Relive all of the ups and downs of the 2023 Miami Marlins with our Fish On First Season Review, containing detailed articles about a wide variety of players. The FOF staff analyzes the individual impact that each of them had and what it means for their future with the organization.
This installment focuses on right-handed pitcher Sandy Alcantara.
- March 11—pitched for Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic
- April 22—missed start due to right biceps tendinitis
- September 6—placed on injured list with right forearm flexor strain; diagnosis later revised to right UCL sprain
- September 21—pitched four scoreless innings in rehab start with Triple-A Jacksonville
- September 23—announced that he’s been shut down for the rest of the season after experiencing forearm tightness
- October 6—underwent Tommy John surgery
Season stats: 28 G/28 GS, 184.2 IP, 4.14 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 2.9 fWAR (age 27)
From start to finish, Sandy Alcantara’s year was frustrating.
Alcantara was so proud to represent his native Dominican Republic in the WBC, conveniently being hosted at LoanDepot Park. The reigning NL Cy Young award winner was deservedly selected to start their opening game and projected to pitch as many as three times if they reached the championship game (as they were favored to do). Instead, the D.R. was the tournament’s biggest disappointment, losing his lone outing and failing to advance beyond pool play.
In his 2023 Marlins debut, Alcantara had poor control and recorded only two strikeouts. He would rebound impressively with a shutout against the Minnesota Twins, just to get annihilated by the Philadelphia Phillies in his following start (9 ER in 4.0 IP). That kind of inconsistency permeated throughout the majority his season, not just from game to game but even inning to inning.
Alcantara would sometimes hit a wall going the third time through an opposing lineup. In other cases, he’d allow a crooked number early before cruising the rest of the way. There was no obvious button to press to restore him to ace status.
Just like in 2022, Alcantara threw exclusively to Jacob Stallings. They stuck with a familiar pitch selection strategy this season, aspiring to be unpredictable by using sinkers, changeups, four-seam fastballs and sliders each at least 20% of the time.
A lot of Alcantara’s regression can be attributed to his changeup. It went from MLB’s best offspeed weapon (plus-24 run value, per Baseball Savant) to a below-average offering (minus-4). He threw it with slightly less velocity and generated slightly less movement. It limited his effectiveness against left-handed batters in particular. After recording 78 strikeouts on his cambio in 2022, that total plunged to 37 in 2023.
Alcantara’s earned run average continued to float around 5.00 deep into June, though plain ol’ bad luck was exaggerating the severity of his struggles. He delivered two more complete games over his final 13 starts and didn’t allow more than four earned runs in any of those 13, finishing with a 108 ERA+ (8% better than league average).
Alcantara’s efficiency and stamina benefited the rest of Miami’s pitching staff. Prior to the UCL injury, he was once again vying for the major league lead in innings pitched. The Marlins needed their relievers to be sharp in high-leverage situations to repeatedly protect narrow leads. With Alcantara providing so much length every fifth game, they could get sufficient rest.
Alcantara says he noticed his injury at the end of his Sept. 3 start against the Washington Nationals. After a brief rest period, the Marlins gradually began ramping him up again. Despite positive results in his Sept. 21 rehab start, it was uncomfortable to watch—his velocity was down and he had changed the shape of his breaking ball. Valiant effort, but Alcantara and the Marlins determined that the best path forward was going under the knife.
Future with the Marlins
If not for a contract extension signed two years ago, Sandy Alcantara’s Marlins tenure would likely be over. He was originally due to enter free agency after the 2024 season. Assuming no dramatic setbacks during rehab, he would’ve been in line to receive offers akin to Justin Verlander when Verlander was in the same situation: two-year, $50 million guarantee with an opt out after the first year. I can’t imagine the thrifty Marlins winning that bidding war.
Thankfully for all involved, he’s locked up through 2026 with a club option for 2027. That extension was derided as obscenely team-friendly at the time, but seeing MLB’s ultimate workhorse succumb to Tommy John is a reminder of how prevalent elbow injuries have become for pitchers, and why it’s tempting to secure a lifetime of riches while you can. I’m sure Alcantara and his loved ones are grateful to have $45.9 million on the way over the next three-plus seasons regardless of what his post-TJ career looks like.
Alcantara says he plans to “be around the team as much as possible” in 2024 when his rehab schedule allows. The Marlins hope to get a mostly full season of him as a starter in 2025.
Photo by Danis Sosa/Fish On First