Al Alburquerque | Pitcher | #62
2014 salary: $837,500
2013 statistics: 4.24 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 23.1 IP, 2 HR, 8 BB, 17 K, 3.09 BB/9, 6.56 K/9
Projected role: Middle relief/Potential setup
Thanks to a 2012 that was mostly aborted thanks to an elbow injury, 2013 was essentially Al Alburquerque’s second full season in the majors. It was not quite as effective as his first. For the purposes of this article, we’ll essentially compare AlAl’s dominant 2011 with his less-than-dominant 2013.
On the surface, the differences aren’t huge. His strikeouts dropped slightly in 2013 and his walks rose slightly, but not hugely – 13 K/9 and 6.2 BB/9 are still a lot in both categories. That’s always been Alburquerque – he’s going to walk a lot of guys, but he’s going to strike out even more guys, and the guys who do make contact will only make weak contact, so if you can deal with that you’re golden. The first parts of that held true in 2013, but all of a sudden, the weak contact turned into less weak contact, and that was largely AlAl’s undoing in 2013.
What happened? Al’s ground ball rate – 57% in 2011 – completely nosedived down to 40% last year. Those missing grounders turned into fly balls and, more frequently, line drives. His otherworldly 13.6% line drive rate in 2011 turned into 25.4% in 2013. He started giving up home runs, the infield popups disappeared, and contact was just generally really good.
Interestingly, Fangraphs splits Alburquerque’s fastballs into a two seamer and a four seamer; in 2011, they had him throwing the four seamer more than the two seamer. In 2013, he threw the two seamer more, and both fastballs got hammered; the two seamer, in particular, resulted in a 1.261 (!!!) OPS against. The slider was still effective, though not as much as it was in 2011; he also threw it noticeably more in 2013.
This brings us back to the present, and in an annual tradition, the Tigers are trying to get Alburquerque to mix the fastball in more. The rationale is sound: it better sets up the slider, keeps hitters more off balance, and so forth. In reality, the problem with Al’s fastball is that it’s just not as good a pitch as the slider. Al’s slider is one of the most devastatingly effective pitches in baseball when it’s working; his fastball is mid-90s, but it comes with little command. While he obviously has to find a way to mix it in, throwing it for the sake of throwing it may not be the wisest idea.
Fastball or not, it’s hard to really heavily lean on Alburquerque, given his high-walk tendencies and shaky 2013. That walk rate has always kind of eliminated him from closer discussions, but with Bruce Rondon out for the season, he may have to take on some big innings for the Tigers. They’ll desperate need him to find those missing grounders in 2014. If he does, he could be a very nice option late in games. If not, it’s 2013 all over again.