Notes: Howard's velocity; Alvarado's control

June 11th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Manager Joe Girardi said Thursday that he hoped the Phillies would enjoy their second consecutive walk-off win and Friday’s off-day before they play the Yankees this weekend at Citizens Bank Park. It is a big series before the Phillies head to California to play three games against the Dodgers and three against Gabe Kapler’s Giants.

The Phillies need to carry momentum to the West Coast. They will lean on and , who start Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

“We’re chasing the Mets, so every game we play is an important game,” Girardi said.

A few thoughts on a few things before the Yankees come to town:

Howard’s velocity
Spencer Howard starts Monday in Los Angeles. He has a 2.89 ERA in three starts, but he has walked nine in 9 1/3 innings and has seen a significant drop in velocity after the second inning each time. His four-seam fastball averages 94.6 mph in his first two innings. It averages 93.0 mph after that.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently shared his thoughts on Howard’s velocity.

“If he throws 93-94 mph, that’s plenty hard enough,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve seen other guys start off throwing hard and lose it, but his other pitches have to be more consistent, which he’s working on. The other thing is, when you start looking at his history, he’s never thrown a lot of pitches in games. I saw somewhere, he topped off at like 85 pitches. So when you start doing that you’re not building up your arm strength at that point to maybe go forward.

“He’s not hurt. We’ve done all the tests. If we believed he was hurt, I’d be worried. It’s unusual, but I think he’ll be OK. Then all of a sudden it starts getting in somebody’s mind and people talk about it a lot. But I’m not as concerned as others.”

Andrew McCutchen worked a one-out walk in the ninth inning on Wednesday, which set up Luke Williams’ walk-off home run.
McCutchen went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against the Rays on May 29, dropping his batting average to .198 and his OPS to .682. Girardi dropped him from first to sixth in the lineup the next day. Coincidence or not, McCutchen is batting .313 (10-for-32) with two doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs and a 1.045 OPS in nine games since.

Wild Thing 2.0
Girardi said Thursday he will take the good with the bad with left-hander José Alvarado. The good is very good: Alvarado throws 100-mph sinkers, which means strikeouts and weak contact.

Alvarado ranks among the top five percent of all pitchers in baseball in average exit velocity (84.3 mph), expected batting average (.172) and expected slugging percentage (.273).

If a hitter makes contact, he typically beats it into the ground for a groundout.

But Alvarado’s bad can be really bad. His walk rate (21.8 percent) is the highest among all qualified relievers in baseball since Boston’s Mark Clear (22 percent) in 1984. Alvarado has walked 22 batters in 21 1/3 innings. The only pitcher in Phillies history to walk more batters than innings pitched in a season (minimum 20 innings) is Ernie Beam in 1895. Beam walked 25 in 24 2/3 innings.

The inconsistency in control makes Alvarado difficult to trust at times, particularly in extra innings with the automatic runner on second base. Alvarado walked three batters in the 10th inning on Thursday. He allowed a run to score on a wild pitch and a passed ball. Alvarado was so wild that Girardi absolved rookie catcher Rafael Marchan for not blocking those pitches. It brought to mind comments teammates made about Alvarado in Spring Training: He just needs to throw the ball down the middle of the plate. His ball moves so much he still would be impossible to hit.

Timing is everything
Earlier this week, we asked Odúbel Herrera about how he solved the Phillies’ center-field problem since his arrival in late April. Herrera and Phillies coach Paco Figueroa talked about how they work on maintaining his focus from pitch to pitch. So, naturally, Herrera overran a ball on Wednesday, then did not run when he hit a double off the top of the right-field wall on Thursday.

Those moments remain a source of frustration for many, but in terms of the Phillies’ issues, Herrera’s occasional lapses are nowhere near the top. Since he started the season 1-for-19, he is batting .311 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs, 14 RBIs and an .885 OPS in 33 games. He leads the team with six Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. Jean Segura is next on the list with three.

The next everyday player behind Herrera and Segura? J.T. Realmuto at -3.