Monday, April 18, 2016
New York Mets @ Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 PM ET
NYM: Noah Syndergaard (Season: 13.0 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 21 K. Last start: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K – 99 pitches, 72 strikes, 27 BF vs. MIA on 4/12)
PHI: Jerad Eickhoff (Season: 12.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 12 K. Last start: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K – 96 pitches, 64 strikes, 25 BF vs. SDP on 4/13)
Both players in today’s game are making their second appearance in the Pitching Matchup of the Day. Both have looked quite solid so far this season. Each player is in their sophomore season after debuting in 2015 and posting ERAs of 3.25 or lower and FIPs of exactly 3.25 each.
Syndergaard is the more highly touted of the two young pitchers, and has lived up to the hype thus far in 2016 in two starts. His first outing was a scoreless six-inning effort in which he allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out nine Kansas City Royals. He followed up a strong debut with another impressive outing, working seven innings of one-run baseball against the Miami Marlins, allowing seven hits and a walk while picking up another twelve strikeouts, running his season total to a whopping 21 in just 13.0 innings of work.
While many might imagine a man who throws upwards of 98 mph and stands at 6-foot-6 may have some issues controlling his pitches, Syndergaard has demonstrated excellent ability to pound the strike zone without sacrificing any of his elite velocity. He’s thrown 132 of 191 pitches for strikes this season, good for a strike percentage of over 69 percent (nice).
His fastball has been the building block of his success, mixing a four-seamer and sinker that both average over 98 mph. Combined, the two pitches have gone for strikes over 77 percent of the time in 2016, and have induced a swing-and-miss rate of over 14 percent, much higher than the average fastball. However, Syndergaard hasn’t had to throw the fastball in the zone too often to get strikes:
As you can see, there are a lot of pitches — especially sinkers — ending up out of the zone on Syndergaard’s arm side. However, he’s been getting plenty of hitters to swing at those pitches so far, as you can see by a chart of Syndergaard’s fastballs which have induced swings and misses:
Syndergaard’s also been the beneficiary of some good calls in that area as well, especially against left-handed hitters. Here’s a graph of all the fastballs he’s thrown against lefties that have been called strikes:
So it seems that so far this season, everything that could go right for Syndergaard has gone right. He’s getting lots of help on pitches out of the zone both from hitters and umpires, especially against left-handed hitters, who’ve struck out in an astounding 53.8 percent of plate appearances against the Texan right-hander this season (14 K in 26 PA). However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe that this trend will continue to some degree; Syndergaard’s electric velocity and great arm-side movement (-6.72 in on the sinker according to Brooks Baseball) are very conducive to tricking hitters and umpires alike into thinking balls outside the zone could be strikes.
Oh, and by the way, Syndergaard features a trio of off-speed pitches that have combined to induce a mind-boggling 30.9 percent whiff rate so far. His slider has averaged over 92 miles per hour and induced swings and missed on 18 of 45 pitches so far. Syndergaard’s stuff is undeniably filthy and perhaps the best in the game right now. If he continues to command the ball the way he is an his stuff doesn’t dull as the season goes on, the National League Cy Young race could be a blowout come September.
On the other side of the ball on Monday night is 25-year-old Jerad Eickhoff, who turned heads in Philadelphia last season after tossing 51.0 innings over eight starts for a 2.65 ERA and 3.25 FIP, striking out 49 hitters. He demonstrated a great ability to limit baserunners, walking 13 and allowing 40 hits for a very respectable 1.04 WHIP. This impressive rookie campaign prompted me to select him as part of the Pitching Matchup of the Day on April 8 when he faced off with the Mets for the first time opposite former Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom.
In his first start, Eickhoff looked solid but not overpowering, allowing three runs (two earned), five hits, two walks, a hit batter, and three strikeouts in five innings of work. Five days later on April 13 (one day before teammate Vincent Velasquez would fan 16 hitters in a complete-game, three-hit shutout), Eickhoff turned in an impressive outing against the feeble San Diego Padres’ offense. The Indiana-born right-hander spun seven shutout innings in front of a home crowd in Philadelphia, allowing just four hits and no walks while punching out nine Padres hitters.
Across both starts, Eickhoff has used his off-speed pitches as an effective way to get outs. Despite picking up just eight whiffs on a combined 69 off-speed pitches, opposing hitters are batting just .143 (2-for-14) on those pitches when they are put in play. Eickhoff’s off-speed pitches have been located fairly well, with the majority working to his arm side of the plate and a good amount worked down and out of the strike zone:
Eickhoff’s fastball is another story, generating mixed results over his first two starts. He throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball according to Baseball Savant. Against the Mets, both pitches were relatively mediocre offerings. That night the Mets whiffed just twice on fastballs, and hit 5-for-10 on fastballs put in play. The Padres had decidedly less success against Eickhoff’s fastball, batting 2-for-8 on balls in play and whiffing on 10 of 55 pitches (18.2 percent whiff rate). When looking at the location charts, it’s not obvious why he had much more success, the general potency of the opponent’s offense aside:
However, when looking at the numbers regarding velocity and movement, there’s some evidence to point towards the cause of Eickhoff’s increased effectiveness:
Against San Diego, Eickhoff was throwing about one mph harder, which isn’t an insignificant jump. He also reached back and hit as high as 96 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. In addition to the velocity jump, Eickhoff’s fastball had more sink than in the previous outing, likely contributing to missing more bats and keeping balls in play manageable for the defense. As the season goes on, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the increased velocity and better vertical movement. Pairing an effective fastball along with his off-speed pitches will be key for the young Phillies righty moving forward.
The first of two big things to look for in this matchup is Syndergaard’s command. If he can come out in the first couple innings and pound the strike zone, it may be a bad night for the Phillies’ offense given the absolutely unbeatable stuff Syndergaard has possessed this season. The second thing is how Eickhoff fares against the Mets for the second time in just ten days, as well as how his fastball looks. If he doesn’t bring the extra zip and sink in this second time around with New York, he may be in for a rough night.
Washington Nationals vs. Miami Marlins, 7:10 PM ET: Tanner Roark vs. Jose Fernandez – Tanner Roark has put up a 2.45 ERA in two starts this season despite allowing a 1.73 WHIP with just seven strikeouts in 11.0 innings over two starts. If Roark could be anywhere near the pitcher he was before 2015 this season, it would be a huge boost to the Nationals’ rotation. For the Marlins, Jose Fernandez takes the hill for his third start of the season after a rocky five-inning, three-hit, one-run effort against the Mets in which he allowed three walks and struck out just five.