Since mid-2011, Jays fans kept hearing about how Alvarez was big league ready in AA and hitting 100 MPH with his darting fastball. Since arriving, he has pitched 63.2 innings, posting a 3.53 ERA and striking out 40 while letting only 12 runners reach via hit by pitch or walk. His peripheral numbers supported his fine play as well as he posted a 4.00 FIP and a BABIP of .283, indicating only a slight future regression. His strikeout rates were as expected, fairly low (5.7 K/9) but this played up due to a low walk rate. Using his hard and heavy two-seam fastball he got opponents to hit the ball on the ground 54.6% of the time. He had a high HR/FB rate of 17.8%, but it was expected to regress as it was double league average of 8.1%.
Fast forward to this season and Alvarez is still getting batters to put it on the ground at a 56.7% rate and his ERA is fantastic at 2.83, but that is where the good signs end. His FIP has ballooned to 5.12 due to his absolutely brutal 2.6 K/9 and his walk rate has jumped from 1.13 BB/9 to 2.18. Since 1980 only 14 times has a pitcher posted a lower strikeout rate then Alvarez, the most recent being Nate Cornejo in 2003 and before that it hadn’t been done since 1989.
His BABIP is an insanely low at just .201 and unless you listen to Pat Tabler, you know that it is a bad sign of things to come, as BABIP tends to regress to around .300. Only 17 times since 1950 has a pitcher sustained a BABIP under .220, and the last time it was done it was Tom Browning in 1988. In 23 seasons no qualified pitcher has had a BABIP under .220. Alvarez has also seen no drop in his HR/FB rate as its still double league average at 16.2%.
Digging deeper into the numbers we see his career 5.4% swing and miss rate, which since 2002 ranks 858th out of 879 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings which is incredibly alarming. Lets look at it this way: in his career Alvarez has induced 87 swings and misses on 1550 pitches. In 780 pitches since 2007, Brandon Morrow has 63 whiffs with his changeup alone.
Alvarez’s four-seam fastball, that apparently touched 100 MPH in AA, hasn’t touched higher then 96.1 MPH at the big league level and has averaged 94.49 MPH. He has also given up six home runs of the four-seamer. His more commonly used two seam fastball (used 45% of the time) averages 93.6 MPH and generates a 61% ground ball rate; five of the 14 home runs he‘s allowed in his career have come off that pitch. As we can see, 79% of the home runs he’s given up in his career have come off his fastball, which is his best pitch. He uses it 70% of the time.
His slider hasn’t faired much better despite being a seldom-used pitch. He’s given up two home runs on 169 pitches and has only managed to fool hitters into swinging and missing 13 times. His need for an out pitch is even more evident when you see that he has allowed five home runs while having two strikes on a batter.
With all that said, Alvarez has a nasty two-seam fastball that generates a ton of groundballs and he has shown an ability to throw strikes consistently. However, unless he finds a way to strike out more batters, and force batters to not sit on his fastball, the odds are against him having a long and successful career. He has only thrown 100 big league innings and should be given more time to work out his issues, but as of this moment, Blue Jays fans should be very, very afraid of, not if, but when regression hits.