PHOENIX — New Dodgers reliever Scott Alexander had a breakout season in 2017 by relying on his best pitch. One of only a few additions by the club this offseason, Alexander could benefit even more with his change of scenery.
The 28-year-old right-hander was acquired from the Royals in a three-team trade in Jnauary, and his 73.8% ground ball rate in 2017 was one of the highest rates of the last two decades.
“It’s the ability to put the ball on the ground, to get out righties and lefties, and to be able to go multiple innings,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “He’s a guy who can get high leverage and medium leverage and come in and really clean up a situation.”
Alexander saw some success in his brief big league experience in 2015 and 2016, with a 3.60 ERA in 25 total innings. He threw his sinker 64.83% of the time.
“It’s the pitch that got me to the big leagues. You’re always trying to make the pitch better and working on it,” Alexander said. “As a pitcher you are always making adjustments, and one of the adjustments I made was to throw the sinker more, trust it more. I allowed myself to trust the defense more. I wasn’t always getting soft contact but I was giving the defense a chance.”
Alexander put up a 2.48 ERA in 69 innings for the Royals in 2017, thanks to relying on his sinker a whopping 92.52% of the time. Opposing batters slugged just .333 against the pitch.
“When you’re throwing it 95-plus percent of the time, and everybody knows it’s coming and you still can’t elevate it, that’s pretty exciting and usually is a sign of a really dominant skill,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said. “The next level will be times when we’d need a punch out or a swing and miss.”
Alexander had a relatively ordinary 20.8% strikeout rate in 2017 and also walked 28 batters in his 69 innings for a 9.9% walk rate. Major league averages last year were a 21.6% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate. That’s where the new environment comes in.
“We do think particularly with our catching guys’ ability to frame, he’s someone who could benefit from that,” Zaidi said.
With a Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes behind the plate Dodgers catchers led baseball in framing runs, 28 runs above average per Baseball Prospectus. Royals backstops ranked 27th in MLB, 19.5 runs below average.
Scott Alexander 2018 projections
Alexander struck out two in a perfect inning on Thursday, his second appearance of the Cactus League, and worked in more than his sinker.
“It was good to see that swing and miss with the fastball,” manager Dave Roberts said.
“I do have other pitches that I do like to throw,” Alexander said. “It’s just going to depend on what’s working for me at the time.”
The Dodgers did acquire Matt Kemp, however long that reunion will last, but other than that had a relatively quiet offseason. They exercised the option on Logan Forsythe, and brought back Chase Utley on a two-year free agent deal. Outside of that, the main moves were bullpen additions, signing Tom Koehler and trading for Alexander.
“Any time you’re in a position with your core pretty much locked down, it allows you to be a lot more narrow and specific in what you’re targeting,” Friedman said.
“It’s a confidence boost. For them to be looking for specific guys, it tells me they believe in what I can do,” Alexander said. “You want to be wanted, and to be somewhere where you feel wanted.”