Monday, April 11, 2016:
Cincinnati Reds @ Chicago Cubs, 8:05 PM ET
CIN: Brandon Finnegan (6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 9 K – 86 pitches, 54 strikes, 22 BF vs. PHI on 4/6)
CHI: Jon Lester (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K – 93 pitches, 63 strikes, 25 BF vs. LAA on 4/5)
After leading his hometown Texas Christian University Horned Frogs to the College World Series in 2014, Brandon Finnegan was drafted 17th overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Kansas City Royals. Finnegan was called up to the majors in September of the same season, throwing seven innings for the Royals, striking out ten batters and walking one while allowing just one run in seven appearances. Finnegan later made history that season, becoming the first man to ever pitch in the College World Series and MLB World Series in the same season.
After a less spectacular, but solid start to the season in the Royals bullpen, Finnegan was dealt to Cincinnati, along with pitchers Cody Reed and John Lamb, in exchange for Johnny Cueto. After the trade, Finnegan appeared in six games for the Reds including four starts, tossing 23.2 innings to the tune of a 4.18 ERA. Finnegan posted a solid 24:8 K:BB ratio, but allowed five home runs for a 1.9 HR/9 rate in his time with Cincinnati.
With the Reds currently in a rebuilding phase, Finnegan slides into the team’s rotation in just his age-23 season, and his first start did not disappoint. Over six innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, Finnegan allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out nine, with the only two runs of his outing coming on a two-run home run by Maikel Franco in the first inning. After the first inning, Finnegan allowed just one more hit, coming with two outs in the third inning. From there, he retired nine batters in a row before issuing a walk to Odubel Herrera in the sixth, before inducing a Franco groundout to conclude his outing.
Finnegan, a left-hander, relies on a three-pitch mix which consists of a hard sinker, hard slider, and changeup. His sinker and slider were excellent on Wednesday, responsible for 11 of the 13 swings-and-misses he induced in his first outing of the season. Finnegan’s slider was especially impressive, as he showed excellent ability to locate it in the strike zone, as seen here:
While many sinkerballers across the league excel by locating their fastball down and often out of the strike zone, Finnegan is able to work the pitch to all parts of the plate, and he showed an exceptional ability to pound the outside corner — often up in the zone — to the Phillies right-handed hitters:
While the slider and sinker were both working well for Finnegan against the Phillies, his changeup was a bit less effective. Of the 17 changeups he threw, according to Brooks Baseball, just four were strikes, two of those whiffs. However, Finnegan did show great ability to keep the ball down in the zone and away from opponents’ bats:
Finnegan also used his changeup as a tool to keep hitters off-balance, mixing speeds incredibly well alongside his slider and sinker:
As a whole, Finnegan used his two best offerings to get the majority of his outs, while mixing in a host of low changeups to keep hitters off-balance. If Finnegan was able to use his changeup more effectively, in terms of swings-and-misses and inducing weak contact, he could become better, even dominant, moving forward.
After signing a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs in the winter of 2014, Jon Lester quietly put together an excellent season in 2015, overshadowed mainly by the Cy Young Award-winning campaign of Jake Arrieta. Over 32 starts and 205.0 innings for the Cubs, Lester pitched to a 3.34 ERA and 2.92 FIP, striking out 207 batters and amassing a WHIP of 1.12.
In his first start of the new season, Lester picked up where he left off last season, allowing just one run over seven strong innings, allowing four hits and no walks to go along with four punchouts. Lester relies mainly on his mix of fastballs, which includes a four-seam, cutter, and sinker. Against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, Lester saw great success with his trio of fastballs. Of 19 balls put in play on those pitches, 15 resulted in outs, and he also picked up a pair of strikeouts, one with a cutter and the other with a sinker. Overall, Lester showed great command of his fastballs, working them equally to both sides of the plate and keeping the ball down in the strike zone:
While Lester threw less than 20 off-speed pitches in his outing, his changeup and curveball were solid, accounting for a strikeout apiece and recording outs on both of those pitches that were put in play. Aside from two curveballs that were a bit yanked, Lester’s location on his off-speed pitches looked pretty sharp:
While Lester didn’t quite have the strikeout power that he’s shown he possesses, he executed the plan that made him the effective major-leaguer he is today, inducing weak contact by pounding the lower half of the strike zone with a plethora of fastballs that can move in, out, or down to any hitter on any given pitch.
Moving forward, Finnegan looks to keep improving as a pitcher while simultaneously competing in major-league games every fifth day. Still just 22 years old (until Thursday, that is), he has a lot of time to mature and improve, despite already flashing top-of-the-rotation stuff early in his career. Lester, quite more experienced but still just 32, needs to stay sharp throughout the season, anchoring the Cubs’ rotation alongside Arrieta and John Lackey as they hunt for their second-straight playoff appearance and their first World Series championship since 1908.
Baltimore Orioles @ Boston Red Sox, 2:05 PM ET: Yovani Gallardo vs. David Price – After picking up wins in their first starts with new teams, Yovani Gallardo and David Price square off in Boston’s home opener. In 3 career starts, Gallardo owns a 5.52 ERA at Fenway Park.
San Diego Padres @ Philadelphia Phillies, 3:05 PM ET: Andrew Cashner vs. Aaron Nola – After a strong 2014 and disappointing 2015, Cashner’s 2016 debut was more of the latter, as he pitched just four innings and allowed six runs, two walks, and five runs with five strikeouts against the Dodgers. Aaron Nola takes the mound for the Phillies after tossing seven strong innings in his season debut, allowing four hits and no walks alongside eight punchouts, with his only run allowed coming off a Eugenio Suarez homer in the first inning.