Matt Martell is on a well-deserved vacation this week. Emma Baccellieri has you covered in his stead.
Of Sandy Alcantara’s many impressive statistics this season—including a 1.82 ERA and an 0.91 WHIP—there is perhaps none so remarkable as his total innings pitched.
The 26-year-old has made himself into one of the best pitchers in the game so far this year and could potentially start the All-Star Game for the National League. He’s at the top of a young Marlins rotation with plenty of potential. And in an era that has come with considerable anxiety about the role of the starting pitcher and whether it can be saved, Alcantara looks like a classic in a big way: He leads MLB in innings pitched with 123 ⅓ , which comes out to 7.3 innings per start, a true rarity nowadays. It’s uncommon to average more than six innings per game. (There are just 13 pitchers doing it this year other than Alcantara.) Yet he’s working even deeper than that.
Here are all the pitchers who have averaged more than seven innings per start in a season over the last decade:
To state the obvious: That’s not very many names! Once upon a time, such a list might have encompassed a majority of the league, but now… times have changed. Starters who consistently work into the eighth have become exceedingly rare. If they looked like something of an endangered species a decade ago, they now seem to have all but died out, with hardly anyone carrying such a workload over the last few seasons. (Yes, the last two years created some unusual conditions for pitchers, with the quick ramp-up to the pandemic season in 2020 and the lingering ramifications in 2021. But given that no starter crossed the 7.0 IP / GS threshold in 2017 or 2018, either, it’s clear that this phenomenon had roots predating the pandemic.) That Alcantara is on this list at all in 2022 is impressive. That he’s on top, going as deep into games as anyone has in the last decade? That’s special.
It’s all the more remarkable given the league-wide context. The average number of innings per start has been at a historic low over the last few seasons. It’s actually ticked up slightly this year as teams bounce back from the constraints of pandemic training (and, more recently, as they’ve adapted to rosters capped at 13 pitchers). Yet it still sits at just 5.2 IP—lower than it had been in any season before 2019.
And then you have a guy like Alcantara pushing through—averaging more than two innings better than that league-wide number. That requires more than just skill: There’s some degree of luck when it comes to health, and there’s also the need for a manager and front office to be on the same page regarding workload, which isn’t a guarantee these days. But Alcantara has had it all.
He’s the only pitcher with more than one complete game this season. Some context for that: There are just three pitchers who have thrown five complete games across the last four years. (Frankly, to show how much the role of the starter has changed, it’s hard to think of a stat that communicates it better: Yes, this includes the fraught pitching environments of 2020 and 2021, but still, we’re talking about five games over four seasons!) One is Adam Wainwright, an old-school icon still making it work at age 40. One is Lucas Giolito, thanks to three complete games from his breakout season in 2019, though he has not thrown more than one per year since. And, of course, the last is Alcantara.
There’s an argument to be made that this is precisely what’s wrong with modern baseball—that working beyond the seventh inning has become such a rarity that it deserves comment in and of itself. (I’m sure I don’t have to summarize that argument here: If you’ve watched, oh, three national broadcasts over the last few seasons, you’ve heard at least one variation of it.) Personally, I welcome some of the changes that the league is making to try to incentivize longer starts and fewer relievers, but I also find the alarm here is often a bit much: The world changes, baseball changes with it, and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found in the skills of modern relievers, too. But the disappearance of the lengthy start has certainly made it easier to appreciate a workhorse when you get a chance to watch one. The narrative arc of a complete game—or even the chance of a complete game—means more to me now that it feels so rare. To watch a guy face the order for a third time and wonder how he’ll get through it, rather than which reliever will replace him, is a joy. That’s exactly what Alcantara’s offered this season. What a gift.
Have any questions for our team? Send a note to email@example.com.
1. THE OPENER
“The worst part about bodybuilding, Kyle Farnsworth says, is how appealing Oreos look when you’re not allowed to eat them. By the time Farnsworth took the stage in Orlando last month for the National Physique Committee Southern USA Championships, he was about ready to withdraw and Double Stuf his face.”
Scroll to Continue
A check-in with former big-league reliever Kyle Farnsworth about his latest athletic pursuit—which has him looking very different than he did when you last saw him on the mound.
Kyle Farnsworth’s Next Big Thing: Spray Tans and Squats—and Absolutely No Oreos by Stephanie Apstein
The sinewy story behind a former major league pitcher’s one-and-done foray into competitive bodybuilding.
Let’s run through some of our other great SI baseball stories from this week.
The Science Behind the Rise of the Slider by Tom Verducci
Tom goes deep on what makes the modern slider so effective and why so many pitchers are turning to it more often.
Shohei Ohtani Is the Only Thing Keeping the Angels Afloat by Nick Selbe
It’s been an incredible few weeks for the most fascinating player in baseball. It’s been… somewhat less incredible for his team.
3. WORTH NOTING from Emma Baccellieri
MLB announced today that Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols would be named “legacy picks” for this year’s All-Star Game. It’s the 12th selection for Cabrera and 11th for Pujols, which puts them in the kind of company you would expect, given the iconic careers they’ve had: Only 49 players have made All-Star appearances in more than 10 seasons. Almost all of them are in Cooperstown. Those who aren’t are just who’d you expect: Rose, Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, McGwire, Ramirez. But there’s one more. Bill Freehan! The Tigers catcher made the All-Star team every season from 1964 to 1973 and again in 1975. His 11 appearances make him the only player ever to earn so many All-Star nods and fall short of the Hall of Fame without some kind of major controversy. (He received just two votes in his first and only year on the ballot.) It underscores just how difficult it is to make it to Cooperstown as a catcher—and suggests that, perhaps, he deserves a longer look. For more, here’s a lovely tribute to Freehan’s career from Jay Jaffe over at FanGraphs, written when the catcher passed away last year.
4. W2W4 from Nick Selbe
Friday night is chock full of intriguing pitching matchups, starting with Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan facing off against Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo. McClanahan leads the American League with 133 strikeouts, while Castillo has been on a tear after a couple up-and-down starts to begin the season. He has a 2.49 ERA with 48 strikeouts over his last seven outings. Other matchups to watch out for include Pablo López vs. Chris Bassitt, Zack Wheeler vs. Adam Wainwright and the Gray Cup (Sonny vs. Jon) taking place in Arlington.
This might not be a headliner for many folks out there, but keep an eye out on Saturday’s Nationals-Braves game. Kyle Wright’s breakout season is worth tuning in for, but Patrick Corbin is the real reason to take notice. The former All-Star has been adrift for the better part of three years, and got off to a miserable start in 2022. But he’s quietly put together strong results of late, including a 12-strikeout effort over eight innings on June 28, followed by seven innings of one-run ball on July 4. Perhaps a mid-career turnaround is in the works for the soon-to-be 33-year-old.
5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri
We’ll wrap things up with a crossword-baseball crossover. The Mets will retire Keith Hernandez’s number in a ceremony tomorrow—and in a broadcast last month, Hernandez said he had reason to believe the New York Times had started work on a crossword puzzle with a Hernandez-centric theme that would run on the morning of the game. (And if you don’t remember the connection between Hernandez and the crossword in his playing days, there’s some history there.) It sounded legit: The NYT runs themed puzzles all the time, and Hernandez spoke with some excitement about the early preparation, including a call from NYT to one of his coworkers at SNY.
As a baseball writer who loves crosswords, I naturally reached out to NYT this week to see if I could chat with the puzzle constructor or editor. But they told me the crossword did not come to fruition. Alas! I’ll take solace, at least, in being what must be the only person to have sent a New York Times spokesman a clip from the third inning of a Mets-Padres game with a request for comment on the discussion in the booth.
That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.