Al Alburquerque, Slider Machine

When Al Alburquerque signed with the Tigers this off season, everyone probably thought “oh, here we go again, another Dave Dombrowski hard thrower with no command.” If I had to guess, he’d fall into the likes of Francisco Cruceta, Franklyn German, etc. Even when I saw him in Spring Training, he seemed like a mirror image of those guys. He had no idea where the ball was going, looked scared and confused out on the mound, and had no plan of attack. Somewhere along the way, he developed a weapon: an absolutely filthy slider. According to fangraphs, Al-Al throws his slider 58% of the time, and it’s been devastating to hitters. He’s given up only 17 hits in 32.1 IP, while striking out 51 (14.2/9).

This is all well and good, right? Wrong. He’s had two bouts of elbow soreness so far this year, and the way that his manager uses him sometimes, with outings of 27,27,37,33,27,28,35,24,39,25,42 pitches, is a disaster waiting to happen. The amount of torque and force that Al uses on his slider is unimaginable. That can’t feel good for the elbow. This has been proven, too. In late April, fangraphs wrote an article (“Too many sliders?” linked here) Slider usage correlates heavily with DL time. The article states that a reliever has a 38% chance of hitting the DL during the time period of 2008-early 2011. These heavy slider throwers, however, landed on the DL 48% of the time. Not only that, but of the 25 man group, 17 of them were placed on the DL in the past three years. Of the 8 who didn’t, only two pitchers threw over 100 innings in that time frame, Carlos Marmol and Justin Speier.

A slider thrower is a ticking time bomb. Especially one that averages 95 MPH on his fastball, too. The reason that Al-Al’s slider breaks so hard and so late is the amount of spin he puts on it. That is unsustainable for the arm. The way I see it, the Tigers have three options. One, use him a bit more sparingly. If you want to keep him healthy for a decent amount of time, try to use him for an inning at a time, don’t let him throw more than 25 pitches very often, and make sure he gets some rest if you do plan on using him for more than an inning. Two, use him as often as you want until he eventually burns out. At this point, he’s an integral part of the team, and hitting the DL or getting Tommy John is just a nature of the beast in baseball. Let him snap off as many sliders as he can, as long as he’s getting people out. Three, trade him. Yeah, I said it. If you really think this guy’s elbow is going to fall apart, get out while you’re on top. His value has never been higher. The Tigers got him for absolutely nothing. He might be able to net a nice position prospect or two. Bullpen guys are the easiest to find off the scrap heap, so cash in your chips while you’re up.

Whatever they decide to do with “El-Q” is fine by me, as long as the organization gets the most value possible out of him. Whether it’s trading him, using him, or being careful, this guy has a gift, one of the nastiest pitches in baseball.

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  • KalineCountry

    Is it due to not having another ‘quality bullpen arm’ in the mix and smokey has to gamble with Al Al going into a second inning of relief at times, or just Leyland’s inability to handle the relief corps?

  • funkytime

    Interesting article. I’d definitely go the route of being careful with him and limiting the length of his outings.

    While he’s done great this year I can’t imagine his trade value would be super high, given his limited track record.

  • wilsonm24

    Depending on what happens with Ruffin….

    I would be all about adding Al-Al into a trade if it would put us over the top. With Coke back in the pen and Benoit and Papa Grande doing the 8/9 thing, I think our late inning bullpen is just fine without Al.

    His stock has never been higher than it is right now, and with the flaky-ness of relievers you don’t know if tomorrows Al-Al is going to be the same as today’s Al-Al. There is a reason that he has been out right released twice in the past year.

  • JohnJParent

    @KalineCountry I’d think it’s a lack of faith in other relievers. Well, that and Leyland’s stringent dedication to the ideas behind Benoit only in the eighth and Valverde only in the ninth.

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