Jose Fernandez Strikes Out 14 Against the Braves – A Pitch FX Analysis


Apr 22, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher

Jose Fernandez

(16) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Fernandez tossed 8 scoreless innings while allowing 3 hits, 14 strikeouts, and no walks. Over the course of this game we came to discover many things we already knew about Jose, namely that he is really good at pitching and that he may have the best curveball in the entire league.  That curveball is lovingly referred to as “The Defector” by Marlins fans.

Fernandez collected 14 Ks in Tuesday’s start against the Braves, 10 of them came against the curveball. The chart below shows the most common places that Jose throws his curveball that resulted in swinging strikes from both right-handed and left-handed hitters

The chart above is from the catcher’s perspective meaning that the real “hot” portion of the heat map is down and away from righties and down and in to lefties.   A “12-6” curveball that can be thrown when ahead in the count and when hitters have to respect 94+ heat anywhere is devastating. This chart shows all of the fastballs that Jose Fernandez has thrown for a strike, that weren’t balls or hit in play

Lots of up and away to righties and up in to lefties.  Jose is the classic fastball-curveball pitcher because he works on the principle of changing the hitter’s eye levels.  When a pitcher is able to throw 95+ for strikes and in the correct spots they can tie-up the lefties by throwing up and in and making right-handers chase the ball up and away.  The places where hitters will have the least success against hard fastballs are high in the zone and then being able to follow it up with devastating low curveballs.

The following chart shows the movement of the fastball relative to the curveball and the effect that creates for hitters

Fourseam fastballs seem to rise and cut in and curveballs sharply break down and away.  At its biggest separation Jose’s curveball was thrown a foot lower than his fastball and almost twenty inches wider.   It is that effect of changing eye level, bat speed and approach that wreaks havoc on hitters especially left-handers when he has his fastball going.

This chart below shows all of the “whiffs”, swings and misses, that Jose was able to induce on his curveball with a 2 strike count.

In yesterday’s game Jose threw 21 curveballs with two strikes to Braves hitters and was able to induce 9 whiffs.  Most of them were concentrated in the down and away region from righties and the down and in portion for opposite handed batters.

What is most impressive of all to me is that Jose is able to do this barely throwing his changeup.  Jose’s heater-yakker combo might be the most lethal weapon for any pitcher in the game today. Better than Chris Sale’s slider, Darvish’s versatile arsenal, King Felix’s sinker, and Clayton Kershaw’s curveball just to name a few. Just imagine once he figures out that change-up, the rest of the league really will think that the young Cuban righty is truly unhittable.