Jose Fernandez Is Striking Out Batters at a Record-Setting Pace

Miami's young ace is racking up whiffs at an incredible pace. What's led to the increase in punchouts and can he keep it up?

It was pretty evident early on that Jose Fernandez had his good stuff going Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Fernandez, who sports an average fastball velocity of 95.1 miles per hour, hit triple digits in the first inning.

That had to be equal parts terrifying and deflating for the Phillies.

One of the game's premier pitchers was locked in.

Squaring off with a punchless Phillies' lineup that ranks near the bottom in almost every offensive statistic, Fernandez predictably dominated, racking up 14 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He got 19 outs on the day, and the Marlins' defense didn't have to do a thing on 14 of them.

Look at some of those swings.

In fact, I'd like to highlight one swing for a second. Poor Maikel Franco. Dude's a really good young player and will likely be a key part of turning the Phillies around some day, but this is about the most defeated swing you'll see from a professional baseball player.

Franco just quits halfway through the hack, knowing he's got no chance of touching that filthy curveball.

Take a Seat

Hitters flailing at Fernandez's offerings has been a common sight this year as the Marlins' ace is punching out hitters at a record pace. The soon-to-be 24-year-old owns a truly incredible 37.7% strikeout rate. Clayton Kershaw (32.9%) and Max Scherzer (32.3%) are turning in two of the best strikeout seasons of all time -- ranking 12th and 14th, respectively -- and they can't even sniff what Fernandez is doing.

That's because no one has ever fanned hitters at this clip.

Pitcher Year Strikeout Rate
Jose Fernandez 2016 37.7%
Pedro Martinez 1999 37.5%
Randy Johnson 2001 37.4%
Pedro Martinez 2000 34.8%
Randy Johnson 2000 34.7%
Randy Johnson 1997 34.2%
Randy Johnson 1995 34.0%
Clayton Kershaw 2015 33.8%
Randy Johnson 1999 33.7%
Kerry Wood 1998 33.3%

It goes without saying, but anytime a pitcher is mentioned in the same breath as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, something special is going on.

Strikeouts are nothing new for Fernandez, who has been sitting down hitters at an impressive rate his entire career. After all, Fernandez already owns Miami's franchise record for single-season and career double-digit strikeout games. As a friendly reminder, he's currently 23.

In his rookie season in 2013, Fernandez showed elite strikeout ability, posting a 27.5% whiff rate. He flashed this kind of all-time greatness in a shortened 2014 campaign, fanning 34.2% of hitters over 51 2/3 innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Fernandez returned with a bang at the end of 2015, recording a 29.8% strikeout rate in 64 2/3 frames, but he's taken things to a new level this year.

How's He Doing It

Let's take a look at his repertoire and compare it to his numbers from last season. It's not a perfect comparison because Fernandez only pitched about a fourth of a season in 2015, but we'd have to go all the way back to 2013 for his last full season so that's not ideal, either.

Year Zone Percentage Contact Percentage Swing Rate Swinging-Strike Rate
Fastball 2015 58.9% 82.4% 49.2% 8.7%
Fastball 2016 61.1% 77.9% 44.0% 9.7%
Curveball 2015 43.6% 59.5% 53.5% 21.7%
Curveball 2016 37.5% 49.0% 49.1% 25.0%
Changeup 2015 44.5% 74.6% 52.9% 13.5%
Changeup 2016 40.4% 73.3% 50.0% 13.3%

As was the expectation, Fernandez has upped his swinging-strike rate, specifically with his nasty curveball. Overall, he owns a juicy 14.8% swinging-strike rate, which is mind numbing.

In general, it looks like Fernandez is pounding the zone with his blazing fastball -- which hitters aren't making a ton of contact with -- and then getting hitters to swing (and miss) at his off-speed stuff out of the zone. Batters are swinging less than they used to against all of his offerings, but they are making less contact when they do swing.

In short, hitters are screwed.

When they do make contact, hitters aren't finding the sweet spot often. Fernandez's 21.6% soft-hit rate and 10.0% infield fly-ball rate are both career-best numbers.

Can He Keep It Up?

Anytime someone is performing at an all-time pace, the temptation is to say the player can't keep it up, that regression is coming.

With Fernandez, though, the numbers -- namely his absurd swinging-strike rate -- say he should continue amassing strikeouts at a historical pace. Time will tell whether or not he can top Pedro Martinez's whiff rate record of 37.5%, but Fernandez's peripherals say he will give it a heck of a run.

One thing is for certain, Fernandez will have fun trying.