After the Mariners selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Dan Altavilla set a goal to pitch in the big leagues by the time he was 24. By August 27th, 2016, he made his debut as a 23-year-old against the Chicago White Sox, setting the side down in order.
The MLB dream was a relatively new one for Dan. He played college ball for Mercyhurst University, a D-II school about two hours away from where he grew up. Mercyhurst is one of the top D-II baseball programs in the country; however, D-II schools lack the exposure of elite D-1 programs. It wasn’t until a stellar freshman season, one that earned him National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Year recognition, that Altavilla realized his potential.
With his eyes set on professional baseball, Altavilla channeled a relentless work ethic that he’s carried from a young age. “Ever since I was a kid,” he says, “my dad constantly had me doing body weight exercises like push ups, sit ups, pull ups, chin ups, etc. until I was eventually introduced to weight lifting in middle school. It’s always been a big part of my life and will continue to be. Having a good work ethic is something I can control, and I try to take advantage of that to the best of my ability.” Scouting reports of Altavilla as he made his way through the minors had made note of his size. As he noted in the quote above, he’s taken ownership of his fitness to tap into his full potential as a pitcher.
Early exposure to fitness bred Altavilla’s interest in sports medicine and physical therapy, which he would later study at Mercyhurst. “It’s something that I’ve always been interested in,” Altavilla said. “Learning the anatomy of the human body and how it works has helped me better understand workouts and why they are necessary especially for baseball.” His interest in understanding the relationship between the body and athletic training aligns with Dr. Lorena Martin’s approach to high performance. As Kate outlined last week, Dr. Martin advises that data scientists become familiar with anatomy and physiology, because knowing the relationship between body systems supplements data when assessing performance.
Altavilla’s introduction to Driveline in 2013 paired perfectly with his fascination with fitness. His Cape Cod Summer League Teammate, (not former Mariner infielder, but current Reds pitcher) Jose Lopez, showed Dan a pre-throwing weighted-ball workout. “I noticed a nice velocity increase and it made my arm feel stronger in between outings,” Altavilla recalled. “After that, I did some research online and liked what Driveline had to offer.” Continued work with Driveline has helped Dan sit in the upper-90s with his fastball for multiple innings, multiple times per week without wearing down.
A high-octane fastball and devastating slider paved the way for a phenomenal first stint with the Mariners, boasting a 2.01 FIP in 12.1 innings of work. Dan jumped ahead of hitters early with a 68.8-percent first pitch strike rate, which helped produce an incredible 2.8-percent walk rate. Altavilla was able to generate a lot of soft contact by getting a lead on opposing players, and forcing them to chase pitches out of the zone later in counts. Hitters swung at 37.8-percent of Dan’s pitches out of the zone, resulting in plenty of grounders, weak contact, and strikeouts. However, 2017 saw a much tougher start. Prior to July, Altavilla ran a 5.88 FIP with an inflated walk rate. Ask him about the early season struggles, and he’ll point to mechanical issues: “I was getting overly rotational and trying to do too much.” Over rotation can disrupt consistency and control in a pitchers delivery, which could explain both the hike in walk rate and home runs per fly ball. In the first half of the season, Dan missed in the upper half of the zone far more frequently than the second half.
Altavilla attributes a much better second half to work with Mel Stottlemyre Jr., as well as coach Rainiers’ pitching coach Lance Painter. Refining his delivery paved the way to a 3.05 FIP from July until the end of the season, with lower walk and home run rates. He finished the year on a particularly high note, striking out 11 batters in 8.1 innings while allowing just two runs over his final six appearances.
It’s all about controlling the controllables for Altavilla, and it shows in his insatiable work ethic. Whether he’s setting goals, like reaching the bigs by the time he’s 24, or setting records, like striking out a school-record 129 batters in his final season at Mercyhurst, diligent mental and physical preparation has been the force that’s driven his career. His attention to detail is so fervent that it even translates to an impeccable dental hygiene routine. “I make it a point to visit the dentist regularly and do everything that I can to take care of my teeth including brushing and flossing every day.” If flossing every day doesn’t speak to a person’s discipline, nothing does. This is not the exception for Dan, though. It’s the rule. He embodies the phrase “how you do anything is how you do everything,” doing everything in his power to position himself for success.
Jerry Dipoto’s praise of Altavilla on his podcast, The Wheelhouse, implies the 25-year-old hurler is in good position for a bullpen spot heading into camp. Dipoto has applauded Dan’s work ethic, which should assist in building off a strong close to the 2017 season.