Sandy Alcantara's 2022 season was one of my favorite pitching seasons of recent memory. It felt stuck out of time. Yes, it was pleasing watching him pump 100 MPH fastballs down people's faces, but the number of innings he pitched was staggering. He threw an absurd 228.2 innings, 23.2 innings more than Aaron Nola, who was second in innings pitched a season ago. The sky felt like it was the limit for the twenty-six-year-old. To say he's crashed back down to earth this season is an understatement. Shockingly, the Marlins find themselves in pretty good shape with an above .500 record considering their Cy Young winner has been ineffective. But Alcantara's stuff is still filthy. What the hell has gone wrong?
Whenever we encounter a struggling pitcher in 2023, we immediately default to the new rules and the pitch clock as a big reason for their struggles. That may be a factor, but much like Alek Manoah, I have a hard time believing that the guy's ERA doubled because he has to work within the parameters of a pitch clock. As I said earlier, Alcantara stuff is still fantastic. His fastball velocity is in the 96th percentile, and he can reach triple digits. Even at his Cy Young peak a year ago, Alcantara never had the strikeout numbers that one would expect, considering how good his stuff is as a pitcher. His 7.6 strikeouts per nine this season is the lowest it's been since his 2019 campaign. But I feel like it's easy to say, "Oh, this pitcher isn't missing enough bats," and not try to explain why they aren't.
The number one reason for Alcantara's decline has been that his changeup has been a completely ineffective pitch for him. I'm getting very nerdy with the statistics here, but the runs above average on his change of a year ago was a staggering 24.5. It was one of the best pitches in baseball, and it was often the pitch he used to put hitters away. This year the runs above average on his changeup is -6.5. That's a stark decline and a huge reason for his struggles.
I'm a starting pitching guy, and I love workhorses. I can accept five innings, two earned any day, but I love guys who go deep into ball games, and last year nobody was better at that than Sandy Alcantara. It was his second season in which he pitched 200 innings or more. He also had a 197.1-inning season in 2019. He even finished a fair amount of games last season, leading MLB in complete games with six. Nobody else came close. As fun as that was to watch, the sad truth is that that just isn't sustainable in the modern age.
Alcantara may not have a specific injury that we can point to, but the natural wear and tear that comes with pitching so many innings catches up to you eventually. You need to have an almost superhuman feel for your body if you want to be someone who will pitch over 200 innings in a season. Everyone hits a wall eventually. People forget that at age 25, Justin Verlander had a 17-loss season in his third full year in the league. So Alcantara's issues are fixable. Some underlying numbers indicate he's gotten bad luck on balls hit in play. His ERA is 4.70, but his FIP is a respectable 4.01. But the issues plaguing him won't be corrected until after this season.
I still think he's feeling the residual effects from all the innings he devoured over the last two seasons. It's a shame because I'd love to see a throwback to the days when pitchers started games, hoping to finish them. In the modern age, that isn't sustainable. Alcantara is a prime example of that.