The Phillies have been winning ballgames, more than anyone expected through this point in May. Some attribute that to pumping up the rotation with Jake Arrieta, Odubel Herrera’s scorching start, or Gabe Kapler’s cosmic management, but there also are the little things that don’t come through in the box score, like 89-mph throws to second from catcher Jorge Alfaro.
With all the zip of a rookie-Aaron Nola fastball, Alfaro has been pegging out guys at a blazing rate lately—seven of 10 runners attempting to steal since April 30. This all kind of crystallized, though, in the past several days, when he nailed a number of runners in spectacular fashion during a series win over the first-place Atlanta Braves. This seems like a good place to start:
During Monday night’s 3-0 win, Alfaro’s gunned down a hopeless Johan Camargo at second base by nearly three feet. It wasn’t particularly close, and the relatively new Statcast catcher metrics do a decent enough job of telling us how it happened. Alfaro’s pop time of 1.95 seconds is among the league leaders, but his best-in-the-bigs arm strength is what makes him special. This 88.3-mph throw was on the slower side for Alfaro, who averaged 89.9 mph last season—which would have been good for best in the league, if he’d logged the minimum number of tracked throws to second on steal attempts.
In the ninth inning of that same Braves game, Alfaro fielded a last-ditch bunt attempt from Ender Inciarte, spun around off-balance and fired it down to first, ending the game.
Alfaro’s most impressive effort over this recent stretch might have come late in Wednesday night’s game. Inciarte, the league leader in steals, was trying to get into scoring position and help erase a 3-0 deficit. But Alfaro shot up on an outside pitch and fired an 89.3-mph bullet down to second. It turned out to be a run-saving play, as Arrieta walked and allowed a double to the next two hitters before Seranthony Dominguez came on to strike out Preston Tucker.
Although it’s not yet reflected in his WAR (0.7 on the young season,) Alfaro is shaping up to be one of those players managers swear they’d play every day even if they couldn’t hit for shit. Kapler hasn’t gone that far, but he has started making Pudge comparisons. Alfaro has a ways to go on the offensive side—he’s slashing .246/.301/.368 through 123 plate appearances—but the defense might not be so far off.