Going into the 2019 season Jose Alvarado appeared to look like he might be one of the best young relievers in the game.
Despite jumping straight from Double-A to the majors, the first year and a half of Alvarado’s career saw him put up the results of one of the best relievers. In 93.2 innings Alvarado rocked a 2.79 ERA, 2.36 FIP, and 3.30 xFIP. With the limited innings his 2.8 fWAR was the 19th highest out of a reliever in 2017-18, in the same ballpark as guys like Dellin Betances, Brad Hand, and Ken Giles.
Before 2019, Alvarado posted a 28.2% strikeout rate and 9.8% walk rate. He’s been the definition of effectively wild which matches his minor league track record of 30% strikeout rates and 15% walk rates.
It wasn’t only about results, though, the stuff stands out.
Alvarado’s primary pitch is a sinker that averaged over 98 mph and peaked at 101.86 on the gun. He throws a high 80s slider and mid 80s curve as his secondary pitches of choice.
Through the end of April Alvarado was as dominant as ever. He posted a 1.38 ERA, 1.91 FIP, and 3.59 xFIP through 13.0 innings. He had a 35.2% strikeout rate and was the focus of many articles around the league like this one by Mike Petriello at MLB.com when he struck out Charlie Blackmon when a video went viral.
99 mph shouldn't move like that. pic.twitter.com/MHx38w33TS— MLB (@MLB) April 3, 2019
Then the life of a reliever turned it’s ugly head in 2019. Small sample sizes, personal issues, and injuries led to a roller coaster ride throughout last season.
Things went sideways as the next 17.0 innings weren’t nearly as effective. He put up a 7.41 ERA, 5.92 FIP, and 5.79 xFIP. His walk rate ballooned to 10.59 BB/9 (21.7%). He missed almost the entire month of June after he left the country due to personal reasons.
After coming back in July he went to the disabled list after four outings. In August he returned for another five outings before being out for the season. Alvarado was either great, awful, or unavailable in 2019.
Where do things stand now? Uncertain much like the rest of the world.
The Rays are expected to have one of the best bullpens in the game in 2020, and Alvarado is expected to play a large role. Depth Charts at FanGraphs has Alvarado contributing the third most fWAR of Rays relievers behind Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo. They expect big strikeout and walk totals.
If I was forced to guess who is the best reliever for the Rays in 2020, I would put Alvarado third behind Anderson and Castillo. However it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Alvarado was the most dominant reliever in a bullpen with a lot of options.
Enjoy a video of Alvarado’s dominant time on the mound on his birthday.
Feliz cumpleaños a nuestro pana, José Alvarado.— MLB Venezuela (@MLBVenezuela) May 21, 2020
El chamo está nasty desde la lomita. #MLBVenezuela pic.twitter.com/2I7NuS3yxm
Rays Baseball followed with another montage.
Wanna see a wiffle ball? pic.twitter.com/DEUXEKRLlL— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 21, 2020
With his family safely stateside, here’s to hoping that he’s able to get back on the mound and show Rays fans his dominant form in the near future.