While negotiations between the MLB Player’s Union and the owners of the big-league clubs drag on, the Korean Baseball Organization has begun its season, with a game per day broadcasted on ESPN, helping to fill our need for baseball.
On Sunday, Raúl Alcántara tossed a gem and led the Doosan Bears to a 3–1 win over their rival LG Twins, sweeping an important series. Over 8 IP, Alcántara scattered 7 hits and allowed just one run, giving the Doosan bullpen a much-needed respite before the next week of games begins.
Raúl Alcántara is a former MLBer with about 50 IP of experience with the Oakland Athletics and pitched for the kt wiz in 2019 to the tune of a 3.94 FIP of 172.2 IP. This year, he’s been about the same, posting a 4.13 ERA and 4.12 FIP entering this game, making him a better than average starter for the Bears.
He was successful against the Twins thanks to the batted ball profile that he allowed. Initially, allowing a hard contact % of 40% doesn’t look good when paired with lots of fly balls, but most of those were groundballs that the defense took care of. A few, the 2 doubles and a couple of singles ended up as hits, but that does happen. For the most part, those flyouts that he induced were pop-outs that the outfielders had no trouble reaching and corralling (it’s worth noting that the doubles came in the 7th and 8th inning as Alcántara was starting to tire). The Doosan defense did its job and turned a couple of double plays on ground balls to strand runners or get out of jams before things turned ugly.
Alcántara’s KBO success, and success in this outing against the Twins, is interesting. He’s THE hardest thrower in the KBO, averaging about 93.7 mph on his fastball and touching 95/96 against the Twins, even as he approached 100+ pitches. He throws his slider around 86 mph (39.3% Whiff rate in 2017 with the A’s), and his changeup comes in around 85 mph. In addition, Alcántara has a curveball that hovers in the low-80s, but he only threw it 3 times against the Twins, with below-average movement.
He’s more or less a 3-pitch pitcher. Raúl threw his fastball 53% of the time against LG, backing it up with his slider and changeup, which he threw 26% and 19% of the time, respectively. The curveball never really came into play indicating its lack of effectiveness.
Despite his velocity advantage over every single pitcher in the KBO and facing hitters not as used to velocity, Raúl Alcántara is not a strikeout pitcher in the KBO. He’s been better this season, punching out 7.88 batters/9, but his outing against the Twins was much more in line with his 2019 5.21 K/9 line. According to the Statcast data that we have from Alcántara’s time in the majors, his spin rates are well-below average, with his fastball spin of 2144 in the 27th percentile and his curveball spin of 2076 in the 9th percentile, resulting in very little movement or deception on those pitches. That played out against the Twins, with just 9 swings and misses induced by Alcántara for a 17% Whiff rate, far less than the ~ 25% Whiff rate I’ve come to expect from foreign-born pitchers in the KBO.
What Alcántara does do is throw a lot of strikes. He peppered the strike zone repeatedly against the Twins, throwing nearly 70% of his pitches for a strike, mostly with his fastball. He did locate his fastball more up in the zone but primarily worked from side to side, using the horizontal break of his slider and changeup to try and induce weak contact. He located his slider down in the zone and below, trying to utilize it as a swing and miss pitch, especially against left-handed hitters. His changeup was utilized primarily against right-handed hitters, throwing it to the inside portion of the plate against RHH.
The best approach for hitters to take is sitting fastball in the zone. The only issue is catching up to it, but that’s likely to be easier the deeper into the game that Alcántara gets and the more times he goes through the order. He’s not likely to try and get you to chase too much, allowing hitters to take a contact focused approach against his fastball.
Raúl Alcántara attacked the zone all game, looking to induce contact and he succeeded. The Doosan defense did its job and thanks to that, Alcántara was able to be extremely efficient, using just 102 pitches over 8 innings, never topping more than 16 pitches in an inning. He worked quickly and kept things moving fairly well. All in all, this was a superb start from Raúl Alcántara, but I’ll be interested to see how he fares later in the season once he starts facing teams and lineups for the 2nd, 3rd, even 4th or more times this season.