Kenta Maeda's Slider Left Jose Fernandez Astounded
Regardless of where you stand on pitchers hitting versus using a designated hitter, it’s hard not to enjoy watching a pitcher try to hit.
Maeda had allowed just 1 run in 25 2/3 innings to begin his Major League career with 23 strikeouts to just 5 walks entering Thursday’s game against the Marlins. He was also generating a significant amount of swinging strikes at 11.9 percent.
So, despite fellow pitcher Fernandez being up to bat in the fifth inning against Maeda, the 28-year-old rookie from Japan didn’t go easy on him.
This is my favorite thing ever pic.twitter.com/o7oPHtLo5S
— Ryan Blake (@ryguyblake) April 29, 2016
Fernandez seemed baffled and amused by the pitch, and rightfully so: it was nasty.
Brooks Baseball classified it as an 80-mile-per-hour slider, and based on Fernandez’s reaction, he wasn’t expecting the late break on the pitch.
His efforts trying to explain to his teammates what the pitch did were futile.
Jose Fernandez took an at-bat against Kenta Maeda, and never wanted to do it again: https://t.co/3CHF1PeOp6 pic.twitter.com/JLU9WXb01I
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 29, 2016
Or it could have something to do with the prior pitch being a 90-mile-per-hour fastball around his knees for ball one.
Not only did Maeda decrease his velocity by 10 miles per hour on consecutive pitches, but also he went from the bottom of the strike zone to roughly 6 inches above it as well. The change is speed and eye level would be tough for any hitter, let alone a guy who gets paid to throw strikes and not to swing at them.
Fernandez would have been wise to lay off the pitch and take ball two, but that’s easier said than done when facing Maeda.
Despite turning in his worst MLB performance to date on Thursday (6 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs), Maeda has induced swings on pitches outside of the strike zone 36.1 percent of the time, which is third-most among qualified starters. He also increased his swinging strike rate to 12.3 percent, which ranks 14th-best.
So Fernandez is far from alone in his inability to lay off what would have been a ball from Maeda.
The speed of the baffling pitch also made things more difficult than usual on Fernandez. Through five starts this season, Maeda has thrown 472 pitches, and of those pitches, only 12 of them have been sliders thrown 80 miles per hour or slower (according to Baseball Savant), which is the pitch Fernandez saw and something Maeda’s done less than three percent of the time.
When Maeda does choose to throw an especially slow slider, it’s usually up in the zone, like the pitch to Fernandez.
Our models currently project Maeda to post a 3.84 ERA with a 19.2 strikeout percentage in just over 167 innings pitched this season, but if he keeps getting hitters to chase pitches at his current rate, he should be able to outperform his forecast.
Maybe he can give Fernandez some hitting tips while he’s at it.
Although I’m guessing Fernandez wouldn’t take the advice.