Phillies 2024 Season Preview: LHP José Alvarado

Reliever José Alvarado has a chance to grab the closer job in 2024.

Philadelphia Phillies reliever José Alvarado has a chance to grab the closer job in 2024
Philadelphia Phillies reliever José Alvarado has a chance to grab the closer job in 2024 / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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The first entry in our Philadelphia Phillies 2024 Season Preview series is reliever José Alvarado

We'll take a brief look at Alvarado's 2023 performance and then see where he might end up this season using the popular Steamer projection system which can be found over on FanGraphs.

José Alvarado 2023 stats and 2024 projections

2023 Stats: 42 G, 41.1 IP, 0-2 record, 10 SV, 1.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 64 SO, 18 BB, 1.3 fWAR

2024 Steamer: 74 G, 74 IP, 4-3 record, 23 SV, 3.02 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 97 SO, 36 BB, 1.2 fWAR

José Alvarado 2024 season preview

Alvarado, 28, heads into his fourth season in the Phillies bullpen after a 2023 campaign that saw him battle elbow issues and pitch only 41 1/3 innings. But when he was healthy, the big left-hander was lights-out dominant with a 1.74 ERA and 37.2 percent strikeout rate, picking up 10 saves in 12 chances.

With Craig Kimbrel gone and the team yet to sign another reliever, now just a month and a half out from Spring Training, Alvarado looks to have the inside track for the "closer" role in 2024. Even if manager Rob Thomson deploys a closer-by-committee approach, it's hard to imagine the big lefty not getting the lion's share of the save opportunities.

Despite not having enough innings to officially qualify, Alvarado ranked in the 90th percentile or better in several categories according to Baseball Savant, including strikeout rate (37.2 percent), whiff rate (33.5 percent), barrel rate (4.4 percent), ground ball rate (55.6 percent), xERA (2.75), and xBA (.202).

Now the bad news.

Alvarado projected for regression in 2024

Alvardo might not lock down the ninth-inning job for the full season if Steamer's projections come to fruition. While Steamer likes Alvarado to register a career-high 23 saves — his 10 in 2023 stands as his career-high — there are a few areas where the projection system sees him regressing back toward his career average.

Despite posting a stellar 1.74 ERA and a slick 2.41 FIP in 2023, Steamer thinks his 2024 ERA will end up at 3.02 and his FIP at 3.34. It makes some sense. Repeating a 1.74 ERA is unrealistic, and those projections aren't horrible numbers — three of the top 10 closers had ERAs north of 3.00 in 2023.

But how will this happen? Thanks largely to a strikeout rate predicted to drop to 31.4 percent and a slightly elevated walk rate from 10.5 percent to 11.5 percent. Still, 97 punch outs in a projected career-high 74 innings isn't too shabby.

Alvarado's jump in strikeouts is no fluke

One thing projection systems don't consider is the Caleb Cotham effect.

Alvarado's pitch arsenal has changed since first donning the red pinstripes in 2021. After reducing his seldom-used curveball and four-seamer in both 2021 and 2022, he cut both offerings out of his arsenal altogether in 2023. He has used his sinker less and cutter more under Cotham's watch, with great success.

Cutter %

Sinker %

K%

xSLG

xWOBA

2023

41.2%

58.8%

37.2%

.285

.258

2022

42.9%

54.5%

37.9%

.275

.249

2021

16.3%

77.2%

27.1%

.304

.313

It's not hard to see how Alvarado's focus on the cutter has led to a jump in his strikeout rate in the last two seasons. It's not a coincidence, that's for sure. He had a 65.5 percent and 52.6 percent strikeout rate with the cutter in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

It's a bit baffling that Steamer projects a regression in his strikeout rate after two years of striking out hitters at over a 37 percent clip. While it's true that Alvarado's strikeout rate over the first five seasons of his career was 27.7 percent, he has obviously found something that works for him as he pitches into his prime.

If Alvarado continues to attack hitters with the same arsenal in 2024, we may see him better his projections, which would be great for the Phillies and the bullpen in tight, late-game situations.

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