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Three Indicators that Jorge Alcala has Broken Out


Jorge Alcala broke out in the second half of 2021. Here are three reasons why.

This week, Brock Beauchamp posted in the Twins Daily forums on the increasing value of the Ryan Pressly trade. While the irony of the Twins bullpen performing strongly long after they were out of contention is not lost on most Twins fans, Alcala’s breakout may have been. In the second half of 2021, he made the leap to bona-fide high-leverage relief pitcher.

Let’s begin by considering the big picture before we dive into the minutiae. Alcala may not have remained with the big league team all season given his first half if the rest of the Twins pitching wasn’t struggling so much. He put up a 4.67 ERA, 2.3 HR/9, 5.53 FIP, and just a 23% K%, pretty underwhelming for someone who can throw 100 mph. The second half, however, was a different story, Alcala managed a 2.88 ERA, 0.36 HR/9, 2.01 FIP, and a 32% K%, (Wow!) Alcala massively improved his ability to limit hard contact, keep the ball in the ballpark, and strike opposing hitters out, so, what changes led to this development?

Tweaking his Pitch Mix
Let’s start with Alcala’s pitch mix. In order for him to become a consistent back-end bullpen arm, Alcala has been working on incorporating a changeup into his pitching repertoire since the beginning of the 2020 season. Early in his career (and the first half of 2021), Alcala’s fastball was prone to be hit hard due to poor control and command.

Alcala has reduced his use of his fastball from around 65% when he broke into the league in 2019 to just 36.6% at the end of the 2021 season. Similarly, he has increased his changeup usage to 16%, as his comfort with the pitch has grown.
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The value and effectiveness of Alcala’s changeup has increased significantly, due to his improved command and ability to keep the pitch down in the zone, and his ability to develop arm-side run when throwing it.

A More Effective 4-Seam Fastball
In addition to tweaking his pitch mix, Alcala’s fastball has become significantly more effective in 2021. Alcala has pushed the location of his four seam fastball further up the strike zone.
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Additionally, Alcala has developed over three inches more horizontal movement when throwing this pitch. Velocity in the high 90s with no lateral movement is one thing. Velocity in the high 90s with four inches of horizontal movement is another. This is leading to less consistent contact on the pitch.
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Improved Command
If you want overall indicators of improved control from Alcala in 2021, they are everywhere. His first-pitch strike% improved 11.4%, his in-zone% improved 6.7%. What the Twins now have on their hands is a reliever who throws in the high 90s, has two strong complimentary pitches, an excellent BB%, and has shown the ability to implement changes which improve his command, and the movement of his pitches. A dominant Jorge Alcala, coming to a bullpen near you in 2022.

 


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I'm an old fart so I'll use old school language.  It's quite possible that he just figured out what worked and went with it.  Or he matured.  Or he gained confidence in his abilities. Hard to display these statements with graphs, charts, 8x12 color glossy pictures (go to Blockbuster and rent Alice's Restaurant), or any other visual aids, but it works for me.

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36 minutes ago, terrydactyls said:

I'm an old fart so I'll use old school language.  It's quite possible that he just figured out what worked and went with it.  Or he matured.  Or he gained confidence in his abilities. Hard to display these statements with graphs, charts, 8x12 color glossy pictures (go to Blockbuster and rent Alice's Restaurant), or any other visual aids, but it works for me.

Rec of Blockbuster and Alice's Restaurant (where you can get anything you want, excepting Alice of course).

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Honestly, it comes down to whether the change-up is for real, a pitch that he can throw for strikes (or get hitters to chase) so that he doesn't get his brains kicked in by lefties. he was death against righties this year: clearly his fastball/slider mix works great against them and he can hurl both effectively. His problems was entirely against left-handed hitters this year, where while they didn't get tons of hits, when they did they hit the ball a looooong ways.

I'm excited about Alcala for next year. Despite how bad the bullpen started the year, it was pretty solid by the end of the year and if Taylor Rogers is back and healthy, I'd feel pretty good about this bullpen if they signed one more good right-handed arm.

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It seems like most of the difference between the first and second half for Alcala is that he got clobbered for 9 HR in the first half and only allowed 1 in the last half.  His K and BB numbers did improve a bit also.  I like to think he was better all year long, and it certainly seems like there was some bad HR "luck" in the first half.  (If you don't like the word luck just all it making all of his mistakes to the wrong hitters at the wrong time).

For a lot of the changes I'm not sure what happened mid season and what happened before the season.  I remember looking at his pitch mix when they first started talking up his "new" changeup in May or June and it was basically unchanged from last year, but now by the end of the year he's thrown his changeup almost twice as often, so he definitely threw it a lot more in the second half.

I think the big thing is that his overall improvement in command and consistency with all of his pitches was really apparent this year.  In addition to the heat map for the fastball in the article, there was a really obvious change in the heat map for his slider.  In 2019 and 2020 he threw sliders up in the middle of the zone all the time, and actually got away with it probably a lot more than he should have.  He had a very nice looking cluster around the bottom right part of the zone this year.

I definitely want to buy him truly breaking out next season.  If it weren't for the home run problems in the first half it would have already been a lot more apparent.

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If the changeup is for real now is there any chance the Twins kick around the idea of going Freddy Peralta on the bit and trying to move him back to being a starter? Relievers are way easier to find than starters and we know we can use roughly 64 starters for next year. I'd guess there's a roughly .0942348509% chance this happens, but I think it'd be worth a chat amongst the pitching coaches and higher ups. No idea what his stamina is like, but if I remember the reason he moved to the pen was the lack of a 3rd pitch to get lefties out. If he has that why not see if he can't get through the order twice?

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Fantastic improvement for a young man who can/must be a big part of the 2022 bullpen.  Rogers, Duff, Alcala and one top new arm take the late innings.  Lots of guys did well late this year, who collectively can handle those early innings.

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6 hours ago, chpettit19 said:

If the changeup is for real now is there any chance the Twins kick around the idea of going Freddy Peralta on the bit and trying to move him back to being a starter? Relievers are way easier to find than starters and we know we can use roughly 64 starters for next year. I'd guess there's a roughly .0942348509% chance this happens, but I think it'd be worth a chat amongst the pitching coaches and higher ups. No idea what his stamina is like, but if I remember the reason he moved to the pen was the lack of a 3rd pitch to get lefties out. If he has that why not see if he can't get through the order twice?

Yes, this could really change the outlook for next season.  If Alcala can be an effective starter and we add one really good free agent to go along with Ober / Ryan / Alcala, all of the sudden the pitching situation looks quite different.  This is a really intriguing idea.  

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41 minutes ago, Major League Ready said:

Yes, this could really change the outlook for next season.  If Alcala can be an effective starter and we add one really good free agent to go along with Ober / Ryan / Alcala, all of the sudden the pitching situation looks quite different.  This is a really intriguing idea.  

Yeah could be something especially if Duran goes the opposite way. Still would need two FA starters though but yeah maybe just one frontline guy.

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Agree that a strong bullpen can make an average starting staff look better. The Twins have many openings in their starting staff and questions in their bullpen for next year. Work to strengthen the bullpen first then the starting staff.

Hard to fill all our needs in one offseason. For our market follow and learn from Tampa Bay. Look at the age and experience of the pitcher starting their first game of the playoffs. We have similar pitchers in our system.

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On 10/7/2021 at 10:32 AM, chpettit19 said:

If the changeup is for real now is there any chance the Twins kick around the idea of going Freddy Peralta on the bit and trying to move him back to being a starter? Relievers are way easier to find than starters and we know we can use roughly 64 starters for next year. I'd guess there's a roughly .0942348509% chance this happens, but I think it'd be worth a chat amongst the pitching coaches and higher ups. No idea what his stamina is like, but if I remember the reason he moved to the pen was the lack of a 3rd pitch to get lefties out. If he has that why not see if he can't get through the order twice?

I was going to state the same thing. Although we need good relievers , we need quality starters more. At this point like Wabene stated Duran could be flipped to reliever in Alcala's place until he develope his 3rd pitch.

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