It’s rare that you get to see such a “dramatic effect” as a pitcher debuting a brand new, in-season, heavily-deployed pitch to great results. Usually, new pitches come along slowly as part of a process, or you might see something new in Spring Training, or you might see a pitch a guy has long used suddenly show a little bit of improvement.
What you don’t usually see is a guy, on a dime, bust out a pitch so new that the tracking services don’t even know how to classify it for that pitcher initially.
Last night, Adbert Alzolay piggybacked off of Jose Quintana’s two-inning start, throwing his usual mix of four-seamers around 94 mph, his curveball around 78 mph, and his changeup (only thrown once, at 84 mph). And like he had started to do recently, Alzolay was working in his newer two-seamer (aka sinker) at about 95 mph as something of a change-of-pace pitch. It appears to have replaced his changeup in that way, and it might actually eventually replace his four-seamer as his primary fastball (it got a much higher percentage of called and swinging strikes last night than his four-seamer).
We knew about all that stuff already, though. What was looking very strange – and awesome – was that sometimes, his “curveball” was coming in at 86-87 mph, with a tonnnnn of lateral movement. He threw it about 15 times last night. We’d heard reports of him experimenting at South Bend with a knuckle curve, which comes in at a higher velocity than his normal curve, but not THAT fast, and not with THAT much lateral movement. What he was throwing last night looked much more like a hard slider.
Statcast was classifying the pitch as a curveball (his range of velo on the curveball last night was 78 mph to 88 mph, lol), but unless he had started throwing a Craig Kimbrel knuckle curve with even more lateral movement and velocity than Kimbrel, that pitch is not a curveball.
Look at this thing for five of his seven strikeouts. That’s not a curveball, that’s a dang Yu Darvish slider:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 23, 2020
Sure enough, we learned after the game – for the first time! – that it *is* a slider, and it’s a *new* slider! Alzolay has been tinkering with the grip on his slider, and busted it out last night to dramatic effect.
After the game tonight, Adbert said he tweaked the grip in the past 10 days. Closer to cutter grip. Needed more velo separation off curve. So the slider tonight was a “new” pitch. @statcast game log should have it updated soon.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 23, 2020
I mean, unless you’re talking about Darvish, how many guys out there develop a new pitch over the course of 10 days and deploy it THAT many times in an outing? With that much success? If he can get that much velo and movement on that pitch, with good location, it’s like … I mean … that’s a literal game-changer for Alzolay. It changes his games. Completely. I’m awed by what he did last night, and how much he’s evolved even in this broken-up, no-minor-leagues 2020 season.
Adbert Alzolay’s game log by pitch type at Brooks Baseball.
What I see is a prospect relentlessly working to get better. Adds the 2 seamer over the winter, and the slider in South Bend.
We’ll see if it all adds up to a productive big leaguer, but odds are better than ever. pic.twitter.com/Mksk2e5TLq
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) September 23, 2020
By the way, not to be missed in the slider talk, but that two-seamer last night was getting excellent movement, and he was locating it well. Pair these two pitches together consistently, working in the four-seamer, changeup, and curveball occasionally, and you could be a stud:
With that many pitches of that high of a quality, and a fastball that he can sustain in the 93-95 mph range deep into outings, you can see why the Cubs have given Alzolay the leash to remain a starting pitcher for a couple years longer than you might otherwise think based on his injury history. And, looking ahead to 2021, I’m still totally on board with letting Alzolay compete for a rotation spot, and if there isn’t one for him, then letting him pitch out of the bullpen.
But for this year? For the postseason? If he’s clicking like this right now coming out of the pen, how could you NOT let him just be a two or three-inning guy, ready to be deployed if you pull a starter aggressively?
And, hey, obviously it’s been an uneven road – even over only 16.1 innings this year – but I’m just pointing out that Adbert Alzolay has posted a 3.31 ERA and 2.82 FIP this season. He has gotten wild at times, but he’s also been brilliant at times. Last night was arguably his best yet.