Let’s get a few things out of the way early. Al Alburquerque gets a lot of strikeouts and issues a lot of walks. 33.7% of the batters he has faced in his career have struck out. 16.1% have walked. Add those together and we’re talking about 49.8% of his career has been spent not letting the hitter put the ball in play. It should also be noted that his arm should probably fall off given that pitching with good mechanics is very violent and he doesn’t have good mechanics.
Al-Al (as I’ll refer to him because his last name takes forever to type) is really good at not allowing batters to make contact and when they do, it’s not usually great contact. In his career, he’s allowed a .291 SLG (MLB average is about .400). In 95.1 IP, he has a 2.93 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and 1.9 WAR. He’s been erratic, but he’s been very effective – and that includes slightly elevated 2013 numbers based on an out of the ordinary BABIP. He’s not likely to produce a .220 BABIP like he did in 2012, but .350 is likely too high as well.
All in all, Al-Al is a dangerously talented all or nothing kind of arm. He might throw 10 straight balls or he might retire six batters like nothing. You know this about him and you know that he’s got a two pitch mix. Fastball, slider. That’s it. The fastball is good when he can command it, but his moneymaker is his slider. This post is about that slider for no other reason than it is incredible.
Since he only has 95.1 career innings, I’m going to stick with career long stats entering play on August 28th. Coming in, Pitch F/X says he’s thrown 974 sliders (about 60% of his pitches) and has allowed a .130/.226/.148 line against, good for a .186 wOBA and 20 wRC+. Those are insane numbers. Against Al-Al’s slider, hitters are 80% worse than league average. They slug 100 points lower than league average batting average. It’s incredible.
He gets a 24% swinging strike rate against it. League average in 2013 is 9.2%. He gets a 47.9% Contact%. League average is 79.7%. Among pitchers to throw 600+ sliders in the Pitch F/X era, no one has a higher Whiff/Swing rate on that pitch than Al-Al’s 54%. It’s nasty. When batters hit it, it rarely does much. And they don’t hit it very often.
As far as its properties, it only averages 1.5 inches of horizontal movement, but has a very nice -0.4 vertical movement (remember vertical movement is compared to where it would be compared to a pitch that isn’t spinning without gravity). I’ll show you. He’s gone 80-90 with a an 86 mph average:
But let’s get fancy and look at vertical movement with horizontal:
It’s a good slider, but it’s not the best slider if you’re looking at it in terms of its basic properties. It’s 86 mph with 0-5 inches of horizontal break and somewhere in the 5 to -5 vertical range (remember this factors out gravity!). That’s a nice slider, but its not the best in the league. The key, I imagine, is how difficult the pitch is to pick up. Let’s consider a couple of images:
Hopefully you can see that the ball is behind his head. I think this is a slider, but I can’t be sure. He’s hiding that ball for a long time. Let’s try to get a better screen grab:
What are you supposed to do with that? By that point in his delivery, Verlander has the ball way out in the open. Not surprisingly, Trumbo swung and missed at this slider. (PS: If someone can teach me to make GIFs, that would be super cool).
So let’s review. Alburquerque’s slider is very effective and his main fault is being wild. His slider has solid movement and velocity, but the key is that you just can’t see it coming. I can only imagine what it’s like to stand in the batter’s box. The ball comes from behind his head!
Two lessons jump out. One, if Al-Al finds a way to get down to like, 4 walks per 9, he’ll be the most dominant reliever in the game. Two, his elbow is going to explode at some point. Elbows shouldn’t move like normal pitchers make them move. This movement is just ridiculous. Good luck, people facing him. I would just recommend you look for a walk.