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Scott Alexander is one of baseball’s biggest outliers

In an age of fly balls, Alexander stands alone as the premier groundball pitcher.

San Franciso Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

In the era of velocity and strikeouts, the breed of good sinker-ball pitchers has become more rare throughout time. Jake Arrieta, Dallas Keuchel, and Zach Britton are the biggest names that come to mind, but quite possibly none of them have perfected the pitch to a certain craft more than Dodgers reliever Scott Alexander.

Alexander jumped onto the scene last year in the Royals bullpen. Just another one of your generic, ground ball pitchers stuck in Triple-A, he figured it out at the major league level and turned into a reliever that posted very respectable numbers (2.48 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 73.8 percent GB% in 69 innings). Being a cheap, controlled reliever, he had garnered some trade value, and with the Royals running out of contention, he was flipped to the Dodgers in a three-team deal.

Along with Pedro Baez, the goal for the Dodgers was to mold Alexander into a role that would ease the bridge to Kenley Jansen. None of that worked out early on, mostly due to the fact that Alexander was atrocious. For the month of April, Alexander had more walks than strikeouts and was owning a 6.35 ERA. Not finding the proper command for his sinker was consequential for him. The pitch was finding the zone only 44.2 percent of the time, below the major league-average of 52.7 percent and below his career-average of 48 percent. Hitters were laying off of it and if they’re not swinging at his sinker, he’s going to have trouble finding success elsewhere.

Worst K-BB% in April

Name Team K-BB%
Name Team K-BB%
Lucas Giolito White Sox -8.1
Jordan Hicks Cardinals -7.9
Bryan Mitchell Padres -6.4
Mike Montgomery Cubs -4.4
Scott Alexander Dodgers -3.9
George Kontos Pirates -1.9
Wandy Peralta Reds -1.6
James Shields White Sox -1.5
Miguel Gonzalez White Sox -1.5
Sam Freeman Braves 0
Minimum 10 IP FanGraphs

Alexander is a master at commanding the sinker. A good sinker is one that is located low in the zone (bad things can happen if you leave it up) and Alexander does this perfectly most of the time. It seemed early in the year, though, it was almost like he was trying too hard.

Still having options remaining, the Dodgers sent Alexander back to Triple-A, where he pitched for four games and dominated. Needing his services again, they called him back up quickly, and he came back with an improved horizontal release point.

Adjusting the release point has helped Alexander find the sweet spot for that sinker location again. The improvement has been very noticeable.

  • Before demotion: 11.1 IP, 6.35 ERA, 5.42 FIP, -3.9% K-BB%, 57.1% GB%
  • After demotion: 30 IP, 2.40 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 14.7% K-BB%, 82.1% GB%

The first thing that stands out is that insane groundball rate Alexander has posted. His GB/FB ratio since rejoining the Dodgers bullpen leads the rest of baseball in that time by miles.

It gets even better as we go further along the time scale. For the month of June, Alexander posted a GB/FB ratio 35. That’s 35 ground balls and only one single fly ball allowed. A line like that is so bizarre that I’d almost bet there has never been a month like it for a pitcher ever. Sadly, with batted ball data, we can only go back to 2002.

I did just that, sorting every pitcher in that time frame with at least 10 innings pitched in one month and sorted by GB/FB ratio. Out of 16,888 total results, Alexander’s month of June ranks first—by a lot, by so much that the difference between first and second place is greater than the difference second place and 16,888th place. This is because he only allowed one fly ball. If he would have allowed one more, the rate would have obviously been decreased 50%. But even then he’d still be leading by a decent margin.

That’s an outlier if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s almost getting ridiculous at this point. He might have taken it even a higher level in July, as so far he’s allowed 10 batted balls in 5.2 innings this month. Nine ground balls, one line drive, and zero fly balls. The last batter to lift a ball into the air against Alexander was Nolan Arenado on June 29th, good for a home run. The last one before that was on May 29th, when Scott Kingery flied out to centerfield.

I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a pitcher do something this exaggerated along the lines of what Scott Alexander is currently doing.