What makes Jose Alvarado a high-upside addition to Phillies' bullpen

Corey Seidman
·3 min read

What makes Alvarado a high-upside addition to Phillies' bullpen originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

While it’s possible that 2018 was Jose Alvarado’s peak, his arm talent certainly makes the Phillies’ low-risk trade Tuesday worthwhile.

The Phils acquired the 25-year-old lefty Alvarado from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade. All it cost them was 26-year-old left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, who made one appearance here in 2020 and was iffy to make the Phillies’ thin bullpen in 2021. 

If Alvarado can rebound from the shoulder issue he dealt with in late August and improve upon his control, he can be an elite reliever like he was two years ago, when he had a 2.39 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 80 strikeouts in 64 innings. He walked 4.1 batters per nine innings that season compared to an unsightly 7.6 per nine in two abbreviated seasons since. There's no question about what he needs to correct to get back on track.

Alvarado saved 15 games for the Rays in 2018 and ‘19 but shifted between roles. The Rays tend to use their best relievers in the highest-leverage role, whether that’s the sixth inning or the ninth. Save opportunities went to Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Emilio Pagan before Nick Anderson arrived from the Marlins and supplanted them all.

Alvarado’s main pitch is his two-seam fastball, which has ridiculous movement. What makes him so entertaining to watch? Do yourself a favor and check out this sampling of his nastiest offerings.

The Phillies have not had a reliever with that combination of fastball velocity and movement in quite some time. They had Seranthony Dominguez’s big four-seamer for 58 innings in 2018 but rarely since, and while he averaged 98, it wasn’t with the sort of sink and horizontal movement Alvarado’s main weapon has.

At his best with the Rays, Alvarado was one of baseball’s top relievers. He had a 40-appearance stretch from June through late September in 2018 with a 1.06 ERA, a .150 opponents’ batting average, no homers allowed and 43 K’s in 34 innings. 

He was not a one-year wonder, either. Alvarado had a 4.80 ERA in 2019 in 35 appearances but it was heavily skewed by one six-run outing in July. His ERA was 3.07 aside from that one afternoon against the Yankees.

The control issues, however, have been constant for Alvarado, even when he’s pitching well. The Rays spent time working with his mechanics, and his movement obviously has something to do with pitches landing out of the zone. Another of Alvarado’s weapons is a breaking ball that drops below the knees. With two strikes, that can be a deadly pitch, even if Alvarado throws it 55 feet. When he’s behind in the count, it’s useless.

Alvarado was hard enough to hit for most of ‘18 and ‘19 that he was able to get away with walking a batter every two innings. But he unraveled after that six-run outing against the Yankees in 2019. He pitched four more innings that season and walked 10. That won’t cut it no matter how electric the stuff can be.

Teams always take chances on repertoires like Alvarado’s. If things click, the Phillies have the kind of reliever they haven’t had in a while. If not, they lose a pitcher they may not have used anyway in Cleavinger, along with about a million bucks.

For what it’s worth, even the diminished version of Alvarado’s sinker thrown in 2020 as he dealt with shoulder issues averaged 97.2 mph. The only two Phillies pitchers over the last decade to average at least 97.2 with their sinker were Luis Garcia and Seranthony Dominguez, who threw only 66 of them.

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