Jose Fernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball and what he did last night is proof positive of what makes him so great.
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His clear ability to control the strike zone and to control and throw all of his three big pitches for strikes and most important to get outs with all three pitches.. His repertoire includes: a mid to high 90s fastball, a slurvey curveball and a wipe out change-up
Jose had a typically impressive outing last night, where he went 7 IP, only giving up 6 hits while striking out 9 and walking no one. Most impressively he was able to be efficient throwing only 94 pitches with 72 of them going for strikes.
At this point it is almost cliched to talk about the important of first pitch strikes and how important they are. Jose clearly understands the importance of first pitch strikes throwing them to start 17 of the 25 batters he faced in his 7 IP.
Jose thrives off his fastball which is his most important pitch and the basis of his entire success
The fastball is important because it can used to set up a baseline for what all the other pitches will do to all the hitters. Jose, much like a lot of other power pitchers, lives off of the fastball, but not necessarily as his out pitch. Jose threw nearly 83% of his fastballs for strikes and got 11 whiffs with a 21.2% rate.
Usually compared to the other two pitches the fastball is not a key pitch for Jose to get outs with. Not tonight where Jose was able to six of his nine strikeouts with the fastball.
Strikeouts aren’t the whole story and it can be seen that he was able to get a lot of really bad contact with his secondary pitches. Jose, as a power pitcher, who is a fastball-slider-changeup guy works on the basis of changing eye-levels as his primary pitching mode.
The fastball is thrown high and the other secondary pitches are thrown low and away which forces batters to hit pitches, like the one that Barnhart did to end the seventh inning. Barnhart reached for a curveball outside of the zone and grounded out into a double play.
Given the importance of changing eye levels to Jose’s style of pitching, the movement on the pitches is particularly important. The fastball is thrown at such at a different level than both the changeup and the curveball that there is no way that a hitter could cheat and try and hope that they could guess correctly and successfully make contact on the other pitches
A very instructive graph is one that details what each of kind of pitches appears to do when thrown towards home and there are no two pitches more different from the fastball and the slider/curveball.
Ultimately one of the reasons a curveball is hard to hit even it is recognized is because of how much it drops thanks to it being thrown with topspin and almost perpendicular to ground. A curve will break down and seemingly disappear and fall off the face of the plane that hitter was hoping to swing at. Again this is even harder when a pitcher throws a fastball with some cut/tail.
There are many pitchers from high schools to Jose Fernandez that pitch by focusing on their fastball/curveball but there aren’t many that have the kind of command, control, mentality and intelligence that can make them as successful as Jose.
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