I’ve been riding the “Adbert Alzolay for Closer” train for quite some time, so I thought now would be a good time to explain my reasoning. While I obviously have zero personal influence over David Ross’ pitching choices, this is one I hope he and the rest of Cubs management make for 2023.
The first reason, one that should be obvious just by looking at his numbers, is that Alzolay has been a far better pitcher in relief than as a starter throughout his MLB career.
As starter: 27 games, 130 IP, 5.19 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 innings, 28 HR allowed
As reliever: 18 games, 42⅔ IP, 2.32 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, 11.6 K/9 innings, 3 HR allowed
Granted, those are both fairly small sample sizes, particularly the relief numbers. But there’s clearly a significant difference between his performance as a starter and his relief outings.
In 2022, after returning from injury, Alzolay pitched exclusively in relief, six total games. Four of those outings were scoreless, the other two... not so great. I want to focus here on one specific outing, a three-inning scoreless stint against the Reds October 1 at Wrigley Field. The game was tied 1-1 after three innings and Drew Smyly had been removed after a 62-pitch outing.
Alzolay threw the next three innings. He faced nine batters and retired all of them, four by strikeout. What struck me most in looking up his pitch log is the fact that his velocity ticked up from what it had been as a starter. He consistently hit 96 during that outing and touched 97. Of his 33 pitches that day, 25 were strikes.
So if he can throw 96-97 in a 33-pitch, three-inning outing, I’d think he could do that or perhaps even 98 in a typical closing appearance, which is generally one inning and between 15-20 pitches, perhaps fewer if the closer is more efficient. Note that Alzolay averaged 11 pitches per inning in that October 1 outing and for his six appearances in 2022, averaged 14.9 pitches per inning.
But wait, there’s more! Beyond that fastball, Alzolay has a nasty slider. Just look at these!
Adbert Alzolay, Nasty Sliders. pic.twitter.com/Ei2KWi244x— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 1, 2022
If those pitches weren’t nasty enough for you, here are some more, from a September game against the Rockies:
Adbert Alzolay, K'ing the Side. pic.twitter.com/NkoyQQT030— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 17, 2022
Alzolay might have had sustained success in the major leagues before now, but injuries always got in the way, including during his minor league career:
2017: Ankle injury, lat strain
2018: Side injury, lat strain
2019: Biceps soreness
2022: Lat strain
The 2022 injury, suffered in Spring Training, kept him out of action until August, when he made five minor league rehab appearances before the six in September with the Cubs.
It seems to me that putting Alzolay in a position where he’d throw one inning three (or so) times a week would be better than pushing him to throw 90 or more pitches every fifth day as a starter. He’s got enough MLB experience that I believe he could translate well to the closer role, and he will turn 28 in March, time for him to establish himself in a solid MLB role.
Some of you might say Alzolay could be useful as a multi-inning reliever, and yes, he did reasonably well there late in 2022. But the Cubs already have a guy who fills that role — Keegan Thompson — and with more starting pitching depth they could conceivably use Adrian Sampson that way. Thus they don’t need Alzolay to be a multi-inning reliever, but they could use a closer. Why not try this?
This poll is closed
... should be the Cubs’ closer
... should be in the Cubs’ rotation
... should fill some other role on the 2023 Cubs pitching staff, such as multi-inning reliever
Something else (leave in comments)