Young arm took dramatic steps forward after developing multiple new pitches at the Alternate Site
How acquired: International Free Agency 2012
Cubs fans have been hearing about Adbert Alzolay as a legitimate rotation option since 2018. Unfortunately a series of injuries, namely an ankle injury that delayed his ’18 and then a lat injury which ended his ’18, prevented his debut until 2019. On June 20th, 2019, Adbert Alzolay came out of the pen and dazzled to a line of 4 innings, 1 hit, 1 ER, and a 5:2 K/BB. While the scouting report on Alzolay featured prominent mentions about a fastball/curveball pairing, it was his changeup that befuddled hitters. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the evening or perhaps you’d have to “tip your cap” to the opposing teams, but Adbert’s changeup hasn’t matched the success of that night in 2019. Alzolay was rocked in his first start and found himself sent down until August of 2020. In his time in South Bend under the watchful eye of the player development staff, Adbert Alzolay created two pitches and changed, perhaps, the entire course of his career.
Mechanics and Control
Alzolay features a good grouping of release points (notice the tight grouping below, which is one aspect of “tunneling”). He displayed consistent mechanics in his final several starts of 2020, but does have a history of getting out of whack. It’s led to a high walk rate and there’s some effort in his delivery. Adbert has always been more control over command. He’s usually around the strike zone. However he’s not immune to pitches landing in the zone but far away from the catcher’s mitt. Ultimately it’s average control and slightly below average command. He has the potential to have above average control and average command with refinement.
Fastball: Velocity is not a problem for the emerging righthander. Coming in at an average of 94.3 mph, Adbert’s 4-seam fastball has zip. He can run it up into the high 90s when needed, but despite the speed, it doesn’t play well as a primary offering. Adbert’s fastball has mediocre spin with an average rpm of 2399 (good for 95th in baseball last year). He threw it 30% of the time and it was tattooed to a .636 slugging percentage and a wOBA of .440. His Whiff% on the pitch was 18.6%. Ultimately his command holds it back. I have a future average projection on it at the present, but this is a case where Adbert may need to drop the use percentage to closer to 25% or make significant strides with his command. Even if he just uses it to elevate and change eye level, it would be more successful.
Changeup: Has approximately 10 mph difference from the fastball. Admittedly, I’m not sure why he didn’t throw it more prior to the emergence of his 2-seam/sinker and slider. It plays as an above-average pitch at times and worked better than his 4-seam fastball. There wasn’t a single extra base hit off it in 2020, but he used it less than 10% of the time. In a longer season, Adbert should consider going to it more. His changeup produced an absurd 58.3% Whiff%. I believe in this pitch. I think it can be a plus offering.
Curveball: Adbert still features a slow curve (80 mph). His slower curve showed flashes of being a successful pitch (featured prominently in 2017-2018 in minors) earlier in his development. I have it rated as average at present. He likes to feature it up in the zone and to steal a strike.
2-Seam: This is where the real fun begins. Adbert developed two new pitches during his time in South Bend with his two-seam. Craig Breslow and the rest of the R&D and player development staff deserve credit, but ultimately Adbert was the individual who brought the changes to the field. This is a drastically improved pitch but relies on Adbert’s ability to throw his slider (see below). It features strong arm side run and is very effective moving away from left handed hitters and in to righties. It’s a useful pitch for inducing soft contact. I have it as an above-average pitch, but that is conditional based on the continued success of his slider.
Slider: Nothing changed Alzolay’s future projection more than the development of this slider at the Alternate Site. It’s absolutely filthy and I have it as a plus pitch. Admittedly that may be selling it short. Additionally, the presence of this pitch allows Adbert’s other pitches to play up. In 2020 Adbert’s slider registered an average spin 2896 rpm (9th in baseball in 2020). It features significantly more horizontal movement and vertical drop than the average slider. Hitters could do little with the pitch in 2020. The key metrics need to focus on his final two games of the regular season (after he changed his grip). On 9/22/2020, Adbert threw his slider 50.8% of the time with a 47.6% whiff%, a wOBA of .077, and an average spin of 2868. His final regular season game (9/27/2020), 39% of Alzolay’s pitches were sliders. They produced a 38.5% whiff%, a wOBA of 0.63, and an average spin of exactly 3000 rpm(!).
I’ve completely bought in on Adbert Alzolay. With his improvements to his pitch repertoire, his metrics plays as a #2 or #3 starter. It was a mixed bag for the Cubs in 2020, but I’d argue Alzolay’s emergence is second only to Ian Happ’s in relation to importance to the organization in 2021. My only concern is Adbert’s prior health issues. From 2018-2019, Adbert dealt with an ankle injury, pulled lat, and biceps inflammation. Combining Adbert’s pitches, health, and the current landscape of pitching in MLB, Alzolay’s future profile screams an above-average pitcher capable of throwing 120-130 innings in the regular season.
|Whiff%||Whiff percentage||Provides information on swing and miss percentages (whiffs), which are positively correlated to strikeout percentage||(whiffs)/(swings)|
|wOBA||Weighted on base average||Factors in individual hitting occurrences and weighs each separately. For instance a double is worth more than a single, which is worth more than a hit by pitch.||See specific calculation on fangraphs|