Al Alburquerque is a baaaaad man when he's throwing the slider. Or the 98 mph fastball. Either way. Baaaad man.
We used to hear about the three-outcome batter. He could walk, he could strike out, or he could him a home run. Al Alburquerque could almost be described as a three-outcome pitcher. He's going to strike you out, walk you or force you to hit it into the ground. Those are the three outcomes that have come up most often this season: strikeout (41.9%), walk (14.9%) or groundball (10.8%).
Why is it that way? Because Alberquerque mixes a fastball in the upper-90s with a slider that absolutely falls off the table. So if batters do make contact, it's probably not going to be good contact. Batters whiff at the slider 24.5% of the time and put it in play just 6.7%. But if they are able to lay off, the pitches probably weren't going to be in the strike zone anyway.
When you put it all together, you get a pitcher who made his major league debut this season yet has already been a key late-innings pitcher for the team and who has three wins to show for it.
First, here's a sense of the general locations for the different pitches. You can definitely see where the slide ends up on this chart. (Click the pictures for a full-size chart if they seem small).
Now here's how the pitch tracks look on average look from the side:
And here's how they look from above:
I think it becomes apparent why Alburquerque is so dangerous when you look at those three charts. In the bottom two charts, you can see his pitches originate from more or less the same location, and they follow the same path for most of the way to home plate. About 30 feet out though, something happens. His 95-mph four seamer stats to fall off to the right handed batters box, while his 85-mph slider continues on a straight path right past the edge of the plate. If you're a right-handed batter, you're just left looking silly hoping to get the wood on the ball as it scurries away. If you're a left handed batter, it's coming in on your hands rather quickly resulting in some rather uncomfortable contact if any is made.
By the way, using an average pitch of 90 mph, batters have less than 1/4 second to get the bat on the ball after the two pitches deviate. No wonder they have had such poor success.
Interestingly enough, Alburquerque's results so far have been much better against lefties. They are batting just .115 with a .322 OPS against him. Not that right-handers are batting terrific either at .147 with a .533 OPS. The key difference is that right-handers have laid off on the pitches much better and taken 10 walks in 44 plate appearances, while left-handers have just two walks against 13 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.
The results go beyond that. He's got an ERA of 3.06, but a Fielding Independent Pitching stat of just 1.63. His batting average for balls in play (.267) may be a bit low, but it's not substantially so.
Alburquerque has been used in some pretty high leverage situations as well. Using gmLI -- leverage index when entering the game -- as provided by FanGraphs.com, only two Tigers pitchers enter the game under more pressure-packed circumstances. One of those has been a Tiger by less than a week, so small sample size that one. The other is Joaquin Benoit. So it's interesting to me that this rookie hasn't been pampered nearly as much as Leyland likes to pamper some. He's even got a perfect strand percentage by allowing none of the 12 runners he's inherited to score. So Alburquerque isn't working on his art at low-pressure times. He's come in with the game on the line and performed admirably.
So in short, Alburquerque is more than just a quirky name. Despite some wildness -- and frankly I wouldn't want to change a thing for a guy striking out nearly 16 batters per nine innings -- he's been key for the Tigers in bullpen. So far, the offseason addition looks tremendous for Detroit.