Jose Alvarado Could Be The Most Pivotal Piece of the Phillies Bullpen

MLB: AUG 02 Rays at Orioles
BALTIMORE, MD – AUGUST 02: Tampa Rays pitcher José Alvarado (46) returns to the bench during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on August 2, 2020 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD (Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire)

In the top of the eighth of a tie-game, the Phillies turned to Jose Alvarado out of the bullpen on Opening Day. The Phillies acquired Alvarado in a savvy three-team trade in late December. Alvarado came up in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization, where he made his debut in 2017. The left-handed reliever is of the fireball-throwing variety with a fastball hitting a 97 MPH average. He also throws a curveball and a cutter.

During his first two seasons, Alvarado pitched a combined 93.2 innings, striking out 109 batters while earning a 2.79 ERA, a 2.36 FIP, and a 1.110 WHIP. Alvarado did not maintain this performance, however, entering the 2019 season. Dealing with injuries as well as some familial hardship off of the field, Alvarado was not of the right body or mind during the 2019 season. During the 2019 season, Alvarado pitched in 30 innings, allowing 18 runs while walking 27 and striking out 39. Shoulder injuries became a factor in 2020, continuing Alvarado’s downward trend.

If the Phillies can help Alvarado return to his 2017-18 form, then he will be one of the best setup arms coming out of the bullpen. If Alvarado remains as the 2019-20 variant, he will more closely resemble the Phillies’ 2020 bullpen.

Control is Key

In addition to staying healthy, control will be key for Alvarado in 2021. At his best, Alvarado’s fastball-curveball combination stays on the edges of the strike zone and keeps hitters off-balance. At his worst, Alvarado’s pitches are wild and yield a lot of walks.

You catch glimpses of both sides of Alvarado in his appearance on Thursday against the Braves. He threw five balls to start the inning, walking Freddie Freeman. It wasn’t until pitching coach Caleb Cotham came out onto the mound that Alvarado began throwing strikes. Alvarado then struck out Marcell Ozuna and Dansby Swanson, allowing a single to Travis d’Arnaud in between.

Alvarado’s wild side then appeared as he threw a cutter that kept cutting in until it collided with Austin Riley’s shin. He would then wrap up the inning by striking out Cristian Pache. Overall, Alvarado threw 21 pitches in the inning (9 balls and 12 strikes).

Jose Alvarado’s Impact on Phillies

See, while Alvarado’s stuff is electric, he still needs to work on his control. As the only lefty in the bullpen currently, he will be relied on a lot over the course of the season. Given the number of high-speed, low-control pitchers the Phillies have added this offseason, it appears that Cotham has a plan to work with the relievers over the course of the season to improve their control.

Only time will tell, but a Jose Alvarado with complete control over his pitches will be one of the best relievers in the NL East, if not the entirety of Major League Baseball.

Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire