Anthony Fernandez started 2012 in High Desert, and went on to pitch in AA Jackson and was very successful at both, opening up the eyes of several people, including me, that follow Mariner prospects. On Friday, he made his Spring Training debut, which was also his Pitch F/X debut. The left-handed starter threw just 8 pitches, so obviously we are continuing to work with small sample sizes, but this at least gives us a look into Fernandez. He also pitched on Monday against the Angels, but we aren’t looking at that data (at least not yet, it usually takes a while for it to upload to Brooks, the only site that really posts spring training data to my knowledge, so I was already done with the article by the time the 2nd outing uploaded).
Out of the 8 pitches he threw, 7 of them were fastballs (MLB AM said he threw six 4-seamers and a 2-seamer, but we are ignoring that for this post). They averaged 89.85 MPH, about what you would expect, topping out at 90 MPH. On one hand, he pitched just one inning, so he could reach back and throw as hard as he wanted to, but it is also the beginning of spring training. My guess is that an average Fernandez start might be a tick below this in average fastball MPH, probably throwing around 89 MPH on average. This is obviously a couple of MPH below MLB average for starting pitchers. I count 22 left-handed starting pitchers with an average fastball of 89 to 89.99 MPH fastballs since 2007 (minimum of 200 fastballs thrown as a starter). The problem is, this isn’t exactly a great club, one that includes former Mariners Garrett Olson and Ryan Rowland-Smith (who just signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox after toiling in the PCL the last couple of years). Many of those pitchers, like Rich Hill and Hisanori Takahasi, have since moved to the bullpen. The ones out of the group that I would call “successful” (a very loose definition) are Scott Diamond, Jaime Garcia, Paul Maholm, Andy Pettitte, and John Lannan.
How about fastball movement? Horizontally, Anthony Fernandez is below average, and is closest to Joba Chamberlain, and when just looking at lefties, JA Happ. Happ has elite vertical movement on his 4-seamer, but Fernandez doesn’t, fitting in slightly below average, between Paul Maholm and Casey Kelley (who is a right-handed pitcher). Overall, using velocity and vertical movement, Maholm’s fastball is probably the best comparison to Fernandez’, though it has more horizontal movement. Maholm’s fastball is right about average at getting whiffs, and is a little bit below average at getting grounders. Since Fernandez’ moves a little less horizontally than Maholm’s, at least with the data we have, you can expect it to be a little bit worse. Stating that Fernandez’ fastball is below average is not that surprising.
When comparing him to Maholm, we have to note that Maholm throws more sinkers than fastballs, and has a really pronounced release point that leads to big platoon splits.
As you can see, Fernandez’ release point is not as dramatic. He actually releases the ball very close to his body.
Over the last two seasons in the minors, Fernandez has basically the same SIERA against lefties and righties, but has been a little more hittable against righties, but not a surprising amount. While my initial belief when watching him in the minors this year that he would be better served as a reliever, this data suggests he could perhaps limit his platoon splits by hiding the ball and be a starter in the big league, especially if he is able to perform close to Paul Maholm (of course, the data didn’t suggest he threw a sinker like Maholm’s, and Maholm doesn’t live with his below average fastball, relying on a host of other pitchers). To limit platoon splits, and get righties out despite a below average fastball, you usually need a good changeup. Fernandez did throw a changeup in that initial outing.
He threw his changeup with two strikes against a righty, which is when you would expect him to throw his change. It has below average horizontal movement, closest to Kenny Rogers’ at the end of his career. The vertical movement is very good though, in the top 40 of changes thrown by starting pitches in the Pitch F/X era. It is closest to Jo-Jo Reyes’. That comparison is unfortunate though, as Reyes, now in Korea, was horrible in the Majors and had a below average change by both whiffs and grounders. If you also look at the leaderboards, the changes without a lot of vertical movement tend to be really successful, even more so, or at least it seems, than the ones that like Anthony Fernandez, have a lot of horizontal movement. At around 81 MPH, Fernandez’ change velocity is below average, closest to Pat Misch, whose change moves a lot different than Fernandez’ , but works as a decent groundball pitch, but doesn’t get many whiffs.
Jason Churchill noted during the season that the changeup is “fringy”, and this seems to be what the Pitch F/X data of his changeup suggests as well. Just looking at the GameDay data from his outing on Monday, his fastball was more in the 87-88 MPH range, his change seemed a little slower, and it said he was throwing a slider. There was something very odd going on with the classification though, calling very different pitches (in velocity and movement) the same, so I don’t know if we should put any stock in it. Churchill says he throws a curveball, and I seem to remember the pitch being more of a curve than a slider.
Overall, he doesn’t get a lot of the spin on the ball, we have seen other Mariner pitchers have around 250 degrees of spin, while Fernandez’ pitch fastball is down to about 150 degrees:
What does this mean? From what I understand, the amount of spin on the ball creates the “lift” that causes a fastball to “rise” or just general movement. This comes in many different forms, such as Aaron Cook and Justin Verlander shown below:
Obviously Verlander is a great pitcher, while Cook isn’t a very good pitcher at all, but they both have good movement and spin on the ball. Compare this to Anthony Vasquez, the Mariner who was absolutely awful in the majors:
He didn’t have much spin on the ball at all, (except his curve) even less than Fernandez. It would seem that spin is good, but it also seems that Anthony Fernandez has below average spin. This makes sense since he has below average movement on the two pitches we have seen.
Obviously we want to see more data, and while the Paul Maholm comp is encouraging, but it looks like Fernandez is really lacking in MLB stuff. He doesn’t have velocity, but he also doesn’t really have movement. To make up for this, he needs to make up for it with control or command. Fernandez really saw a drop in his walk rate in 2012, and that is a great sign. However, we will need to see him more, and gather more data to get his tendencies to really be able to quantify it.