Editors Note: Excited to be adding a new writer to our MM staff in Daniel Zylberkan. Daniel will be posting sabermetric slanted articles for us here on Marlin Maniac. Please welcome him aboard to our staff.
Baseball is a very complicated sport to analyze, things change and happen very quickly, often from game to game. Jose Fernandez has been one of the few bright spots for the Marlins this year. As a rookie pitcher and a stud prospect at that, Fernandez will be over-analyzed this year and even next. The press, executives, scouts, fantasy baseball owners and especially Marlins fans will be looking at every one of his starts to see what changes from game to game. Yesterday, Fernandez looked dominant. Today I want to break down what Pitch F/X saw in Fernandez’ start.
Fernandez had 9 strikeouts yesterday and 8 of them came on swinging strikes (whiffs), the strikeout of Delmon Young came on a foul tip.
Pitch F/X plots the horizontal movement, vertical movement, spin and rotation of all pitches as well as the resulting outcome with stunning accuracy. Basically, what we need to know for this article is simple. Curveballs break down and away while fastballs especially Fernandez’ have some “tail” to them meaning they usually rise and move in to right-handed-hitters and away from left-handed hitters. The Phillies have a very lefty-heavy lineup and that played into Fernandez’ hands yesterday. Fernandez struck out 9 – 7 of them came against Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. All against batters
The graph below shows the location of Fernandez pitches relative to their location inside/outside independent of batter handedness
Fenandez was living on the outside part of the plate with the fastball and the inside half of the plate with curveball and he was successful against the Phillies because of it. Baseball people, always speak of “changing eye levels” as a way to get outs and especially strikeouts and that’s what Fernandez did so well yesterday.
Of the 9 strikeouts that Fernandez twirled up there 5 came on curveballs. 4 of strikeouts came against left-handed hitters, Utley, Howard, Rollins and the pitcher Cole Hamels. The chart below shows the difference between horizontal and vertical movement and what each of the plate appearances resulted in.
The 5 strikeouts via the curveball were nearly mirror images of the 4 punch-outs via the fastball (within the laws of physics). The ability to control two pitches as a good as Fernandez features: a 96-98 MPH fastball, a nasty curveball as well as an up and coming changeup. May well make Jose Fernandez one of the best most dominating pitchers in recent memory.
Something else that yesterday’s game showed although it fits within baseball “common wisdom” is the importance of getting ahead. Fernandez threw 82 pitches, 57 of them for strikes in 7 IP. He faced 23 batters and threw first-pitch-strikes to 13 of them; 16 of his outs came either through groundballs or the strikeout. The Cuban righty, faced 2 over the minimum over 7 innings, only allowing 1 hit and 1 walk.
There are two lessons that can be gleaned from parsing Fernandez start with a fine analytical comb. First, it seems that the Phillies lineup especially the three mainstays at Citizens Bank Park, Rollins, Utley and Howard because of their left-handed bats will struggle against a power right-hander like Fernandez. The combination of a power fastball with a 10-6 curveball is too much for a team with an aging left-handed heavy lineup can handle, especially when he it is being thrown for strikes consistently.
Second, this is a confidence booster for a young pitcher. Fernandez didn’t pitch like a 20 year old yesterday. He was pitching confident they were going where he wanted to throw them and the confidence that he had in his curveball showed, using it not just as “out pitch” but also to get ahead of hitters early in the count. That to me is the most important fact, the fastball is a given for Fernandez. It is the ability to throw the curveball to get ahead as well as to finish at-bats will be his key to success as we move ahead.
Finally, I just wanted to introduce myself, this being my first post here on Marlin Maniac. My name is Daniel and I’m a huge Marlins fan have been since I moved here to Florida from Brazil when I was 11 years old. I started watching the Marlins during that dreadful 2002 season and have stuck with them through the joy of the 2003 World Series and all of the salary dumps since. I am currently going to Florida State University to get my Master’s in History. But sports, baseball and writing are passions of mine and I hope I can add a different voice to this blog.