Saturday, April 16, 2016

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 PM ET
WSH: Max Scherzer (Season: 13.0 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 13 K. Last start: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K – 100 pitches, 65 strikes, 26 BF vs. ATL on 4/11)
PHI: Aaron Nola (Season: 14.0 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 17 K. Last start: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 9 K – 95 pitches, 67 strikes, 27 BF vs. SDP on 4/11)

Jamie Sabau & Greg Flume/Getty Images North America

Jamie Sabau & Greg Flume/Getty Images North America

Lost among the story lines of Zack Greinke‘s microscopic ERA and Jake Arrieta‘s world-beating second half, Max Scherzer put together a fantastic season in his first year with the Washington Nationals. Scherzer worked 228.2 innings over 33 starts and posted an ERA of 2.79 and a 2.77 FIP to match, striking out an astounding 276 batters while walking just 34, good for an MLB-leading 8.12 K/BB rate. Scherzer finished his incredible season with a flourish, striking out seventeen New York Mets and completing his second no-hitter of the season. Something guys like Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez could never do, Scherzer did twice last season.

In his first outing of the year against the Braves on Opening Day, Scherzer looked like his old self, in good and bad ways. He struck out seven, walked two, and allowed just three hits, but he also allowed two solo home runs (he allowed 27 last year, tied for seventh-most in the National League). The first home run was a 2-2 fastball thrown belt-high and middle-in to Freddie Freeman in the first inning, who had no problem turning on the pitch and depositing it into the right field bleachers. Three innings later, Adonis Garcia took an 0-2 slider away and turned it into a wall-scraping homer. The locations of the pitches are shown below (keep in mind Garcia is a righty and Freeman is a lefty):

In Scherzer’s second outing, also against the Braves, he was also done in by two big hits, this time a pair of two-run doubles in the first two innings. In the first, Scherzer retired the first two batters on four pitches, but then walked Freeman and allowed a single to Garcia, and on the first pitch he saw veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski smacked an outside changeup into right-center for a two-run double. The next inning began with a one-out Jace Peterson single, and two batters later rookie Mallex Smith singled as well. then Nick Markakis took a full-count curveball down the right-field line for another two-run double. One again, the pitches weren’t terrible, but caught enough of the plate for opposing hitters to do some damage:

Of these four big hits against Scherzer this season, three were by left-handed hitters. So far this season, it’s been lefties that have had the success against Scherzer. Seven of his nine hits, all three doubles, and four of his five walks have been against left-handed hitters thus far. This isn’t surprising, due to the fact that the Braves have an especially left-handed-heavy lineup, but it is a little concerning if other teams are able to replicate the success against Scherzer by tailoring their lineup to counter his strengths.

On the other side of the ball Saturday night will be 23-year-old Aaron Nola, making his sixteenth career major-league start after debuting midway through 2015 with the Philadelphia Phillies. His first start of the 2016 season was electric, going seven innings, striking out eight and walking none while allowing just four hits, the only run of his outing coming on a first-inning homer by Eugenio Suarez. His second outing was good as well, as he fanned nine San Diego Padres and again walked none and allowed just six hits in seven more innings. However, some of the hits came at the right time, and the Padres hung four runs on him.

Overall, Nola has been very good in 2016, working both a four-seam and two-seam fastball as well as curveball as his primary offerings, with the occasional changeup mixed in. His fastball works in the low-90s with good arm-side run and above-average sink, and he has been locating it well to both sides of the plate:

His primary off-speed pitch, the curveball, has been quite effective, with just three of twelve balls put in play going for hits, inducing twelve swings-and-misses for a whiff rate just over 20 percent. He’s also located that pitch well, down in the zone and to both sides of the plate:

It comes as no surprise that Nola has located his pitches well so far, as is evident in his 17:0 K:BB ratio thus far. Even the pitches that opponents have gotten hits on haven’t been terribly located; five of the ten hits allowed by Nola have come on pitches that were actually out of the strike zone according to Baseball Savant:

If it weren’t for a big third inning that featured three hits and two runs against the Padres, Nola might be sitting on a sub-two ERA and have a win under his belt so far this season. Regardless, he’s been pitching quite well, especially for a 23-year-old and along with fellow youngsters Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velasquez (who fanned 16 Padres while walking none in a three-hit shutout on Thrusday) as well as a revived Jeremy Hellickson have given the Phillies some much-needed quality starting pitching so far this season.

An early-season National League East matchup, this appears to be a bit of a David-and-Goliath contest on paper: the projected cellar-dweller Phillies and a young pitcher take on the division-favorite Nationals and former Cy Young award-winner Max Scherzer. However, in reality, Nola has been pitching just as well as Scherzer this season, and should give the Phillies a real chance to win this game with a quality start Saturday night. Plus, we all know who won the original David versus Goliath matchup.

Honorable Mentions:

Seattle Mariners @ New York Yankees, 1:05 PM ET: Felix Hernandez vs. C.C. Sabathia – After a five-walk outing in which he allowed three runs (one earned) on just one hit, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez turned in a gem in his last start, striking out ten Oakland Athletics, walking two, and allowing three hits over seven scoreless innings. C.C. Sabathia makes his second appearance of the season after allowing three runs on four hits and four walks with just three strikeouts against the Tigers on April 9.

Cincinnati Reds @ St. Louis Cardinals, 2:15 PM ET: Brandon Finnegan vs. Adam Wainwright – 23-year-old Brandon Finnegan took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Monday night and has allowed just four hits over 12.2 innings in 2016. Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is in desperate need of a bounce-back outing, as he’s allowed eight runs, 12 hits, and eight walks this season while striking out just five batters in eleven innings.

Toronto Blue Jays @ Boston Red Sox, 4:05 PM ET: Marco Estrada vs. David Price – Marco Estrada makes his second start of the season after an impressive debut in which he went seven scoreless innings against the Red Sox, allowing five hits and two walks with eight punchouts. Boston ace David Price allowed five runs on five hits against Baltimore on Monday afternoon, but has racked up an impressive 18:4 K:BB ratio so far in eleven innings.

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers, 9:10 PM ET: Johnny Cueto vs. Scott Kazmir – Both starters are new to the National League West but turned in great season debuts, each picking up wins with quality starts. Their follow-up starts weren’t so good, however, as both men allowed six earned runs in their starts on Sunday. The difference in this game will likely be whoever can bounce back from their poor start the best.

About The Author

Matt Wojciak is a 20-year-old senior at St. Joseph's College of Maine, studying for a degree in Accounting. He is a lifelong Red Sox fan, born and raised in southern New Hampshire, with much of his extended family residing in South Boston. If you're a fan of quantity and not quality, be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @mwojciak21.

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2 Responses

  1. Gabriel D. Bogart

    This marks the first time all season that one of Matt’s top-featured pitchers surrenders a home run to Bryce Harper. It was Harper’s 5th long ball of the season and, according to StatCast, traveled 412 feet at an exit velocity of 107 mph. I will attempt to keep track of how many times Matt dooms a top-billed pitcher to surrendering a Bryce Blast (my god, did I really just type that?!?).

    • Matt Wojciak

      I strongly discourage this type of behavior by Gabe or anyone else.


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