starts this year. For John Farrell to know he can depend on his young starter to go at least five innings is huge.

Also, Alvarez' ability to keep his walks down has been paramount; in 63.2 innings of work, Henderson Alvarez has only walked eight batters total. Just as a comparison, Kyle Drabek walked six batters in one start on May 16th.

Even though his fastball has been clocked in 97 MPH, surprisingly Henderson doesn't miss very many bats inside the strike zone (90.6%) or outside the zone for that matter (76%).

For a pitcher who predominantly throws fastballs, Alvarez keeps the ball on the ground and out of the air for the most part. That 53.5% ground ball rate explains why he's been able to go five innings or more in all his starts.

If Henderson Alvarez can continue to develop his slider as John Farrell is hoping he will, then that could become a very effective out pitch, much like it has become for Brandon Morrow.

With other starters like Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek earlier the season, you never know what might happen. Henderson Alvarez on the other hand, has remained remarkably consistent since his debut on August 10th.

It's pretty early to start making predictions for next season already, but I think he'll definitely be a mainstay in the starting rotation come 2012. Pencil him in as the Blue Jays fourth starter, maybe even as high as the number three starter.

Next to the bullpen, undoubtedly the starting rotation is the area that needs the most attention in the offseason. I'm not sure whether Alex Anthopoulos will plug those holes via free agency, trade, or promotion from within, but with Henderson Alvarez in their back pocket, at least that's one less starter they'll have to worry about.

Data courtesy of Henderson Alvarez' FanGraphs page

8 comments:

  1. Alvarez has moved himself up to the 3rd spot on the list of Blue Jay starting pitchers I have the most confidence in. That list looks something like the following:

    1. Rickey Romero
    2. Brandon Morrow
    3. Henderson Alvarez
    4. Pray for Rain
    5. Jessie Litsch
    6. Brett Cecil
    7. Carlos Villanueva
    8. Minor League prospects (i.e. Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchenson)
    9. Kyle Drabek

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  2. Peter, that just goes to show there are more questions than answers when it comes to the starting rotation. After Romero and Morrow, it's pretty much anybody's guess.

    Alvarez is a pretty safe bet to snag one of those spots, but I guess it all depends on how Spring Training goes and if the Blue Jays acquire any other arms in the offseason.

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  3. I love Alvarez and think he definitely belongs as the #3 starter going into next year unless they add a better free agent arm or trade for one. Don't see that happening, though.

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  4. I feel like Alvarez is in the rotation barring a spring training disaster, or three really, really good acquisitions.

    Cecil concerns me, he can't seem to put it together for any kind of stretch. Definite back-end/bullpen option. Litsch is probably in that mix, too- not quite good enough to be a full-time starter.

    I'd like Morrow's results to match his talent at some point, but he's probably the #2 in this bunch.

    We've got time for Drabek to figure it out. He's got great stuff, just some learning to do. Hopefully.

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  5. Watching Alvarez pitch is a joy. If he gets that out pitch going for next year and Morrow can stay consistent, this team could be in for really good things, even if they don't add an arm.

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  6. Jonathan, I guess it really doesn't matter whether Alvarez is the #3, #4 or #5, but I'm pretty sure he'll be there in the rotation no matter what.

    Dave, I share your thoughts - not sure what's going on with Cecil, I'd put my money on Litsch before Brett.

    InfieldFly, Alvarez brings a lot to the table - hopefully he really does hone that slider in the offseason.

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  7. would like to point out that the scariest part of Alvarez is he will only be 22 in mid april. if he can continue to improve he has the potential of at least a quality # 2.

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  8. Psmith, wow - I had no idea Alvarez was that young! Another huge upside for Henderson.

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