The Pitchers’ Duel of the Season, At Least

The best and the worst thing about baseball is that, during the season, it’s almost never not going on. Every single day brings a new slate of games, and if you actually step back and think about it, it’s kind of overwhelming. The Brewers are off to a hot start, at 15-6. All they have left is another 141 baseball games. The upside is that, if there’s a lousy baseball day, there could be a better baseball day right around the corner. The downside is that, if there’s an incredible baseball day, in a short amount of time it’s yesterday’s news. Baseball allows for only so much time to reflect.

Case in point: it’s Wednesday, and at this writing, on Wednesday, the Marlins and Braves have already finished a game. Because the Marlins and Braves have already played Wednesday, there’s less will to think about what the Marlins and Braves did Tuesday. But just Tuesday night — last night — the Marlins and Braves competed in a classic. As things turned out, Jose Fernandez and Alex Wood put together at least the pitchers’ duel of the season, and perhaps the pitchers’ duel of the last many seasons.

Here’s the simplest way to get right to the point. The Baseball-Reference Play Index allows us to search through games since 1914. Since 1914, there have been some thousands of games in which both starting pitchers allowed no more than one run. There have been 2,914 games in which both starting pitchers allowed no more than one run, while lasting at least eight innings. There have been 21 games in which both starting pitchers allowed no more than one run, while lasting at least eight innings, and recording double-digit strikeouts. There has been one game in which both starting pitchers allowed no more than one run, while lasting at least eight innings, and recording double-digit strikeouts, without a single walk. Alex Wood and Jose Fernandez combined to do that which had never been done.

To say nothing of the fact they both threw better than 70% strikes, which is unusual on its own. Fernandez went eight innings, with three hits and 14 strikeouts. Wood went eight innings, too, with four hits and a run and 11 strikeouts. There have been other pitchers’ duels in which the score has stayed low, but no other duel has involved so many strikes with such little reliance on the defense. It was the purest form of duel, where 25 encounters involved just the pitcher and the hitter.

The Marlins won the game 1-0, with Fernandez winning and Wood losing. How tough was Wood’s loss, given his extraordinary performance? Wood finished with a Game Score of 81. It’s a rough statistic, but it’ll serve a purpose here. In the recorded history of baseball, made available on Baseball-Reference, Game Scores of 81 have led to pitcher wins 1,841 times. They’ve led to pitcher losses 41 times, and they’ve led to no-decisions 20 times. So, in 2% of such games, the starting pitcher has lost. Alex Wood is the two percent.

Shortly, we’ll have little choice but to switch gears to Fernandez, given that he ultimately stole the show. But about that run Wood allowed — it wasn’t even the result of a blip of bad pitching. Giancarlo Stanton doubled on a low first-pitch changeup:

stantonwood

Casey McGehee then singled on a low first-pitch fastball, grounding one into the outfield against the shift:

mcgeheewood

Said Wood after the fact:

“The changeup I threw [Stanton], it was early in the count,” Wood said. “Maybe the ball could have been down a little bit more, but it was still down. That ball is still two inches off the plate. For him to get that kind of wood on it and pull it down the line like that, you don’t get any better than that from a hitting standpoint. You can’t take it back, because it was a good pitch. He’s just a heck of a hitter.”

Wood wasn’t even frustrated after the game. None of the Braves were too frustrated. Based on the post-game quotes, everyone on both sides just felt privileged to have been involved in the contest. It wasn’t a matter of being upset about not hitting Wood or Fernandez; it was a matter of acknowledging that, if you do get a hit off Wood or Fernandez, you’re probably lucky. Sometimes a team runs into a buzzsaw, and sometimes the other team also runs into a buzzsaw, and sometimes one of those buzzsaws just saws a little better.

No matter what you think of ERA, FIP, or xFIP, you can’t really disagree that a number starting with 2 is really good. A number starting with 1 is virtually unheard of. If you add up Jose Fernandez’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP, you get a number that’s still smaller than CC Sabathia‘s ERA, and Stephen Strasburg‘s ERA. If you add up Alex Wood’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP, you get a number equal to Ubaldo Jimenez‘s ERA. Fernandez, right now, looks like the National League Cy Young winner. Wood just looks like a run-of-the-mill ace.

How did it all come together? These images should provide a simple enough overview:

fernandez42214

Fernandez was getting a ton of misses out of the zone, but also a bunch of misses within the zone. His contact rate within the zone for the game was 60%. Overall, he set a new 2014 big-league high with 26 swinging strikes. Of those, ten were against the heater, and 16 were against the curveball. His heater, early on, touched 100 miles per hour. He threw his curveball half the time. As for Fernandez’s opponent:

wood42214

Wood was able to do the most damage with his fastball, which accounted for ten of his 17 swinging strikes. When he wanted a whiff, he was able to keep his fastball elevated, but then he was also mostly able to stay down with his secondary stuff. The key point isn’t that Fernandez or Wood did anything really uncharacteristic. They pitched like they usually pitch. But they got unusually awesome results, because they pitched with unusually excellent precision. If you figure both Fernandez and Wood have certain true-talent levels, on Tuesday they were something like two standard deviations above.

Maybe my favorite stat for Fernandez from the game is this: he threw 25 curveballs in the zone, and Braves hitters swung at 12 of them, or 48%. He threw 29 curveballs out of the zone, and Braves hitters swung at 18 of them, or 62%. There is no better indication that a pitcher was able to execute; there is no better indication that a lineup was clueless, or helpless, whichever or whichevers you prefer.

Against no one else was Fernandez as good as he was against Justin Upton. In the second inning, an eight-pitch at-bat ended with a swinging strikeout at a curveball low and away.

FernandezUpton1.gif.opt

They met again in the fourth. Earlier, Fernandez started Upton with a curve for a ball; this time, he started Upton with a curve for a strike.

FernandezUpton2.gif.opt

Earlier, Fernandez had let his fastball get him to a two-strike count. This time, he came back with another curve:

FernandezUpton3.gif.opt

At that point, the count was 0-and-2, and Upton would’ve remembered that Fernandez got him to chase in the second. This time, Fernandez threw a curve within the zone:

FernandezUpton4.gif.opt

Once more, they met in the seventh. Once more, Fernandez started Upton with a first-pitch curve, again for a strike:

FernandezUpton5.gif.opt

With the previous at-bat’s three curves fresh in his mind, Upton wound up watching an 0-and-1 fastball:

FernandezUpton6.gif.opt

The count again 0-and-2, Upton would’ve been looking for a curve. He would’ve been expecting it low and away, but maybe on the border of the zone. Fernandez anticipated that expectation and blew Upton away with a fastball virtually down the middle:

FernandezUpton7.gif.opt

A fastball down the middle is an awful pitch when the pitcher’s behind. When the hitter has a reason to be looking for a fastball down the middle, it’s the last thing you want to throw. But not all fastballs down the middle are created alike, and in this instance it worked for Fernandez as a change of pace. He would’ve known that Upton expected something breaking, and in a different location. So the middle was no longer the middle, and a fastball was no longer a fastball. An 0-and-2 fastball down the middle is a weapon when the hitter is afraid of your other kind of weapon.

Jose Fernandez is one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball. As evidence, Alex Wood was brilliant on Tuesday against the Marlins, and he still wound up with the loss. Wood played second fiddle to Fernandez in the game, and he’ll play second fiddle to Fernandez in the division, as Fernandez has his sights set on bringing home an award. Also, Jose Fernandez is a year younger than Mike Trout, and two years younger than Gerrit Cole. Say what you will about baseball’s so-called strikeout scourge, and about how statistical pitching brilliance is easier to come by than it has been in decades. Tuesday wasn’t about a developing problem with the game. Tuesday was about two starting pitchers pitching their asses off, and that wouldn’t have been any less of a duel in any other era.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 4 months ago

The only way to make it an even better pitching duel, of course, is to add Aaron Harang from today to the mix.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 3 months ago

Tuesday’s game got a lot of talk for the 28 K’s. There were exactly 28 in Wednesday’s game as well. Not sure if that adds to the pitching brilliance in the series, or just reminds us that we’re talking about the Braves and Marlins lineups here.

PackBob
Guest
PackBob
2 years 3 months ago

There’s no doubt that this was great pitching by both sides, but the line-ups they faced were a factor. How much of a factor no one knows. The home plate umpire was a factor. Weather can be a factor. Lots of things could factor in to the specific results.

The stats really serve just as a pointer to something that happened that was notable, with a certain combination of stats that hadn’t happened before. It’s a way to celebrate a great pitching performance by paying attention to stats. A lot depends on the window you look through.

werthless
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werthless
2 years 4 months ago

My favorite duel in recent memory was July 10, 2010, Travis Wood vs. Roy Halladay. Wood was perfect through 8 innings, but Halladay hadn’t allowed a run either.

Game scores of 93 and 85 (7 total baserunners by starters, no runs allowed through 9 full frames).

Sergio Romo
Guest
Sergio Romo
2 years 4 months ago

If I can finish a WS with an 88-mph surprise fastball down the middle, I guess Fernandez can do me one better

Dr.Rockzo
Member
Dr.Rockzo
2 years 4 months ago

Ok so I have to mention this because I was quite furious. I am a Braves fan who lives in Florida. I have mlb.tv. I am well aware I cannot watch Braves-Marlins game on mlb.tv because of blackout reasons.

Last night I turn in Fox Sports Florida to watch the game. Instead of showing Marlins-Braves, FS FL was showing a Lightning playoff game.

Despite living in the Marlins market AND paying for MLB.tv, I could not watch what is being described as the best pitched game in the past several years.

Slee
Guest
Slee
2 years 4 months ago

proxys are your friend

Dr.Rockzo
Member
Dr.Rockzo
2 years 4 months ago

I fully understand this, but the issue isn’t getting around their terrible policy, it is the premise.

One of the big changes for this year was the Fox Saturday blackout change if Fox wasn’t showing a particular game in that market. This remains in effect for non-Saturday games.

Getting around the issue isn’t what I have a problem with. It is just the premise that I get blacked out of mlb.tv because I live in a market that isn’t showing the game, thus defeating the purpose of blacking it out.

Terrible Ted
Guest
Terrible Ted
2 years 4 months ago

Step 1: Call a friend who is computer savvy.
Step 2: Explain problem.
Step 3: Reap benefits of proxy server.

Muck Bartinez
Guest
Muck Bartinez
2 years 4 months ago

Pre-Step 1: Have friends.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 4 months ago

I prefer option X: Armed insurrection against MLBAM and all cable companies

Watch any game that you want with your subscription – who’s with me?

Nobody? Really? Fine, be that way.

Josh B
Guest
Josh B
2 years 4 months ago

There are **cough** waaays **couch** that you could watch local games on mlb.tv.

atoms
Guest
atoms
2 years 4 months ago

Elaborate, please.

sn4k3
Guest
sn4k3
2 years 4 months ago

What does a couch have to do with it?

atoms
Guest
atoms
2 years 4 months ago

I’m assuming that’s where one can sit while watching these illicit MLB.TV games.

Cheesewhiz
Guest
Cheesewhiz
2 years 3 months ago

Pre-empting one of 70 or so baseball games for a playoff hockey game is reasonable. But I am surprised that the hockey game wasn’t on an NBC channel. Then again, the Lightning got swept, so it won’t be a problem going forward… ;)

At least you normally get games on tv where you live. Try finding a Dodger game on a tv in Los Angeles.

Cuck City
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

Had them both on my fatnasty team

chel
Guest
chel
2 years 4 months ago

Bartolo Colon didn’t pitch in this game

eltorostrikesagain
Guest
eltorostrikesagain
2 years 4 months ago

Hope you didn’t waste a minor league stash on Japhet Amador

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 3 months ago

Probably went for Dan Vogelbach instead.

Wood
Guest
Wood
2 years 4 months ago

Looks like we’ll get a repeat of this matchup on Tuesday. Should be fun

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 4 months ago

That’s awesome. Thanks for helping me look forward to a Tuesday.

Art
Guest
Art
2 years 4 months ago

What about the Matt Cain vs Cliff Lee game a few years ago where they both pitched at least 9 innings and allowed 1 run or less.

Chooch
Guest
Chooch
2 years 3 months ago

Or the Cliff Lee vs Julio Teheran game from last Wednesday. Both pitched complete games but allowed a HR to Evan Gattis inches over the wall.

harrison
Guest
harrison
2 years 3 months ago

Julio Teheran gave up a homer to Evan Gattis? That is impressive!

Peter 2
Guest
Peter 2
2 years 4 months ago

Yankees/Red Sox May 28, 2000 remains my favorite pitchers’ duel of all time:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200005280.shtml

Pedro vs. Clemens, both utterly dominant and throwing up zeroes until a 2 run homer by Trot Nixon in the top of the 9th broke the tie. Sox/Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball in the Bronx had quite a bit of juice to it to coming into the game, as well, especially with the pitching matchup, and the game actually surpassed the hype.

Sean Douglas
Guest
Sean Douglas
2 years 4 months ago

Wow, check out this manager’s spazz..lol

http://beastvid.com/epic-baseball-coach-meltdown/

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 4 months ago

Use this one easy trick to get the perfect manager spazz video!

Bogart_83
Guest
Bogart_83
2 years 4 months ago

And you didn’t even mention the fact that this is the second complete 1-run game that Alex Wood has been on the losing end.

Samuel P Sumner
Guest
Samuel P Sumner
2 years 3 months ago

This was not a complete game by Alex Wood, as he did not pitch the 9th

Yes, it was a complete game
Guest
Yes, it was a complete game
2 years 3 months ago

What’s my name?

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 3 months ago

A complete game is one in which the starting pitcher finishes the game without relief, so Wood qualifies. Perfect games and no hitters had their definition changed to require 9 complete innings, but that has no bearing on this.

Blair
Guest
Blair
2 years 3 months ago

The mistake is in your premise my friend. That the 9th is required to complete a game. Almost half the games don’t include the bottom half of the 9th :)

wickedchic
Member
wickedchic
2 years 3 months ago

And remember Alex Wood was pitching at UGA less than 2 years ago. He gets better and better every time he steps on the mound.
Who says the Braves don’t have an ace?

Brahan
Guest
Brahan
2 years 3 months ago

Veteran Presents

Rico
Guest
Rico
2 years 3 months ago

Is there concern that per Pitch/fx, Jose has rarely used his changeup this season and it has been unprofitable when used? Brooksbaseball seems to disagree and indicate he’s using his change more like 7% and getting whiffs with it. I do wonder which is correct.

Blair
Guest
Blair
2 years 3 months ago

Concern about Jose, or pitch/fx?

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