Why Alvarado's best pitch isn't his 102-mph fastball


Imagine having a fastball you can throw 102 miles per hour, and it’s not your best pitch. Worse yet, imagine not using the better pitch like you should. It’s like Superman taking the bus.

Even armed with a 100-mph sinking fastball, Jose Alvarado really struggled early last season, as his ERA ballooned north of 8.00, just as he was recalled from a demotion to the minors to refine his game. Not long after, he found a groove that many pitchers never find, and has lived there.

A big reason for it? While in the minors last season, Alvarado worked on his cutter, something he knew how to throw, but didn’t use a ton. He threw it just 16 percent of the time during the 2021 season, according to Baseball Savant, but when he did, batters swung and missed an incredible 66 percent of the time.

Upon his return, he employed the cutter more and more, and the results have been astounding.

People around baseball throw around the term “unhittable.” For nearly a calendar year, the Phillies' reliever is as close to unhittable as it gets in the major leagues.

From Aug. 1 of the 2022 season to now, Alvarado has an ERA of 0.56, best in the majors among relievers who threw at least 30 innings over that span. He has pitched to 113 batters, and struck out 57 of them. That’s just a tick better than half. So hitters have a less than 50 percent chance of even putting the ball in play facing Alvarado.

His opponents’ batting average over the past nine months is .130, best in the game. His numbers for opponents’ OBP (.161) and OPS (.364) are also unmatched. Not surprisingly, Alvarado’s K/9 (15.87) is also the top-ranked.

This season, he may even be more unhittable, if that’s possible. Through his first 11 appearances, he has 22 strikeouts and no walks. Only Kenley Jansen (2015 & 2017) has ever done that in his first 11 appearances of the season in MLB history.

What’s most remarkable about Alvarado 2.0 is the control he’s able to maintain with such power. Before his demotion last May, Alvarado had walked 10 batters in 13 innings. From Sept. 1 to today, he has walked three of the last 104 batters he has faced. That’s insane. 

Back to the cutter. Last season, hitters went .118 off Alvarado’s cutter in 108 PA, including 65 strikeouts. This season is more of the same: hitters are 1 for 15 (.067) against the cutter with 13 Ks.

When Alvarado steps out of that phone booth late in a close game, he’s not taking the bus anymore.

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