Change is the one constant in the world. You can’t escape it. You can’t deny it. You just have to accept it. We end up in places expecting things to go a certain way with our own laid-out plans that will succeed. But that doesn’t always happen right? Life doesn’t follow a script. We are continuously thrust into a new environment with a new set of rules and presented with a choice. A call to action. Adapt or die. This young man you will hear about today answered the call.

So there I sat in my office on a wet and rainy May morning. The hum of the fan overhead was a siren’s call of missed sleep the night before beckoning me to steal rest from the jaws of the new day. *Ping* The phone buzzed thus piercing the calm and my sleep-deprived ears. It was Grey in my DM with a request. When the bossman pings you to say he mentioned you by name in his morning write-up… It’s kinda a big deal. He didn’t earn his fantasy baseball degree from the University of Phoenix, but on the mean streets of Jersey trusting his primal instincts. He’s either got a really good hunch on the player or he’s really curious about what’s going on. This would be one of the former. Adbert Alzolay is pitching like a new man this season, and the early results are promising. He’s still so young, and still largely untested, but there’s something about Alzolay that makes you want to say “yay.”

Season Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA xERA xFIP
2019 24 12.1 9.49 6.57 2.92 0.273 7.30 6.58 6.12
2020 25 21.1 12.23 5.48 0.42 0.256 2.95 3.48 3.62
2021 26 32.0 10.13 1.97 1.69 0.208 4.50 3.92 3.39

Adbert came on the scene in 2019 and had a lot of life on his pitches but severely lacked control. A K-rate above 9 is great but a walk-rate above 6 is atrocious. However, he was new, and his time was short. Then last year, he found a path to raising his K-rate and lowering walks (however modest) and did well limiting the home run ball. This was also a short sample. That brings us to the 2021 season, where he has found his command. The walk-rate so far has been below 2 per 9 and with a K-rate still north of 10 that translates to a 23.6% K-BB% differential. I think that’s good.

Let’s have a look at his pitch mix:

In 2020 he added a sinker (but it moves more like a 2-seamer with more run than drop) and now it is replacing 4-seamer as his primary velocity pitch. And then there’s the elephant in the room… you see the funky usage lines? His “slider” usage seemed to drop in 2020 and a “curve” he started throwing took over at north of 30% usage. Hmmmm. Now in 2021 it appears the “curve” has bottomed out and now he’s committed to the “slider” at 46.3% usage. Woahhhhh Nelly, something doesn’t Adbert up. THIS IS REALLY CONFUSING. After a bit of tweet excavating from last year, I found the truth:

He was working on a slider grip last year… okay. In several interviews, he talked about coming into the 2020 season working on shaping his curveball. But additionally, he was adding the slider. WUT. So last year, Alzolay added 2 new pitches and retooled a 3rd. *mind-blown gif* He essentially reinvented himself in the middle of a pandemic, and completely changed his arsenal. For confirmation, let’s review the velo chart shall we?

So the 2019 data here (and above) is incorrect. He didn’t have a slider in 2019, it was the curve. As we learned above, he introduced the slider last year and now this year its become his primary pitch; whereas, he’s only thrown the curve 7 times this season. We also can see that his curveball has a clear speed gap with the slider. His curve is just above 80 and his slider sits around 85-86 mph. The proof is in the pudding, and we always save room for dessert (unless your mother-in-law cooks, then you better eat all that shizz). This can’t be highlighted enough, Adbert added 2 new pitches that have taken over nearly 75% of his pitch mix in less than a year. He’s a completely new pitcher now…

Here is his primary pitch mix from 2020 (newly added slider and change not shown):

So during the 2020 season, he primarily featured his 4-seamer as the main setup pitch with a heavy dose of the curveball (often for strikes) and then the sinker/2-seamer with the change serving as a rhythm break. The sinker though was new and lacked command and purpose.

Here is his primary pitch mix now in 2021 (curve and change not shown):

Fast-forward to this season, he’s throwing the 4-seamer less than ever (which was a negative pitch before). The sinker has improved a lot, especially his command of it. He also seems to have a clear plan on its usage now where last year he was certainly experimenting. In 2020 it only produced a 7.9% whiff-rate compared to a 20.3% rate so far in 2021. The slider too, looks to have improved command and purpose over the curveball in the previous year. Translation: he knows more of what he’s doing and is able to do it.

Example: Here is a 2-seamer running in on the hands then fading back to the plate on Albies. The pitch is now a weapon.

His 2 new pitches also work off of each other. His curveball now is has more of 12-6 movement in the 80-82 mph range, and the developed slider gets that wicked sweeping motion and pairs nicely with the arm-side run on his 2-seamer. You can see here:

Filth right? BUT that was last year, and his walk-rate was still north of 5 BB/9. Not good. He’s tweaked his pitches yet again, which might be the reason for his improved command. Take a look oat this:

Watching this Alzolay overlay you see his slider has more downward movement this year but still tunnels well with his 2-seamer. More importantly, IT STAYS IN THE SHADOW ZONE. So far this season he’s controlled the zone and it is netting -5 runs from the batters compared to -1 last year. He’s staying in the shadows more even though is giving up a little over the plate (down from -5 to -2).

Refering back to those stats at the beginning with fresh eyes:

Season Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA xERA xFIP
2019 24 12.1 9.49 6.57 2.92 0.273 7.30 6.58 6.12
2020 25 21.1 12.23 5.48 0.42 0.256 2.95 3.48 3.62
2021 26 32.0 10.13 1.97 1.69 0.208 4.50 3.92 3.39

Adbert added pitches. Then he learned how to use them, and now he commands them. The new and improved Alzolay has dropped his BB/9 and maintained an above-average K/9 for improved command. This gives him that 23.6% K-BB% which is to say, a quality that puts him in elite company. His K-BB% is good for 18th among all starting pitchers, and top 20 also in CSW% (31.7%) and SIERA (3.21). And according to Blair’s SpaceX data, over the last month each has been trending in the right direction: K-BB% +2.5%, -0.24 SIERA, +1.2% CSW. That my friends is potential ace material.

The one caveat is that he’s currently allowing a personal high, 46.2% Hardhit%. That is, how you say, not good… and could explain the difference in his SIERA/xFIP and his actual ERA. To take it to the next level this season he will need to learn how to minimize hard contact and barrels which I think would naturally lower the HR/9 to a more reasonable level. The Cubs have openly stated they are treating him with cub gloves this season, so I wouldn’t expect to see him go 6 IP anytime soon, but the skills of a budding ace may lead you to add Adbert to your roster in case we see him flip the switch.

If you want more Coolwhip to top off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.