Over the next couple of months the Cubs staff at The Dugout will be projecting outcomes for players in 2021. This will include franchise cornerstones, players on the 40-man roster that had a cup of coffee in 2020 or are expected to contribute in ’21, and eventually new additions to the roster as we make our way through the rest of the winter.
You can expect to see a new player featured once or twice a week throughout the offseason from now until spring training, which is tentatively slated to kick off in mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona.
Each edition of this project will feature a snapshot of the player’s 2020 season, compiled projections from sources such as ZiPS (when they become available for the Cubs) and FanGraphs’ Steamer, and conclude with projections as determined by the article’s author.
The first pitcher we will look at this offseason is Adbert Alozlay. The longtime prospect made huge strides in 2020, setting the table for him to be a full-time starter come next season.
Alzolay’s 2020 campaign involved two, abbreviated stints, and while it’s hard to make assumptions from such a small sample size, the numbers are nonetheless enticing:
The biggest storyline for Alozlay in 2020, of course, was the development of his slider. It’s not everyday that a well-respected pitching prospect seemingly transforms overnight — but the addition of the slider to Adbert’s repertoire was a revelation to a degree we still have yet to realize.
Sahadev Sharma wrote about Alzolay’s transformation in late September, and the impact of the pitch is unmistakable. In the two outings in his return from South Bend (when the slider development was achieved), he struck out a laughable 45.5 percent of hitters faced in nine innings. Obviously this is not sustainable, but when you consider the pitch’s early success rate, and the fact that pre-slider his 2020 K% was a still-above average 25.9, it’s fair to think the future is bright for the soon-to-be 26 year old.
Alzolay has a solid, mid-90’s four seamer and sinker, and employs a curve and the occasional change along with his newly minted slider. His walk rate (14.9 percent in 2020) is alarming and demands improvement, but as I wrote earlier this offseason, one of the most important developments for him come ’21 will be attacking the zone early. His first-pitch strike percentage (51.9) was downright bad compared to league average (60.0), meaning his ability to work ahead in counts more consistently will enhance the effectiveness of his wipe-out slider.
Compiled 2021 Projections
Fangraphs’s Steamer projections aren’t terribly high on Alzolay in 2021. While the model projects him to start 24 games, averaging between five and six innings a start, there isn’t much in the projections to be excited about. Steamer pegs his ERA (and FIP) to be moderately worse than league average, with an assumption that he surrenders a fair amount of home runs, only striking out batters at a league average clip.
FanGraphs 2021 Projections (Steamer)
To be blunt, the bulk of these numbers make little sense to me. While one can’t make much of a career that’s spanned just 33.2 innings, a few trends have emerged that we can make assumptions from. Alzolay has a 28.6 K% in those innings, and considering his slider will only increase his strikeout totals, Steamer’s league-average projection seems wildly off-base.
I also believe that with the increased use of his sinker, his ground ball rate will also rise — though by no means do I think he’ll develop into a ‘ground ball pitcher’. Rather, the pitch will compliment his four seamer, add a new dimension to his arsenal, and allow him to attack the zone with more proficiency.
For a different perspective, Baseball Reference (projection model explained here) forecasts Alzolay twirling just 76 innings in 2021 (including recording two saves?!), albeit with a much better 4.38 ERA. Curiously, these projections also offer up a near league-average strikeout percentage.
My Thoughts & Projections
Perhaps my bias is showing, but I truly believe in Alzolay’s potential — and believe 2021 will be a breakout campaign as he establishes himself as a big-league starter. While I envision a continued struggle with command that will result in a few clunkers, I also believe we will see some dominant outings — perhaps even flirting with 12-15 strikeout gems.
2021 should be a year Adbert proves himself while still expressing some vulnerabilities. I think the Cubs will limit his innings some (skipping starts, not allowing him to break 100 pitches early in the season, etc.) but overall it will be a year we finally see his potential maturing in a meaningful way.
Long-term, Alzolay has the potential to be a solid No. 3 starter. He has the youth and talent to reach that potential — so long as health is on his side. In 2021 we should witness his first full-season as a starter, and he will perform admirably in a back-of-rotation role.
Previous 2021 Projections
Featured Photo: Quinn Harris, Getty Images
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