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Here we are at the end of baseball’s regular season with the final installment of our weekly pitching series, and there is just one pitcher that deserves our attention. Perhaps the most electric arm of a generation, a player with a delivery as awe-inspiring as his stuff was nasty and who was taken from us far too early: Jose Fernandez.

If the readers will indulge me, here is a look back at one of the greatest pitchers that these eyes have ever seen.

Jose Fernandez

It has been nearly a week since Fern’s death, the tragic news of which cast a dark cloud over our collective baseball conscious. The devastating news triggered an outpouring of emotion, and BPers such as Mauricio Rubio and Meg Rowley have written passionately about his impact and the “magical thinking” that he generated. Fern was my favorite player in the game, the most exciting pitcher on the planet to watch, such that even mundane matchups against overmatched offenses provided the opportunity for must-see It’s easy to fall privy to hyperbole in the wake of such a tragedy, but in the case of Fernandez there is no hyperbole necessary – he was just that good.

We need look no further than his final outing on a baseball diamond, which occurred on September 20th at home versus the Washington Nationals.









September 20








The game marked the 11th time in 29 starts this season that Fernandez had struck out 11 or more batters, giving him an eye-popping total of 253 Ks on the campaign in just 182.1 innings pitched. More unique was the clean slate of zero walks, which Fern hadn’t accomplished in more than two months. The September 20th outing resulted in a Game Score of 88, Fern’s highest single-game output of the season and the third-highest of his career.

Of his 589 career strikeouts, 583 have been captured via PITCHf/x on Brooks Baseball. The Defector was his putaway pitch, accounting for the finishing move on the majority of his career strikeouts. Here’s the breakdown:

Defector: 361 Ks (61.9 percent)

Fastball: 184 Ks (31.6 percent)

Change: 38 Ks (6.5 percent)

Fern’s breaking pitch was absolutely unstoppable. Technically considered a curveball, the whiff-per-swing rate of 42.7-percent ranks second in the PITCHf/x era for curves (minimum 1000 pitches), with only A.J. Burnett’s 42.9-percent whiff rate on his curve occupying a higher chair. Opposing batters hit just .140 off the Defector in Fern’s career with a .070 ISO.

The fastball category includes both two- and four-seam varieties, but the two-seamer earned credit for icing just two of the strikeouts on his career ledger. The key to Fern’s heater wasn’t the raw heat – though it was exceptional, averaging more than 96 mph for his career – but it was his fastball command that set Fernandez apart from the rest of the hard-throwing pitcher class.

The statistical achievements include a career ERA of 2.58 and a ridiculous 11.2 K/9 (31.2 percent) in his career. But what really impressed me about Fern was his delivery, a motion that served as the template for how to combine balance and power to make the most of one’s natural gifts on the pitcher’s mound, and in particular I was struck with how Fernandez improved his mechanical efficiency in the short time between when he was drafted and when he was mowing down the best hitters on the planet.

Mechanics Report Card

Apr ‘13

Sep ‘16



















I didn’t give Fern a Report Card in 2011, but I did write a few paragraphs about his delivery over at Baseball Daily Digest, a subsidiary of Baseball Prospectus at the time. That article has been lost to the internet ether, but I do still have a copy of the article saved on my computer. My favorite line: “… some pitches look like he is just rearing back and throwing rocks, foregoing accuracy for the sake of velocity.” Fern’s scouting video from that year is still available on, and though there isn’t sufficient footage to give him a full report card, it’s clear that his stability and power were far from being honed, and the pitch-to-pitch volatility that was apparent in the video suggests that his mechanical repetition was a consistent problem.

In 2013, when Fern skipped both Double-A and Triple-A to make his big-league debut at the tender age of 19, I was there with my Debut Ante series to dissect what I saw from the young right-hander. What I witnessed was simply amazing.

In the span of less than two years, Fernandez had made huge improvements to his pitching motion, with particular gains to his balance and posture despite the fact that he had ratcheted up the power with bigger torque and a more fluid path of momentum toward the target. He had everything that I look for in a veteran pitcher yet never expect to see in a rookie, with above-average marks in every single subject on the mechanics report card, including days where he flashed plus in every category.

I should not have been surprised by what came next. The announcers were discussing the story of young Fernandez, and how he had received extensive tutelage from a pair of pitching coaches over the past two seasons. One of the coaches in question was Orlando Chinea, the former pitching coach of the Cuban National team, who served as Fern’s mentor as the young phenom acclimated to life in the United States.

The other coach that played such an integral role in Fern’s development? Tom House. It’s no wonder that I was so impressed by what I saw, as my lens of evaluation was crafted under House at the National Pitching Association (NPA), where I learned to appreciate the intricate dance of power versus stability in harnessing the most out of a pitcher’s delivery. Everything that I examine for the mechanics report card was also a focal point at the NPA, in addition to a variety of other mechanical intricacies that we studied under high-speed cameras.

After that, I was hooked, and I went right out and sponsored Fern’s page at Baseball-Reference for TINSTAAPP, the BP podcast that I ran with Paul Sporer. It was the only player page that we ever sponsored. Even considering my natural lean towards the House methodology, the improvement that Fern had displayed was remarkable as was the timeframe for improvement. It was apparent from the first game that this kid was ready for the majors, and the scary thing is that he only got better. He was exhibiting A-grade mechanics on his best days before he could legally drink, but it all came to a grinding halt in May 2014 as Fernandez went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

It might seem counterintuitive that a pitcher with such efficient mechanics could get hurt, but there are several factors that contribute to injury and mechanics are just part of the puzzle. Fern had a couple of risk factors, namely his top-shelf velocity – high velo requires larger loads on joints with each pitch – as well as the Defector itself. There is more than one way to throw a breaking ball, and though Fern used the preferred/safer method of supination, his Defector version required excessive supination that added more stress than the typical breaker. Every pitcher’s throwing arm pronates (rotates with palm facing outward) after every pitch – it’s a biomechanical inevitability – but a pitch that requires preset supination (palm facing inward), like a breaking ball, will necessarily need to rotate a greater distance during the pronation stage of follow-through. In this sense, a breaking ball requires more pronation after release point than a fastball, which in turn requires a greater degree of pronation than a changeup.

Long story short, Fern’s breaker was so heavily supinated that it was more physically taxing than the average breaking ball, and he threw a ton of them. Brooks has his career rate of breaking balls at 33.9-percent of all pitches thrown, and between his heavily-supinated Defector and the upper-90s gas, the two high-stress pitches made up 88.9-percent of the pitches that he threw in his career. All of this is not to absolve his delivery when playing the blame game so much as to add context to Fern’s particular injury equation.

Fast-forward to this season, Fern’s first full campaign since going under the knife, and he had not only retained his pre-surgery skillset but had continued to hone, having displayed his top-rated delivery to date. Prior to surgery I had given him an “A” grade on the mechanics report card – to give an idea of the rarity of the grade, consider that I handed out mechanics report cards to approximately 300 pitchers per year for Paul Sporer’s annual Starting Pitcher Guide, and only about 10 of those players received a grade of A- or higher in each year’s edition.

What makes Fern’s delivery so refined is the blend of stability and power; he had rock-steady balance in all three planes and finished with exceptional posture that flashed double-plus with greater consistency. The torque was unsurprisingly huge, largely due to a pronounced delay to his trigger after foot strike that allowed his hips to open and create more hip-shoulder separation before firing his bullets. He carved a very efficient path to the plate with a hard charge toward the target, with a pace of momentum that increased throughout the motion and hit foot strike with ferocity. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Fern’s motion was that his linear momentum continued its path toward the plate after release point, with Fern’s forward-driven energy taking him toward the target while his right leg swung around the front side.

Fernandez has set the bar for the modern generation of pitchers with regard to stuff, mechanics, performance and even attitude, Fern exemplified both the present and the future of pitching. His impact will be felt so long as his example is followed, as he showed the world how to blend balance and power into a beautiful harmony of unhittable baseballs.


This will be my final entry for Raising Aces and my final article for Baseball Prospectus. It has been an incredible ride, one that extends even before my debut on the big stage in April 2012. Prior to that, I spent a few years working down in the coal mines of BP, writing for Baseball Daily Digest. I have been engrossed with BP since the early days, and my first cup of coffee with the big club actually came in 2008, when David Laurila of BP interviewed me back when I worked with House at the NPA. It has been an honor and a privilege to write for Baseball Prospectus, and I can’t begin to list all of the incredible people that I have met and learned from throughout my tenure. The BP family spreads incredibly wide, and I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

I want to thank all of the readers for consuming Raising Aces with an open mind and an eye toward the field; where sofa-scouting isn’t a bad word and we are encouraged to see what’s right in front of us; and for conveying the inexhaustive passion for learning this game that makes us all Baseballholics at heart.

“Absence of evidence Is not evidence of absence” – Carl Sagan

Thank you for reading

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Grateful to have had you here for so long Doug.
Loved your work, Doug. I'm a pitching nut too, and you've given me a greater appreciation for the intricacies. Sorry to hear that you're moving on!
Thanks so much for all of the great pitching analysis you've produced for the site. You were fun to read.
What a final contribution, Doug, really amazing. It's still hard to read things about Jose in the past tense, but you've produced here a beautiful eulogy for his physical gifts and hard work.

I can't tell you how much I've learned from your writing. It's helped me better understand, appreciate, and enjoy the art and science of pitching. Thank you, and best of luck in the future.
Doug, I always enjoyed your work and will miss the Raising Aces series. Good luck in the future and I will keep tuning into Basballholics.
Thank you Doug!
Best of luck Doug. I really enjoyed your articles.