The Toronto Blue Jays have signed veteran right-handed reliever Al Alburquerque to a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training.
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Earlyish on Thursday morning Shi Davidi of SportsNet broke the less-than-earth-shattering news that the Blue Jays have signed 31-year old reliever Al Alburquerque to minor-league deal. Double Al is often known more for his fun last name than his contributions on the field, but over the course of his seven major-league seasons, he’s been a valuable guy out of the bullpen for a number of teams, including the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox.
#BlueJays and reliever Al Alburquerque agree to terms on minor-league deal with invite to big-league camp, per source.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) January 18, 2018
Sure, why not?
There’s virtually no bad minor-league deal. Alburquerque is a bit of a junk-baller, throwing a very good slider with some hit-or-miss command on the pitch at times. Keegan Matheson summed up his slider usage pretty well on Twitter soon after the signing:
Alburqueque throws a ton of sliders. At times, those sliders are brilliant. He also walks a ton of batters, but gives the #BlueJays the 1-in-20 chance of catching lightning in a bottle for a few months, which is what MiLB relief deals are all about.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) January 18, 2018
Again, there’s no bad minor-league deal. If Alburquerque regains his early-career form, the Blue Jays potentially have a steal on their hands for what will likely be a close to minimum contract. And what happened at the end of 2017 might support that.
From 2015 to 2016 Alburquerque’s fastball velocity dipped from an average of 94.4 MPH to 92.7 MPH, and he began to struggle after a strong start to his career. This often happens with guys who start out in the majors throwing 96 MPH like he did, and over time lost velocity on the fastball while the offspeed pitch velocity remains the same.
In 2017, although only across 18 innings pitched in 21 appearances, Alburquerque’s velocity began to rebound. He was throwing 93.8 MPH again on his two-seam fastball, with a harder slider at 87.6 MPH. And as you can see above, along with Keegan’s point – he throws that slider a lot, and generated 30 whiffs on 141 pitches, which might come in handy versus some revamped American League East lineups with abnormally large right-handed power hitters.
|7 Yr||7 Yr||7 Yr||3.16||264||58||1||245.0||187||88||86||17||135||291||8||20||130||3.37||1.314||6.9||0.6||5.0||10.7||2.16|
The walks, of course, can be problematic. It’s worth mentioning that in 2017’s small sample size that he posted ‘just’ a 4.0 BB/9 with the White Sox and Royals after 4.8 in 2015 and a horrific 9.0 in 2016. Perhaps those struggles are behind him, and a return to his pre-2015 mastery is possible.
The slider, a pitch that can be quite fickle at times, is hugely important for his success. His career GB% of 48.6% is solid and dependent on that pitch. In recent years it’s dipped as low as 40.4% (2013), but that was coupled with a K/9 of 12.86, which he’s not going to get close to in 2018. We wrote about the team’s dependence on the ground ball earlier in the week, and Alburquerque could definitely contribute to that from the bullpen.
It’s likely that Alburquerque will be taking the shuttle between Buffalo and Toronto quite a bit to begin the season while the MLB roster shakes out. It’s not terribly unlikely, either, that he’s entrenched in the bullpen by mid-summer, as injuries, regression and slumps will surely hit the bullpen like they do every year. It’s also possible that we may never see him in a Blue Jays uniform, and that’s fine, too. That’s how these minor league deals go, but here’s a good thought to end on from @BVHJays:
— BVH (@BVHJays) January 18, 2018
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