A Closer Look at Dario Alvarez

I've been out of action quite a bit the past few weeks and haven't been writing with the same frequency that I would prefer. Thankfully the hot stove has heated up this past week and Jared stepped in with a number of great articles covering all the recent action, so hopefully I haven't been missed to badly around here. While some of the bigger chips on the free agent and trade markets have begun to fall, the Cubs have made several minor moves since the season ended that figure to have an impact on the Iowa squad in 2018, but could also provide valuable depth for the big club. Four pitchers have been added to the 40-man roster from outside the organization (Dario Alvarez, Luke Farrell, Cory Mazzoni, Randy Rosario), and another left handed reliever Alberto Baldonado was inked to a Minor League deal yesterday. I've begun watching video of each new acquisition and want to begin sharing how each figure into the 2018 picture. Today, I'll start with left handed reliever Dario Alvarez.

Full Name: Dario Rafael Álvarez

Age: 28 (January 17, 1989)
Birthplace: Santiago, Dominican Republic
Bats/Throws: L/L
Ht: 6' 1" Wt: 170
MLB Debut: 09/03/2014

Minor League Option Years Remaing: 1

It was a long road to the majors for Dario Alvarez. He toiled for three seasons as a teenager in the Dominican Summer League despite terrific strikeout totals and overall effective numbers. The Phillies never brought him stateside before releasing him. He would spend three months back in 2010 trying out for Japanese teams before finally settling for a contract in a Venezuelan pro league. After one season there the Dominican Republic native pitched another two years in Panama. There were Major League teams sniffing around throughout those years, but according to Alvarez they all wanted him to return to the DSL. He wanted to prove his ability in America.

The perseverance and belief in himself paid off. It took him less than two seasons after signing with the Mets in 2013 to make his way from the short season New York-Penn League all the way to the Majors. Since his September debut with the Mets, Alvarez's path has been no less circuitous than before. He has bounced back and forth between the Majors and Minors. He has been waived. He has been traded. And now he has signed with the Cubs this offseason via free agency.

In 56 MLB appearances over the past four seasons Alvarez has amassed a 6-1 record to go along with a 5.06 ERA. The ERA may look ugly, but there have been stretches over the past two seasons where the lefty's powerful arm and wicked slider has proven effective at the highest level. Before struggling in the second half of 2016 after a trade to the Rangers, Alvarez had posted a 28-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 innings with the Braves. He followed that up with a 2-0 record and 2.76 ERA in 20 games while filling in with the Rangers last season.

You rarely find 29-year-old journeymen with upside, but that is indeed the case with Dario Alvarez. He struggles to repeat his motion as he partially turns his back to the hitter to add some deception. Alvarez then slings the ball across his body from a 3/4 arm slot. Not only does he vary the height of his leg kick, but he often fails to finish out over his front foot and falls off to the side. Alvarez also alters his time between offerings, often dragging the speed of the game down to a grinding halt. The overall inconsistency affects his command. If there is one area that I would like to see the Cubs address it is attempting to get Alvarez to approach every pitch the same way. Get him in a rhythm and standardize the timing of his delivery.

Because the stuff is there. He typically works 92-93 but is capable of dialing his fastball up to 94-95. It isn't a special offering though, despite the above average velocity from the left side. I do believe however that part of the issue with the pitch is the predictability in the location. Alvarez rarely works the upper part of the strike zone with intent, preferring to attack hitters at the knees and below on both sides of the plate. While this does serve his sweeping slider well, it adversely affects his fastball effectiveness in my eye. New Cubs Pitching Coach Jim Hickey has past success convincing pitchers to integrate working up in the zone with the fastball and I believe Alvarez is a prime candidate to incorporate this aspect to his repertoire as well.

If the Cubs can make any improvements to his rhythm or alter his pitch sequencing as I laid out Alvarez could provide a valuable boost to a pen that lacks left handed depth. Alvarez simply needs something to further compliment the effectiveness of his plus slider. It has enough depth and lateral movement to act not only as a chase pitch, but can get both looking and swinging strikes within the zone as well. He back and front doors the pitch effectively. A true plus pitch, Alvarez throws the slider approximately 60% of the time, and it has allowed him to punch out 11.4 batters per 9 innings over his 48.0 MLB innings. His 13.8 K/9 rate in 2016 was 8th among all MLB pitchers with at least 25.0 innings. That number dropped to 9.4 in 2017, but more concerning was the spike in his walk rate, which jumped from 2.4 BB/9 in 2016 to 7.7 in his 20 games with Texas last year. It was over twice his rate from AAA in 2017 though so it is possible it is simply small sample size noise and not an emerging trend. His velocity did drop a tick from its height in 2016 which could also explain the slight backslide in effectiveness.

While better against left handed hitters, Alvarez is capable against righties when the situation calls for a punch out. His slider works effectively against both. He loves to back foot the pitch to right handed hitters and his K and BB rates remain remarkably similar regardless of which batters box is occupied. The issue is he becomes more susceptible to hard hit balls against righties when they do make contact. They likely get a better look at his fastball and his general lack of command means that they can take advantage of a mistake with that pitch more frequently.

2018 Outlook

As of right now Alvarez appears lined up to be the third left handed option behind Mike Montgomery and Justin Wilson. He'll have competition from former Twins hurler Randy Rosario, but the real question becomes whether that third option will be carried on the roster in Chicago or if the club will choose to devote those spots to players they risk losing waivers. Certainly much will depend on whether the two pitchers can make improvements prior to the start of the season, but it is important to note that both possess Minor League options (Rosario (2) and Alvarez (1)), unlike some of their right handed competition (Justin Grimm, Eddie Butler) for the final spot(s) in the Chicago bullpen. It seems far more likely at this point that Alvarez begins the year in Iowa and rides the Des Moines shuttle frequently, much in the same way that Grimm and Dylan Floro did in 2017. 

Montgomery and Brian Duensing remained healthy throughout last season so the Cubs previous left handed depth options, Zac Rosscup and Jack Leathersich, each barely received a sniff of the 25 man roster, but that luck doesn't figure to hold in 2018. At some point next season the club will need to receive help from the farm. Alvarez possesses the talent to not only fill in, but if he can take a step forward with his consistency, could mitigate the need to acquire a proven option should the team suffer a long term injury to either Wilson or Monty. 

Comments

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  • Welcome back Michael - and good article.

    Stockpiling lefty RPs with options and upside is never a bad thing.

    We have to wonder (since you mentioned them) if Grimm or Butler (or both) are going to end up getting waived this season because of their lack of options.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I don't expect either to finish the 2018 season in a Cubs uniform. It wouldn't shock me if neither even begin the year with team either.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Kind of what I was getting at - so whom takes their places?

  • If nothing else, one has to admire Dario' s unwillingness to give up. He seems fixable, but resistant to coaching.

  • I hope Alvarez likes corn. I think he will be walking a lot of players down in Iowa.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Other than a few blips here and there (such as he brief stint with Texas last year), walks have rarely been an issue for him. Command is more of the problem than control.

  • As much as Grimm has struggled lately, I have a difficult time giving up on him. He can so clutch coming in with runners on base thwarting a big inning with a double or strikeout.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Double play or strike out.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    He has still has swing and miss stuff, but my concern with him has always been his fastball is straight, and to go along with it his command and control are not very good. When he is on he can be lights out, but if he misses his spots or falls behind his fastball gets mashed.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    With his awesome curve I was hoping he would develop a cutter to compliment his straight fastball. Anything to get the hitters off of your 2 pitch repertoire.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Grimm is the cautionary tale of bullpen guys. They can be outstanding but rarely does it last. That is why I am hesitant to throw a bunch of money at Morrow.

    As for Alvarez, as has been said before, having a lefty in the 'pen with good stuff is rarely a bad thing. Put his "option" on top of that and things could get interesting.

    These are the kind of signings that often fly under the radar. I am not saying he will "replace" Davis but could he turn into this year's Brian Duensing? Or even just a "tide us over" guy if we need a fresh arm out of the 'pen for a week or two in July/August.

  • He is worth a flyer. If command follows suit that is one electric arm from the left side.

  • Bruce Levine reported the Cubs are making a hard push for Alex Cobb they are trying to sign him before the winter meetings start Monday

  • In reply to bolla:

    Alex Cobb would be a great fit. Go Cubs !

  • Hey Michael completely off topic, but do you honestly think the cubs sign Harper with their glut of outfielders and all the young talent that needs to get paid soon?

  • In reply to SB Cub:

    Different Michael but I think the answer is that the Cubs would be foolish to not be involved in a super star who would be 26 years old in year 1 of what will be a record setting deal. The Cubs have a glut of outfielders, but there are question marks around each of those players at this point of time. It is going to be tough to navigate, but he is younger than Bryant after all.

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    In reply to Mike Banghart:

    I agree, but the last time we made a similar argument it hasn't worked out as planned...

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Hard to argue against that point, but there are two pretty obvious counters to that. First is that what are the odds that a solidly above average bat suddenly stops hitting in their late 20s because my guess is very low without injury. Second is that Bryce Harper and Jason Heyward aren't even in remotely the same universe when it comes to their baseball talents, and I say that as one of the biggest fans of the Jason Heyward signing at the time.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Which Michael was not specified--though with the article's authorship it was somewhat implied--so I am happy you both chimed in.

    I think the Cubs do their due diligence but I am confident that another team will be willing to go above and beyond what the Cubs are in terms of dollars and, perhaps, years. So I would be surprised if they sign Harper. Not because they wouldn't love to have him but SOMEONE is going to get desperate for him.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    With the Heyward money on payroll I just don't see it. But that's why I'm a fan I guess.

  • In reply to SB Cub:

    With Stanton now a Yankee Harper’s price for next year has likely dropped some. It had been pretty clear to me that Harper had been setting up an epic bidding war for his services between the Cubs and Yankees for some time but that won’t be possible now. I see it going two ways; 1) he learns to love being a National again and resigns there or 2) the Cubs and Phillies become the main teams in on him and unless the Phillies take to their turn into contention in 2018 I’d be surprised if he wants to go there. I heard someone say that Harper lost $50 mil yesterday and I think that’s right. That could mean that Washington gives it one last try but if they don’t, for the first time I have a strong feeling that he’ll be a Cub.

  • In reply to SB Cub:

    I think they will definitely pursue him. I don’t worry about the re-signing their own guys argument because A) not all of them may want to return B) a few are repped by Boras so chances of guys signing extensions prior to FA is low and Cubs can’t just assume it will work out C) the only ones that are more important than locking up Harper would be Bryant and Contreras

    Rizzo is secures for a while
    In order of preference I would prioritize long term deals for:
    Bryant
    Contreras
    Harper
    Baez

    Everyone else is basically tied beyond that as situation and their growth as players will dictate some it. I’d probably throw Happ in there too but he is long way away from FA. The guys above are the ones that I believe are going to age the best making them the most sound investments. If the club can somehow secure all four to go along with Rizzo and Happ for the near future they will be in tremendous shape with positional versatility and L/R balance secured

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I like your thinking seems like a voice of reason. Extend Javy and get him on short before too long. He is like Ozzie and Visquel only better with more upside.

  • Boston Red Sox are interested in schwarber.they need a lefty power hitter and he’s cheap this is the chance to get benitendi. Or at least try I would trade schwarber for benitendi

  • In reply to bolla:

    I guess I’m confused why they would trade one young cheap lefty for another. Doesn’t really seem to address anything. Would think they would want both

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I would try to explore a different option with the Red Sox if Schwarber is wanted. If David Price is healty, I'd see if they would move him because of the toxic relationship with the Boston media. They would need to eat about $100mil+ of his remaining contract. I know he hasn't been a good playoff starter, but prior to this year, he's been a regular season horse.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I would be shocked if BOS was willing to trade David Price AND $100M+ for Kyle Schwarber. But if they would agree I would agree. We would be getting Price for around $12M AAV.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    They need a power hitting lefty or power hitter in general. It's also a much better option than paying jd martinez 160-180 mil.

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