While the true mark of an ace is being the pitcher every knows will get the win every time he takes the bump, we tend to give out bonus points for being a stopper. It’s one thing to succeed when you’ve got the wind at your back, but quite another when you’re swimming upstream. Is it okay to mix those metaphors if we view them as sort of water-related? Whatever, I’m rolling with it.
To take nothing away from Jake Arrieta‘s otherworldly 2015 Cy Young campaign or the dual candidacies of Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester the following year, you almost felt as though a pitcher needed to merely show up and collect his W in those years. This season, however, things have not been quite so simple and the results haven’t been anything close to consistent.
Good morning my people , have a blessed Wednesday 🤟🏻🤟🏻🤟🏻”it isn’t about being the best . “It’s about to being better than you were yesterday” 🔒
— Adbert Alzolay (@adbert29) April 28, 2021
Enter Adbert Alzolay, a breath of fresh positivity with each tweet and each start as he just tries to be better than he was yesterday. That’s been the case for his pitching through four starts, the most recent of which came with the Cubs mired in a five-game losing streak that included losses and/or poor performances by Hendricks, Arrieta, Zach Davies, and Trevor Williams. Alzolay himself got a no-decision in the first of those five losses.
“As a team, I feel like we needed it,” Alzolay told reporters after the game. “We haven’t been as good as everybody was expecting us [to be] as starting pitchers. But tonight, I felt that it was good as a team — for the starters, too — that I went out there and I gave the team six innings.”
It certainly helps when the offense spots you a few runs and goes on to score nine times on 16 hits, but Alzolay hardly needed help Thursday night in the Atlanta suburbs. The righty leaned heavily on a slider that was ranked fifth in MLB based on the proprietary Stuff+ metric coming into the game, throwing the nasty breaking ball 51 times and getting four strikeouts with it.
Paired with his 95 mph heater, the slider was murder on several Braves hitters. Might be time to update that top five.
Adbert Alzolay, 85mph Slider (swing/miss) and 95mph Fastball (backwards K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/ofHOAtSC30
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 30, 2021
The best single offering of the night, though, was a front door two-seam, one of 23 Alzolay threw on the evening, that made Ozzie Albies look like a kid who’s just picked up a bat for the first time. It’s one thing to fool a hitter, that happens all the time when guys are frozen by a pitch they don’t expect, but this is one of the most awkward swings you’ll ever see at any level. And believe me, as a youth coach I see a lot of awkward swings every day.
Adbert Alzolay, Nasty 95mph Two Seamer…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/liMUYYhHRS
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 29, 2021
Alzolay is really coming into his own as he gains more confidence in the slider and sinker, both of which were new additions to his repertoire in the middle of last season. Think about that for a moment. Of his 94 total pitches in the win, as many as 74 were “new” when it comes to how often he’s been throwing them. That’s according to Statcast, so there may have actually been 4-6 curveballs in there that got misclassified.
Even so, what we’re seeing is a young man who still has plenty of room to get better as he really learns how to deploy his repertoire to maximum effect. Heading into last season, I remained convinced Alzolay’s future was as a nasty reliever whose fastball/curve combo would play up in short stints. Now that he’s made wholesale changes with those new offerings, however, I’m banking on him to anchor the rotation for years to come.