When you have this ace, who needs a closer?

November 16th, 2022

wasn't like the other Cy Young Award finalists. They were the best starting pitchers in the Majors. Alcantara was an ace and a closer all in one.

And that's why he won.

The Marlins' right-hander is the unanimous 2022 NL Cy Young Award winner, and it's because of how he shut down opponents from the first pitch of the game straight into the final innings. Not only did Alcantara throw more complete games (six) than any other team in the Majors this season, he also pitched into the eighth inning or later in half of his starts, 16 of 32.

Such a thing is unique in baseball in 2022. Alcantara's 16 starts of over seven innings this season were more than double any other pitcher -- and more than triple any of the Cy Young finalists in either league.

Starts of >7 innings by 2022 Cy Young finalists
Sandy Alcantara -- 16
Alek Manoah -- 5
Justin Verlander -- 4
Max Fried -- 2
Dylan Cease -- 2
Julio Urías -- 0

When he gets into the eighth or ninth inning of a start, Alcantara was far from on his last legs; he was firing on all cylinders. Look at his arsenal in the late innings:

Alcantara's velocity in eighth inning or later
4-seamer: 98.6 mph -- eighth-highest in MLB
Sinker: 98.6 mph -- Tied for fourth-highest in MLB
Slider: 90.5 mph -- sixth-highest in MLB
Changeup: 92.5 mph -- highest in MLB

Alcantara is a starting pitcher with the elite stuff of a closer -- and he throws it in the same innings as those elite closers. His four pitches in the late innings look a lot like the ones thrown by some of the top late-inning relievers in baseball. So let's find some comps.

He throws Edwin Díaz's 4-seamer
When Alcantara gets deep into a game, he lets it rip. In the eighth and ninth innings this season, his four-seamer averaged 98.6 mph, and he threw 10 of them 100 mph or harder. Four of those pitches were strikeouts -- including Alcantara maxing out at 101 to strike out the Nationals' Lane Thomas to end the eighth inning on Sept. 24.

It's the same type of fastball that the best closer in baseball, the Mets' Edwin Díaz, throws.

Alcantara vs.  Díaz, 4-seamer in eighth inning or later
Alcantara: 98.6 mph / 12.2 inches of arm-side run
Díaz: 99.1 mph / 13.4 inches of arm-side run

Most four-seamers don't add so much running action to their elite velocity. In the late innings, the only pitchers to average both over 98 mph and over 10 inches of run this season belonged to flamethrowing relievers Díaz, Jhoan Duran (Twins), Andrés Muñoz (Mariners), Gregory Soto (Tigers), Ryne Stanek (Astros) … and Alcantara.

He throws Jordan Hicks' sinker
Alcantara's sinker is just as hard as his four-seamer at the end of a game -- in the eighth inning or later, it also averaged 98.6 mph, and he touched triple digits with the pitch nine times. But it gives him two fastballs with different profiles.

Alcantara's late-inning sinker averaged 17.6 inches of arm-side run, over five inches more than his four-seamer, and it also got 21.1 inches of drop, almost seven inches more than his four-seamer drops at the same velocity.

It's a lot like the sinker that's the No. 1 pitch of Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks.

Alcantara vs. Hicks, sinker in 8th inning or later
Alcantara: 98.6 mph / 17.6 inches of run / 21.1 inches of drop
Hicks: 99.3 mph / 15.8 inches of run / 20.0 inches of drop

Only a few late-inning relievers were throwing sinkers like Alcantara's, with a similar combination of velo, horizontal break and vertical drop: Hicks, Brusdar Graterol (Dodgers), Jonathan Loáisiga (Yankees), Soto, Daniel Bard (Rockies) and Joe Kelly (White Sox).

He throws Liam Hendriks' slider
Every good relief ace needs a go-to secondary pitch. When Alcantara is your closer, he can go to two: a slider or a changeup.

Let's check out the slider first, which comes in at over 90 mph and breaks essentially straight down. It's very much like the one used by Hendriks, the White Sox closer.

Alcantara vs. Hendriks, slider in eighth inning or later
Alcantara: 90.5 mph / 0.8 inches of break / 30.7 inches of drop
Hendriks: 89.0 mph / 2.5 inches of break / 30.7 inches of drop

That gives Alcantara a parallel pitch combo to relievers like Hendriks, Díaz, Seranthony Domínguez (Phillies), Ryan Pressly (Astros), Ryan Helsley (Cardinals), Andrés Muñoz (Mariners) and Diego Castillo (Mariners), all of whom pair hard, tight sliders with power fastballs. Those sliders aren't the "sweeper" style of slider and break very little side-to-side, but because of their velocity, the pitches are difficult to distinguish from a riding fastball until they drop.

He throws Rafael Montero's changeup
The slider isn't even Alcantara's best secondary pitch: His changeup is.

And when he goes to the changeup late in a game, it's basically Rafael Montero's -- who just posted a 1.93 ERA as the Astros' setup man for their World Series run -- only harder.

Alcantara vs. Montero, changeup in eighth inning or later
Alcantara: 92.5 mph / 16.9 inches of break / 28.6 inches of drop
Montero: 91.1 mph / 16.8 inches of break / 27.4 inches of drop

Alcantara's changeup was the hardest offspeed pitch thrown in the late innings in 2022 aside from Duran's "splinker," the unique splitter/sinker hybrid that was the first "offspeed" pitch to ever be thrown 100 mph.

Even coming in at over 92 mph, Alcantara's changeup works off his fastball, since he's letting that go at anywhere from 98 mph on up. It's not a ton of differential (about 6 mph), but it's enough when Alcantara's changeups move the same as his fastballs, with their arm-side horizontal break.

Actually, there aren't a whole lot of late-inning relievers with a changeup like Alcantara's. Of course, with everything he can throw at you from the beginning of the game to the end, there just aren't a whole lot of pitchers like Alcantara at all. That's why he deserved every first-place Cy Young vote he got.