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« Yasiel Puig's Beautiful, Reckless Plate Approach | Main | How do pitchers do on the first batter of the game? »
Thursday
Aug082013

Jose Fernandez: Lineup Navigator

Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez has persevered over more challenges during his 21 years than most of us will during our entire lives. Three prison stints for failed defection attempts from Cuba. Diving off a boat into the Atlantic Ocean to save his mother from drowning during one of those tries. Finally reaching the States, via Trinidad and Cancun. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us, then, that he's unfazed by major league competition.

Fernandez, who just turned 21, ranks eighth among all major league starting pitchers in ERA+ (153). Such run prevention prowess at such a young ace is nearly unprecedented: Dwight Gooden (229 ERA+ in 1985), Bob Feller (154 ERA+ in 1939) and Don Drysdale (153 ERA+ in 1957) are the only other starters to post an adjusted ERA at least 50 percent better than the league average during their age-20 season.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Fernandez's historic season is that he's just as dominant while navigating opposing lineups for the third time during the game as he is the first time. Most hurlers become less effective as their pitch counts rise and opponents become familiar with their stuff, holding hitters to a .394 slugging percentage the first time around but allowing them to slug .409 the second time and .435 the third time. Not Fernandez, though: batters are slugging .287 when facing him the first time, .272 the second time and .283 the third time.

Fernandez is thriving late in games because the quality of his stuff doesn't slip. Most starters lose zip on their fastballs as the game progresses, but Miami's 6-foot-2, 240 pound ace retains his 94+ MPH velocity. Just when you think he's starting to slow down, he ramps it back up:

Fernandez's average and maximum fastball velocity by inning

1st: 95 MPH, 99 MPH max

2nd: 94.8 MPH, 97.9 MPH max

3rd: 94.8 MPH, 98.1 MPH max

4th: 94.5 MPH, 98.5 MPH max

5th: 94.1 MPH, 98.4 MPH max

6th: 94.9 MPH, 97.9 MPH max

7th: 94.2 MPH, 97.2 MPH max

8th: 94.1 MPH, 97 MPH max

Holding his elite heat deep into the night, Fernandez actually has a lower opponent slugging percentage with his fastball in innings 5-8 (.311) than in innings 1-4 (.344). When you've battled the churning waves of the Atlantic, facing Brian McCann or Bryce Harper the third time around doesn't seem so hard.

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