Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Miami Marlins @ New York Mets, 7:10 PM ET
MIA: Jose Fernandez (5.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 13 K – 106 pitches, 72 strikes, 23 BF vs. DET on 4/6)
NYM: Noah Syndergaard (6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K – 92 pitches, 60 strikes, 23 BF vs. KCR on 4/5)
The Miami Marlins’ Cuban ace Jose Fernandez exploded on to the Major League Baseball scene in 2013 as a 20-year-old rookie, tossing 172.2 innings over 28 starts with 187 strikeouts, 2.19 ERA, and 0.98 WHIP. Since his magical Rookie of the Year Award-winning season, Fernandez has been disappointing, not for his performance but for his health. Just eight starts into the 2014 season, Fernandez tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the rest of the season. Rehab for his surgery kept him out of 2015 until July, and then a strained biceps forced him out of action for a month from August to September. In all, Fernandez made just 11 starts in 2015.
While he pitched just 110.1 innings over the last two seasons, Fernandez’s results have been just as good as his rookie season, as he racked up an astounding 140 strikeouts against just 27 walks over those 19 starts. His ERA and FIP sat at 2.77 and 2.21, respectively, with his WHIP settling in at a respectable 1.08. Fernandez’s 2016 debut garnered him a loss and an ERA over 7.00 to begin the season, but he was about as dominant as he could be while allowing five earned runs. The thing that pops out at you immediately is the 13 strikeouts, one shy of his career high, and a number he hadn’t reached since he struck out 14 Atlanta Braves on April 22 of 2014. Fernandez uses a mix of four-seam and two-seam fastballs as well as a power curveball and an occasional changeup as his weapons, leaning mostly on the fastballs and curveball. Against the Tigers, both pitches were working as strikeout pitches, as you can see from a plot of all 13 strikeout pitches from his Wednesday outing:
Of his 13 strikeouts, two came against left-handers, as he got Anthony Gose to chase a low changeup (his one changeup whiff of the day) and froze Jarrod Saltalamacchia with an inside fastball that registered at 97.0 mph. The rest came against right-handers, with all but one of those pitches being on the outer half of the plate, moving across the zone out of Fernandez’s three-quarters right-handed arm slot.
What hurt Fernandez in his outing was simply making mistakes at the wrong time. In the second inning, Fernandez issued a leadoff walk to Tigers cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez, then two batters later surrendered a 103.1 mph, 392 foot home run to Saltalamacchia on an 0-2 curveball that the veteran catcher turned on and deposited off of the second-level seats in right field. After striking out seven between the third and fifth innings, Fernandez allowed two singles but matched that with two strikeouts in the sixth inning. With Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos down in the count 1-2 after fouling off several pitches, Fernandez made his second costly mistake of the day, hanging a curveball that Castellanos lined into the left-center gap for an RBI double. You can see the location of both of these big hits below, Castellanos’s double on top and Salty’s home run on bottom.
After Fernandez exited, both of the runners he left on base were allowed to score on a Saltalamacchia two-run double off of Dustin McGowan (which, ironically, was also on an 0-2 pitch), running his earned runs total up to five. Overall, the results were poor, but there’s not much to be concerned over about this outing. His 13 strikeouts in less than six innings is nothing to sniff at, so it’s clear that Fernandez’s stuff is right where it needs to be. Without the two big hits he allowed, he was potentially two pitches away from a scoreless six- or seven-inning outing.
Simply nicknamed “Thor” thanks his impressive 6-foot-6, 240 pound stature, long golden hair, and Scandanavian ancestry, Noah Syndergaard made his major-league debut in May of 2015 and remained a dominant force in the Mets’ rotation for the rest of the season. Thor features a four-seam fastball and a sinker that both regularly flirt with triple-digits, as well as a slider that works in the low-90s. In 150.0 innings over 24 starts, Syndergaard struck out 166 batters while walking just 31 en route to a 3.24 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 1.05 WHIP.
His first outing of the season, Syndergaard ran through the Kansas City Royals’ bats with ease, throwing 92 pitches in six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and walking one while fanning nine. While most pitchers rely mainly on two or three pitches, Syndergaard mixed in all five of his pitches consistently, throwing 13 four-seamers, 25 sinkers, 20 changeups, 23 sliders, and 11 curveballs in his outing according to Brooks Baseball. Of his nine strikeouts, two came on changeups, two on four-seamers, and five on sliders, all pictured here:
Overall, Syndergaard showed excellent command of his pitches for someone who throws with such explosive velocity. His fastball was effective to both sides of the plate as well as up and down in the zone, with very few pitches left in the middle of the zone:
His off-speed pitches were also well-located, kept mostly down in the zone and to both sides of the plate:
Thanks to the aforementioned velocity and good location, Syndergaard induced an impressive 18 swings-and-misses in his outing (2 FA, 2 SI, 5 CH, 8 SL, 1 CU). With the electric stuff that Syndergaard possesses, these kinds of outings are going to be turning up quite often from the 23-year-old out of Mansfield, Texas.
With both pitchers coming off outings in which they had similarly dominant stuff but very different results, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both teams struggle to reach base and rack up the strikeouts early and often. If 98 mph fastballs and young aces get you excited to watch baseball (i.e., if you’re a human being), it’s hard to imagine a game more intriguing than this, with perhaps the two best 23-year-olds in the game squaring off at Citi Field in Queens, New York. I wouldn’t make plans after 7 PM tonight, as this will surely be an electric showdown.
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers, 4:10 PM ET: Patrick Corbin vs. Kenta Maeda – A four-year MLB veteran but still just 26 years old, D-Backs southpaw Patrick Corbin hopes to improve off a seven-inning season debut in which he struck out six but allowed three home runs against Colorado. The 28-year-old Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda takes the hill for his second major-league start after working six scoreless innings with four strikeouts, perhaps overshadowed by the 358-foot solo home run he blasted off the San Diego Padres’ Andrew Cashner in his second career plate appearance.
New York Yankees @ Toronto Blue Jays, 7:07 PM ET: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Aaron Sanchez – After tossing 5.2 innings with four strikeouts in his season debut against Houston, Tanaka takes the mound for his second start of the season. 23-year-old Aaron Sanchez makes his second start of the season after working seven innings with eight punchouts and no walks against Tampa Bay in his first start since June 5 of last season.
Cleveland Indians @ Tampa Bay Rays, 7:10 PM ET: Corey Kluber vs. Matt Moore – Cleveland’s ace Corey Kluber takes the mound looking to bounce back off an Opening Day start in which he allowed nine hits, two walks and four runs against Boston. Rays southpaw Matt Moore is also looking for a rebound start after allowing three runs off of five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in his season debut against the Toronto Blue Jays.