Sandy Alcántara

Some endearing and once-common stereotypes in baseball have been pushed to the fringe as it has changed dramatically in this century. These archetypal players and managers are no longer with us. The workhorse ace is perhaps the most lamented. In the old days, you could catch Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, or Clayton Kershaw throwing eight-plus innings every five days while ignoring pitch counts and completely shutting down the other team’s offense.

Even the finest starters are usually done after six innings now because of the rarity of such a pitcher and the preference for late-inning relief fireballers. This strategy works. It’s also a bit of a letdown.

But! Each year, the 30 MLB teams play 162 games, and the Miami Marlins are one of those teams, with Sandy Alcántara starting 30 or so of those games. Meaning the solo starter is not yet extinct, even if his performance has declined.

At 6-foot-5, Alcántara has the build and bearing of the hallowed hosses of yore: an uncompromising glare and gigantic stride, an arm arc that puts to mind the hydraulic churn of a big machine somewhere you really shouldn’t have walked without a hard hat. Additionally, he has the goods: a fastball on the fringes of triple digits, a power changeup that travels only somewhat slower (92 mph, typically) but bites downward, and a keep-’em-honest slider. He also has a solid command of his pitches.

And he insists on using them as much as possible. When Alcántara took the mound against the Mets on Sunday, he worked seven scoreless innings, the most in Major League Baseball by a dozen. 1 A two-on-no-outs jam in the sixth inning didn’t appear to register with him. Alcántara commented after the game, “When you trust in your product, you don’t have to worry.”

Alcántara’s short career has been dedicated to achieving the self-confidence he needs to succeed in his chosen field. It is possible that, had he been with another team other than the Marlins during that time period, the 26-year-old would have gained some notoriety for his 3.48 ERA in 2019-2021. Even yet, he resorted too often to overcautious reasoning that applies to less gifted arms, aiming for the corners and slipping behind in the counts in the big spots.

Sandy Alcántara

In 2021, his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) jumped from 1.07 to 1.35 with runners in scoring position and even 3.00 with men on second and third. I once heard Miami pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. say, “Young people have a tendency to spiral.” That he didn’t need to add anything extra in tight moments, he just needed to continue pitching.”

As a means of expressing their confidence, Stottlemyre and Alcántara concentrated on the changeup throughout the offseason. As Stottlemyre saw it, Alcántara could employ that change as a counter to his fastball but also as the foundation of his entire approach. It was so effective, he thought. As a result, the coach advised his player to simply lay that sucker down in the strike zone and let it do its thing.

A lot of hitters would swing at it because of its diving action, and those lucky enough to get their bat on the ball would throw it into the infield grass. Two days before the Mets game, Alcántara told me, “I just wait.” During that game, Alcántara got 10 ground-ball outs. A “swing-and-miss, a strikeout, or any other type of contact” is acceptable.

Overall, Alcántara has found himself in an awkward position because of the events that have transpired thus far. In other words, he’s throwing better and working harder at the same time, and these two traits reinforce one another.

Sandy Alcántara

He’s got a 1.73 ERA, which is a career-low and only.02 off the MLB lead despite leading the league in innings per start. His analytical statistics are all at career-high levels in his first full-length season against designated hitters in the National League.

In terms of batter-by-batter performance, Alcántara is the best pitcher in baseball, with a WHIP below one per inning and an ERA+ that doesn’t account for his innings-eating. Wins Above Replacement at Baseball-Reference.com has him ranked as the sport’s best player ever.

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