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Entries in Miami Marlins (16)

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.

Sunday
Jul282013

Cole, Fernandez Getting Outs, if not Whiffs, with Blazing Fastballs

Catchers on both clubs will ice sore hands this afternoon, as Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole squares off against Miami's Jose Fernandez. Cole is tied with the Mets' Matt Harvey for the highest average fastball velocity (95.4 MPH) among starting pitchers, while Fernandez (94.6 MPH) also ranks in the top 10. You might think such premium gas would lead to lots of swings and misses, but you'd be wrong. Both hard-throwing rookies are attacking hitters with their fastballs, posting modest whiff totals with the pitch but beating batters nonetheless.

Cole (14.5% fastball miss rate) and Fernandez (14.4%) have nearly identical fastball whiff rates that are below the major league average for starters (15.1%). Yet, Cole and Fernandez sit near the top of the charts when it comes to limiting hard fastball contact.

Lowest opponent fastball slugging percentage among starting pitchers, 2013 (Min. 500 fastballs thrown)

How have Cole and Fernandez been so successful with their fastballs despite such modest whiff rates? They're pumping fastballs over the plate, challenging hitters to take their best shot against their high-speed heaters.

Cole's fastball location, 2013

Fernandez's fastball location, 2013

Cole has located 57% of his fastballs within the strike zone, tied with Clayton Kershaw for fifth-highest among National League starters and well north of the 53% MLB average in 2013. Fernandez has been similarly aggressive, throwing 56% of his fastballs in the strike zone. With heat like this, why nibble?

The battle between batter and pitcher can be a complex game of percentages, but sometimes, it's brutally simple. Cole and Fernandez don't think anyone can touch their searing fastballs. So far, they're right.

Saturday
Jun082013

Fernandez, Harvey Bring More than Just Heat

Youth and power will be on display in Queens this afternoon, as Miami's Jose Fernandez (9.1 K/9, 115 ERA+) squares off against the Mets' Matt Harvey (9.7 K/9, 171 ERA+). The 20-year-old Fernandez and Harvey, 24, are best known for their scorching fastballs, and for good reason. Both rank in the top five in fastball velocity, with Fernandez averaging 94.6 MPH with his heater and Harvey sitting at 94.9 MPH.

But these burgeoning aces bring more to the table than mere gas -- each has a wicked breaking pitch that's getting lots of awkward swings from batters.

Fernandez

For Fernandez, that complementary pitch is a curveball, thrown 29% of the time, that ranges anywhere from 76 MPH to 85 MPH. While many pitchers use their breaking stuff to coax hitters into chasing off the plate, Fernandez floods the strike zone with his curve. He has thrown 59% of his curveballs over the plate, the highest rate among starters who have thrown the pitch at least 200 times this season.

Opponents haven't been able to touch Fernandez's breaker -- they're slugging .275 against the curveball, about 75 points below the MLB average. The only starters to induce weaker contact with the curve are Chris Tillman (.154), A.J. Burnett (.188), Adam Wainwright (.202), Gio Gonzalez (.209), Stephen Strasburg (.209), Shelby Miller (.211) and James Shields (.242).

Fernandez's curveball location

Harvey

The Dark Knight of Gotham, meanwhile, uses his power slider (averaging an MLB-best 89 MPH) to mow down right-handers. Harvey's slider, thrown 21% of the time, is more of a chase pitch than Fernandez's curve. He has placed his slider over the plate 41%, far below the 48% MLB average. However, Harvey is getting more swings on sliders thrown out of the zone (33%) than the MLB average (31%), and he's generating ground balls at a top-notch clip (58% of balls put in play, compared to the 47% average). Those chases and worm-burners have helped Harvey limit batters to a .242 slugging percentage against his slider, which ranks in the top ten lowest among NL starters and is over 100 points below the big league average (.349).

Another reason why Harvey's slider is so tough to hit is that he rarely catches the meat of the plate with the pitch. Just 13% of his sliders have been thrown to the horizontal middle of the strike zone, lowest among starters who have tossed the pitch at least 150 times.

Harvey's slider location