Home Illustration The joy of watching Sandy Alcantara go long

The joy of watching Sandy Alcantara go long

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Matt Martell is on a well-deserved vacation this week. Emma Baccellieri covers you for her.

Of Sandy Alcantara’s many impressive stats this season, including a 1.82 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, there is perhaps none quite as remarkable as his total innings pitched.

The 26-year-old has become one of the best pitchers in the game so far this year and could potentially start the National League All-Star Game. He’s at the top of a young Marlins rotation with a lot of potential. And in an era that has come with considerable anxiety about the role of the starting pitcher and whether he can be saved, Alcantara looks basically like a classic: he leads MLB in innings pitched with 123 ⅓, which comes down to 7.3 innings per start, a real rarity these days. It is rare to have on average more than six innings per game. (There are only 13 pitchers making it this year aside from Alcantara.) Yet he works even deeper than that.

Here are all the pitchers who averaged more than seven innings per start in a season over the past decade:

To state the obvious: That’s not a lot of names! Once upon a time, such a list could have encompassed the majority of the league, but now… times have changed. Beginners who regularly work in the eighth have become extremely rare. If they looked like something of an endangered species a decade ago, they now seem to have all but disappeared, with hardly anyone having endured such a heavy workload in recent seasons. (Yes, the past two years have created unusual conditions for starters, with the rapid ramp-up of the pandemic season in 2020 and the lingering ramifications in 2021. But given that no starters have crossed the 7.0 IP threshold /GS in either 2017 or 2018, it’s clear that this phenomenon had roots that predate the pandemic.) That Alcantara is on this list in 2022 is impressive. that it is at the top, get as far in games as anyone has in the last decade? It is special.

This is all the more remarkable given the league-wide context. The average number of innings per start has been at an all-time low in recent seasons. It’s actually increased slightly this year as teams rebound from pandemic training constraints (and, more recently, as they adjust to rosters capped at 13 pitchers). Yet he still sits at just 5.2 PI, lower than he had been in any season before 2019.

IP_GS

And then you have a guy like Alcantara doing it – averaging more than two sets better than that league-wide number. It requires more than just skills: there is a degree of health luck involved, and it also requires a manager and a front office to be on the same page about the workload, which is not a guarantee these days. But Alcantara had it all.

He is the only pitcher with more than one complete game this season. A bit of context for that: there are only three pitchers who have pitched five complete games in the past four years. (Frankly, to show how much the starter’s role has changed, it’s hard to think of a stat that better communicates it: yes, that includes the tough pitching environments of 2020 and 2021, but we’re still talking about five finished games four seasons!) One is Adam Wainwright, an old-school icon who still makes it work at 40. The other is Lucas Giolito, thanks to three full games of his breakout season in 2019, though he hasn’t pitched more than one a year since. And, of course, the last is Alcantara.

There’s an argument to be made this This is precisely what is wrong with modern baseball: working beyond the seventh inning has become so rare that it deserves a comment in itself. (I’m sure I don’t need to summarize that argument here: if you’ve watched, oh, three national shows over the past few seasons, you’ve heard at least one variant.) Personally, I welcome some of the changes the league is making to try to incentivize longer starts and fewer relievers, but I also find that the alarm here is often a bit too much: the world is changing, baseball is changing with it, and there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in the skills of modern relievers, too. But the disappearance of the long start has certainly made it easier to appreciate a workhorse when you have the chance to watch one. The story arc of a complete game, or even the chance of a full game – means more to me now that it feels so rare. Watching a guy face the order for the third time and wondering how he’ll get through it, rather than which reliever will replace him, is a joy. This is exactly what Alcantara offers this season. Which gift.

Do you have questions for our team? Send a note to [email protected].

1. OPENING

Kyle Farnsworth

“The worst thing about bodybuilding, says Kyle Farnsworth, is how appealing Oreos are when you’re not allowed to eat them. By the time Farnsworth took the stage in Orlando last month for the Southern Championships of the United States of the National Physics Committee, he was about to withdraw and double his face.

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A recording with former Big League reliever Kyle Farnsworth about his latest athletic pursuit – which makes him look very different than he did the last time you saw him on the mound.

Kyle Farnsworth’s Next Big Thing: Spray Tans and Squats — and Absolutely No Oreos by Stephanie Apstein

The edgy story behind a former major league pitcher’s unique foray into competitive bodybuilding.

2. ICYMI

Let’s run through some of our other big SI baseball stories from this week.

The Science Behind Cursor Rise by Tom Verducci

Tom goes into depth about what makes the modern slider so effective and why so many pitchers turn to it more often.

Shohei Ohtani is the only thing keeping the Angels afloat by Nick Selbe

It’s been an incredible few weeks for baseball’s most fascinating player. It was… a little less incredible for his team.

3. PLEASE NOTE by Emma Baccellieri

MLB announced today that Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols would be named “legacy picks” for this year’s All-Star Game. It’s the 12th cap for Cabrera and 11th for Pujols, which puts them in the kind of business one would expect, given the iconic careers they’ve had: only 49 players have made All-Star appearances. Star in more than 10 seasons. Almost all are in Cooperstown. Those who are not are exactly what you would expect: Rose, Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, McGwire, Ramirez. But there is one more. Bill Freehan! The Tigers wide receiver made the All-Star team every season from 1964 to 1973 and again in 1975. His 11 appearances make him the only player to earn that many All-Star nominations and not reach the Hall of Fame without some sort of major. controversial. (He received just two votes in his first and only year on the ballot.) This underscores how difficult it is to travel to Cooperstown as a catcher – and suggests that, perhaps, it deserves a longer look. For more, here’s a nice tribute to Jay Jaffe’s Freehan career at FanGraphs, written when the catcher died last year.

4. W2W4 by Nick Selbe

Friday night is packed with intriguing pitching matchups, starting with Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan against Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo. McClanahan leads the American League with 133 strikeouts, while Castillo is in tears after a few up and down starts to start the season. He has a 2.49 ERA with 48 strikeouts in his last seven outings. Other matchups to watch include Pablo López vs. Chris Bassitt, Zack Wheeler vs. Adam Wainwright, and the Gray Cup (Sonny vs. Jon) taking place in Arlington.

It might not be a headliner for many people, but keep an eye out for Saturday’s Nationals-Braves game. Kyle Wright’s breakout season is worth listening to, but Patrick Corbin is the real reason to take notice. The former All-Star has been adrift for nearly three years and got off to a miserable start to 2022. But he’s been quietly putting up some solid results lately, including a 12-strout effort in eight innings on the 28th. June, followed by seven one-run innings on July 4. Perhaps a mid-career turnaround is in the works for the future 33-year-old.

5. CLOSEST to Emma Baccellieri

We’ll end with a crossword and baseball crossover. The Mets will retire Keith Hernandez’s number at a ceremony tomorrow and on a broadcast last month, Hernandez said he had reason to believe that New York Times had started work on a crossword puzzle with a Hernandez-centric theme that would take place the morning of the game. (And if you don’t remember Hernandez’s connection to crossword puzzles from the time he was playing, there’s a bit of history there.) It seemed legit: the NYT performs themed puzzles all the time, and Hernandez spoke enthusiastically about the early preparation, including a call from NYT to one of his colleagues at SNY.

As a baseball writer who loves crossword puzzles, I naturally reached out to NYT this week to see if I could chat with the builder or publisher of the puzzle. But they told me the crossword didn’t work. Alas! I will at least console myself for being what must be the only person to have sent a New York Times spokesperson a clip from the third inning of a Mets-Padres game with a request for comment on the discussion in the booth.

That’s all for us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, email us at [email protected]