Under the Hood: Alzolay and Hader outlooks moving forward

This week’s under the hood sets its sights on the early struggles by Adbert Alzolay, removing him from the closer role in Chicago in the near-term, and Josh Hader suffering from some bad luck in his results.

Adbert Alzolay, Chicago Cubs

Not much has gone right for Alzolay, he’s already suffered more blown saves (four) in 2024 through 11 games than he did last year (three) over 58 appearances. He’s given up four home runs in only 31 batted ball events and gave up five all last year across 168 batted ball events. He’s matched last season’s home run total with his slider (three) in only 14 batted balls in play.

He’s not throwing with a drastic reduction in velocity and increased his first-strike percent rate. However, when diving into his results on Statcast, one notices an increase in sweet spot percentage by over five percentage points, a boost in his expected batting average (.278), and a 5.02 expected ERA (xERA).

In terms of quality of contact, he’s struggling:

  • 3.2 solid percentage allowed plus 12.9 percent barrel rate = 16.1 good contact allowed
  • 0 percent weak contact and 0 percent pop-ups = 0 percent poor contact-induced

Taking this a step further, here’s his 10-game rolling chart from beginning of last year through his last outing, using strikeout percentage, walk rate, swinging strike percentage, and contact rate allowed:

One notices some shifts in his outcomes during the second half before he landed on the injured list and at the start of this season. With this in mind, here are his splits in some key leverage categories:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/R2jww/1/

If he retakes the ninth inning for Cubs relies on his slider. Comparing his outcomes by pitch, the lack of whiffs, and increased expected results against his most used pitch accounts for his early struggles:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/vUjx0/2/

Focus on his slider over the next two weeks, and his usage patterns. It’s tough being patient with a struggling closer, but if he finds his past production with the pitch, better days may happen. However, it’s a tough needle for a reliever to thread during the season.

Josh Hader, Houston Astros

Expecting a repeat of his 1.28 ERA from 2023 would not be realistic, but seeing Hader’s 8.38 ERA entering game play on Monday, April 22 seems like some sort of cruel joke. While sorting out qualified relievers by ERA minus SIERA, he ranks eighth in bad luck with a 5.95 run difference between the metrics. He owns a 2.43 SIERA, almost in line with his 2.34 expected ERA (xERA) from last year.

In fact, his SIERA and 2024 xERA (3.35) set a nice baseline of expectations for his results going forward. Despite his inflated ERA, he owns a 25.6 K-BB percentage, a 14.9 percent swinging strike rate, and a 64.1 strike percentage through his first 11 appearances.

As upsetting as his ERA may be, his usage patterns under first year manager Joe Espada proves more confusing. Hader’s appeared in four games with a lead, in three tied games, and worked in four games with his team trailing. Using Baseball Reference’s leverage ratings, he’s turned in four high-leverage outings, two medium leverage appearances, and pitched in five low leverage contests. Not ideal.

Viewing his underlying data from Statcast, his barrel rate remains in line with last year but he’s allowed a spike in hard hit percentage (45.5 percent) versus his career 32.9 percent barrel rate allowed. Hope lies in his .223 xBA with the sinker against his current .375 batting average against with the pitch, and a .278 expected slugging (xSLG) versus a .458 slugging percent allowed by the pitch. Things migrate toward the mean, and his results will even out.

It’s tough seeing a closer with such a high price point struggle, but focus on his past production with his pitches, and know things will improve:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/SoiKP/1/

Houston gets a break with the schedule over the next two weeks, here’s hoping Hader and his leverage teammates turn the tide with regression working in their favor.

Thanks for being a part of the Closer Monkey community, until next time, stay safe and be well.