Throughout a 162-game major league season, the natural ebbs and flows often see a slew of guys appearing in the Brewers uniform. Some, such as 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, have become staples in the organization while others, like catcher Alex Hall, are called up just to fill a spot and don’t see any action before going back down to the minors. Regardless of their role in the organization, every player has a unique story of how they got there.
For 29-year-old rookie Jason Alexander, who has no relation to the Seinfeld actor who bears the same name, his road to the show is as unique and improbable as they come.
The Windsor, California native pitched at Long Beach State University after starting at Santa Rosa (CA) Junior College. During his junior year at Long Beach State, Alexander tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), requiring Tommy John Surgery and ending his 2014 season. After missing all of 2015, he left for small Menlo College in Atherton, California. There, he went 9-2 with a 2.71 ERA, good enough to earn him NAIA All-American Honorable Mention. Even after having success in his final season at Menlo College, Alexander went undrafted in 2017, signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent.
After a rough start to rookie ball that saw a 9.00 ERA after eight starts, he rebounded, finishing 2017 with an improved but still not impressive 3.50 ERA and 1.031 WHIP. He stayed the course, bouncing around the Angels farm system in 2018 and 2019, spending most of his time with the AA Mobile BayBears. Still, he recorded a combined ERA of 4.41 in 2018 and 6.66 in 2019. His SO/9 hovered around the 7-9 range during those seasons in the Angels system and in 2019 he finished the season with the AAA Salt Lake Bees. In 2020, the Angels released him.
The Miami Marlins signed Alexander in 2021 and his time in AAA continued, this time with more success. The sample size was small due to injury, just 14.2 innings, but he still dropped his ERA to 1.84 while recording a SO/9 of 11.05. Opponents were batting just .222 and his sinker limited hard-hit balls as he allowed just one extra-base hit in the small sample size. Now in 2022 with Nashville, he has a 1.09 WHIP and an ERA of 2.64 in 47.2 innings. In his first start as a Brewer, he became just the 10th starter in franchise history to go at least seven innings in his debut and the first since Brandon Woodruff to record a quality start in a debut.
In an era of guys lighting up the radar gun with high 90s fastballs, Alexander is a different breed as a sinker ball pitcher. Before getting the call to the Brewers, he had a ground ball percentage of 63.3% with Nashville, way above the MLB average of 45%. He used his sinker 58.8% of the time in his first start against the Cubs, topping out at 92.8 mph with 6.8 more inches of drop when compared to pitches of similar speed and extension, according to Statcast.
He’s a pitcher who is going to try to make hitters chase on his sinker or slider, his second most used pitch in his arsenal, to make weak contact. In his debut, he showed the maturity of a veteran. After a shaky 28-pitch first inning, he got into his groove and retired nine of the next 10 batters, with the one hit being a bunt single in the fourth. Of those nine retired Cubs, seven of them were results of groundouts. He finished his debut going seven innings, giving up seven hits and two earned runs while striking out three.
With Woodruff set to return from the injured list soon, is this just a show about nothing? Not necessarily. Alexander gets another chance tonight against the Phillies to prove his first start wasn’t a fluke. Going forward, I don’t see him getting a solid spot in the starting rotation due to the depth that the Brewers have. With that being said, I think his makeup as a good groundball pitcher could be benefited from the bullpen. I could see him being used as a nice change of pace option when a double play is needed. Regardless of his role, Alexander’s journey as an undrafted free agent with a major arm injury to a Major League pitcher recording a quality start in his debut should make him a favorite among Brewers fans.
All stats and videos were found via MLB.com, Baseball-Reference, Statcast, and FanGraphs.