Monday, June 20, 2011
Tigers Took a Right Turn at Alburquerque
Alburquerque began his career in the Chicago Cubs organization before being traded to the Colorado Rockies farm system for Jeff Baker in 2009. He landed in Double-A Tulsa after the trade where he finished the 2009 campaign with a 1-3 record and a 3.74 ERA. Things didn't look much better for Alburquerque in 2010 when the Rockies removed him from their 40-man roster after he had gone 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA and a 32/19 K/BB ratio in 34 1/3 innings.
He suffered from migraines and other soreness after having four wisdom teeth removed in June 2010, which did not stop him from pitching but may have effected his abilities on the mound.
The Rockies gave up on him and Alburquerque found his way to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball. The Detroit Tigers have a heavily presence in the Dominican and the scout assigned to the country informed General Manager Dave Dombrowski to offer Alburquerque a contract because he had quality stuff and was attracting attention from other major league clubs.
The Tigers signed Alburquerque to a minor league contract in the off-season and he began the season in Toledo with the Triple-A Mudhens. He wouldn't stay there long; after throwing just three scoreless innings for Toledo the Tigers called him up to the big leagues on April 14. His stuff on the mound has improved as the season has progressed, showing that he is getting more comfortable with his abilities.
Alburquerque has electric stuff, his fastball can touch 95 mph and his slider is nearly unhittable. When most pitchers throw a slider, it has a tendency to slide east-to-west, but in Alburquerque's case, his slider slides north-to-south. Word has gotten around the league about his unique slider but it doesn't seem to have made an impact on Alburquerque's dominance.
Through 24 innings pitched Alburquerque has the second highest strikeouts per nine innings ever, his 15.00 K/9 is topped only by Carlos Marmol's 15.99/9 last season. While 24 innings is a miniscule amount of work to look at Alburquerque's numbers are something to be marveled at. He is racking up strikeouts at a record pace, becoming just the sixth pitcher ever to face at least 100 batters and strike out at least 40% of them.
It's not just strikeouts that Alburquerque is drawing attention from, he is on pace to break two of Eric Gagne's records, for slugging percentage against and batting average against. In 2003, Eric Gagne set major league records for putting up two incredible numbers a .133 BA and a .176 SLG. Alburquerque is on pace to shatter both of those records; currently he has a .122 BA and a .134 SLG.
While these numbers are awe inspiring they are not yet set in stone, a few bad games could shake Alburqueque up and might derail him from this torrid pace. Of the 18 runners that he has inherited he has allowed only one runner to score, and while has has allowed six runs in his 24 innings of work, none have scored in his last 11 games.
His stuff is electric and he is on a hot streak, right now Alburquerque is exactly what the Tigers need to get back atop the American League Central and pull away from the pack. And if he keeps up this pace, Justin Verlander just may have competition from within his own team for the American League Cy Young.