I remember the 2006 ALDS very fondly. I missed the Game 4 clincher due to a debate tournament, but was able to get a box score on an internet enabled phone (yes, they did have them in '06) belonging to a friend. I remember being thrilled at the final result, but more than that, I marveled at Jeremy Bonderman's masterful performance. He no-hit the Yankees for five innings, and put in more than a quality start. I still have a copy of that game, and from time to time I'll watch Bondo devastate the Yankees with a power fastball and his wicked slider, that devastating pitch Rod nicknamed "Mr. Snappy".
Why do I bring this up, Yankees fans might ask? Simple. Mr. Snappy's back. And this time, it's a hard-throwing reliever named Al Alburquerque who throws it. Alburquerque went from a no-name minor league free agent signing to Detroit's seventh inning fireman in a matter of weeks, and a good chunk of that success is due to a wicked slider.
So why should Yankees fans be afraid of Alburquerque? Simple: he's a hard throwing righty with excellent stuff and eye-popping strikeout rates... that Leyland will call on when you need runners most. Let's break down Alburquerque below the jump.
Al Alburquerque is a 6-foot reliever from the Dominican Republic. The Cubs signed him as an amateur free agent in 2003, and he bounced around the Cubs and Rockies systems from 2006 to 2010. The story was the same wherever he went: a great strikeout rate followed along with a dismal walk rate and some really nasty stuff. As Tigers fans well know, Alburquerque works in the mid-90s with his fastball. Of course, the problem is that he often has no idea where that fastball is going. His real saving grace is command of a tight slider, a clear plus pitch. This slider isn't as slurvy as Jeremy Bonderman's, but the break is wicked and, more importantly, comes late.
Alburquerque earned a reputation as a thrower and not a pitcher in the minor leagues, and it's easy to see where that came from. A patient Yankees lineup might be more prone to walking against a wild guy like Alburquerque. But when he's on his game, he's on his game. A lot of Tigers fans compare Al Al (as he's nicknamed) to Joel Zumaya. The comparison makes some sense -- hard thrower, often injured -- but the difference is Alburquerque's wicked breaking ball.
Alburquerque struck out 67 batters in 43 1/3 innings this year. His K/9 rate is 13.92. Of course, his walk rate is around 6 per nine innings, but that is partially mitigated by the boatload of strikeouts and the low isolated power against. Alburquerque has an opponent batting line of ..142/.289/.149, which indicates that opposing batters not only have a problem getting hits against him, but in generating any power off of balls put into play.
Obviously some of this is not sustainable. The evidence from Al's time in the minors indicates that he will give up extra base hits from time to time (though not an absurd amount) and the strikeout rate might be a tad high. But don't underestimate the kid, especially given the Yankee lineup. Yankees right-handed bats hit .256/.325/.396 against right-handed pitchers, and Yankee left-handed pitchers hit .255/.342/.457 against right handed pitchers. That latter set of numbers is a bit high, but Al will be called upon to neutralize right-handers for sure, and he stands a fighting chance against lefties too (with no noticeable split between righties and lefties).
What happens when you breed Jeremy Bonderman's nasty breaking pitch with Joel Zumaya's big, uncontrollable heat? You get an oft-injured right-handed reliever with the potential to dominate even the best of bats -- provided he can find the strike zone. Control problems aside, Yankees fans and Yankees batters alike should be afraid when Al Alburquerque gets the call to the mound.
Mr. Snappy's back, and with a vengeance.