Nary two years since undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Raul Alcantara made his big league debut. It didn't exactly go well, but let's be happy he's here. He made it back from a surgery that ends many careers, so that's cool.
But, his debut didn't go well. It really didn't go well. Let's look at what was good, what was bad, and what we should expect going forward.
Throughout his minor league career, Alcantara has had little trouble throwing strikes. This year, he averaged just two walks per nine innings pitched, and he only hit three batters during his time in the minors in 2016. He had worse control numbers earlier in his minor league career, but we shouldn't expect the historic wildness we saw on Labor Day.
We conceivably chalk up the three* hit by pitches to nerves, the walks too, and being behind in the count was certainly a factor in some of the hits Alcantara did give up. So the next time Alcantara takes the mound, expect fewer walks, hit by pitches, and different counts. Will that lead to success?
The lack of swing and miss stuff
Pervasive through Alcantara's minor league career is a low strikeout total. He's always been said to have a high ceiling, but the k's have never matched his truly special arm.
In his debut, Alcantara didn't garner a single swing and miss, aside from a foul tip. Again, some of that is control based: you're not going to get swings on pitches when batters are fearing for their faces. You're also less likely to get swings and misses when you're behind in the count and predictable in your offerings. But zero swings and misses is alarming and matches some existing concerns. Here's Sickel's prior to 2016:
Tommy John survivor posted 3.88 ERA, 29/8 K/BB in 49 innings in High-A on a restricted workload. Velocity is well into the 90s and he throws strikes, has a good change-up, breaking ball remains inconsistent and reflected in low K/IP ratio. Higher physical ceiling than Mengden but not as developed.
That breaking ball was particularly inconsistent in his debut, sometimes hanging and never fooling hitters.
The easy fastball
In the rough start was a constant glimpse of why the A's and analysts alike have been high on Alcantara in spite of the lack of strikeouts. From the get go, his fastball sat at 95 with ease. He'd top out at 96, and even with high stress, high pitch count innings, the velocity never waned. His final fastball of the day was as fast as his first and he clearly possesses an arm that could make a big league impact. He just has a lot of work to do.
The ineffective fastball
It was fast, but it wasn't good and at many times it looked very flat. This is a small sample look, so it's hard to know how much was a nerves thing, but more movement would certainly behoove any pitcher, especially Alcantara.
The quick ascent
It's unclear how long Alcantara will be up for, but it's not surprising to see a rough first start. Due partially to injuries in the Oakland rotation and partially due to wanting to move a TJS guy quickly, Alcantara wasn't exactly moved meticulously. That's fine, especially in a lost season but it also means even if Alcantara does find success, it might be a bumpy road getting there. It's that way for many a pitcher, think of Dan Haren, Sean Manaea, and many more, and it's something to watch this September.