The Dodgers find themselves in a rather enviable position. With a starting rotation that has plenty of major and minor league options, the starting group is more or less locked down for the foreseeable future.
This surplus of starting pitching could very well afford the front office an opportunity to attempt a maneuver on a top prospect that was recently very well executed by the Reds. This copy-cat strategy I am suggesting comes after finding a striking resemblance between these two pitchers.
Four years ago, the Cincinnati Reds signed 23-year-old, Cuban pitcher, Raisel Iglesias. He was known for his high-velocity fastball, heavy sinker, and two decent secondary pitches. He was regarded as a starter and remained that way through his rookie season in the majors. But, after a lackluster inaugural season as a starter, the Reds moved Iglesias to the bullpen where things have turned around in epic fashion. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2016, Iglesias has gone from a decent back of the rotation starter to a shutdown reliever.
In his two seasons from the bullpen, Iglesias has pitched 154.1 innings in 100 games. Across that stretch, Iglesias has managed an ERA of 2.51 and a 1.121 WHIP. His ERA+ was beyond elite at a combined 173 over two seasons as compared to his ERA+ of 95 as a starting pitcher. He has also logged 34 saves, 28 of which came in 2017.
Iglesias’s transition to relief pitching has been relatively flawless, and the proof is in the statistics. But, what does Iglesias’s overwhelming success have to do with the Dodgers moving their top pitching prospect, behind Walker Buehler, to the bullpen? Well, the comparison between Yadier Alvarez and Raisel Iglesias is almost identical and would suggest the Dodgers make the same move.
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First, let’s talk about pitches. Raisel Iglesias was signed and is still best regarded for a four-seam fastball that sits in the upper 90s and has touched triple digits. He backs that fastball up with an elite slider and a decent change up. Iglesias also throws a sinker that was once known as his best pitch but, after moving to the bullpen, Iglesias has basically stopped throwing the sinker pitch. Last year he threw it just seven times amounting to .58% of his total pitches thrown. So, for the sake of this article, we will pretend that Iglesias never throws the sinker.
Now, let’s look at Yadier Alvarez. Like Iglesias, Alvarez relies heavily on a fastball that sits at an average velocity of 96.89 mph, just .36 mph faster than the average four-seamer of Iglesias. Alvarez then looks to a slider as his offspeed pitch, just like Raisel Iglesias. And, if things were not already close enough between the two, both pitchers finish off their arsenal with a changeup that sits in the upper 80’s. Both changeups are within one mile per hour of each other.
If the fact that Iglesias and Alvarez throw almost identical pitches was not enough to convince you that the Dodgers should try and repeat Iglesias’s success, allow me to go a little further. Yadier Alvarez, who is currently the Dodgers third overall prospect and baseball’s 46th best prospect, is regarded as a starting pitcher. But, Alvarez is yet to impress in that role.
Last year, across two levels, Alvarez exhibited the same problems regardless of where he was pitching. With both Double-A Tulsa and High-A Rancho Cucamonga, Alvarez seemed to be unable to find both control or the ability to keep batters off base. On the season, Alvarez walked 50 batters over 92.1 innings. His WHIP was at 1.516, a number that would never warrant a move to Triple-A let alone a call-up to the big leagues. If his WHIP was not bad enough, over the same stretch, Alvarez had an ERA of 4.68. So, there is cause for concern statistically, but the solution is hopefully clear: the bullpen. Just like Iglesias, working as a starter has been all that impressive and could warrant his transition.
In the end, the decision to move Alvarez to the bullpen is a big one and probably something that cannot be done for certain without some more exposure as a starter. But, should the Dodgers choose to move Alvarez to the pen, the comps are there for it to happen. The combination of Alvarez’s elite velocity and youth could be motivation to start working the young righty as a high leverage reliever. So, if done right, the Dodgers have the foundation to build the next great relief pitcher.