Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Re-evaluating Fernandez, Harvey, Teheran
By Keith Law
Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey have been the most exciting young arms of the early season.
Author's note: Please keep in mind that evaluating off TV footage isn't the same as scouting a player live or off video angles that are geared to allow for evaluation.
Jose Fernandez's major league debut Sunday against the Mets couldn't have gone much better, not just in terms of results -- five innings, eight punchouts, one walk, one run allowed -- but in the stuff that doesn't necessarily show up in the stat line. Fernandez's stuff was as good as ever, his command was fine, he was poised even when things didn't quite go right, and he seemed to pitch with a plan in mind without deviating much from it.
Fernandez's raw stuff was ridiculous: mostly 93-97 mph with his fastball, with some late life up on the pitch, similar to Matt Cain's, a plus curveball and a flash of a plus change, a pitch I hadn't seen from him before.
He established the fastball early, starting the game with five straight and throwing first-pitch fastballs to the first 10 batters he faced, with eight of those hitters seeing at least two fastballs to start their at-bats. Once he turned the lineup over once, he started changing his pitching pattern more, made somewhat more necessary by the Mets' hitters adjusting enough to extend their at-bats. They never did catch up to the fastball -- even David Wright was late on the pitch -- with two of the three hits Fernandez allowed coming on breaking balls, including a hanger at 82 that resulted in the Mets' one extra-base hit off him.
Fernandez worked mostly with the curveball at 79-83, showing hard downward break, but got caught between the curve and slider a few times in his final inning of work.
The changeup was the real revelation, a difference-maker that cements his status as a potential ace given its heavy action and his clear confidence in the pitch when he threw it, which wasn't often enough, at least the second time around. He threw one his first time through the order, to left-handed hitter Ike Davis, and threw four in total. While Mets hitters weren't turning around his fastball and swung through quite a few in the zone, mixing in a few more changeups might help him shorten those at-bats the second time around.
Other than the pitch mix, the only negative, a very slight one, was Fernandez's fastball command the second time through. He started missing up, especially up and away, more often and made a couple of mistakes in the zone, getting away with all but one. It's not a huge concern, as the delivery is fine, repeatable with good use of his lower half to generate velocity, and I don't see why it wouldn't improve with experience. A pitcher with three pitches that grade out at 60 or better who has even average command will pitch at the top of a lot of rotations. While the Marlins may have goofed by promoting him so early, he could be their best pitcher this season.
Matt Harvey faced off against a desiccated facsimile of Roy Halladay -- the less said about him, the better -- on Monday night and put up an outstanding stat line, showing great stuff but struggling a lot with location, control and even consistency on his curve and slider.
The good stuff first: That's ace stuff, a fastball mostly 93-97, a filthy slider at 87-91, a hard curveball at 78-83 and a riding change at 85-88. He punched out Ryan Howard by going up and in with heat three times in four pitches; Howard eventually caved and chased a pitch he couldn't sniff. Laynce Nix, not really a major league hitter anyway, couldn't touch Harvey's fastball and swung through three of them in his last at-bat, the final one perfectly placed up out of his reach but close enough to induce him to flail at it.
Harvey threw some sliders that were unhittable, right off the outside corner to right-handed hitters, victimizing Michael Young more than once that way. The slider he threw to strike out Young in the fourth, 90 mph on the TV gun, broke down over the outside corner of the plate and made Young look feeble. He could have used the changeup more, preferring to go in with the curveball to left-handed hitters, even though his changeup is an above-average (or better) pitch.
Philly's lineup just isn't very good anymore, which helped Harvey get away with a lot of pitches where he either didn't locate or didn't finish a breaking ball (mostly the curve). The sac fly Howard hit in the fourth came off a bad changeup that a decent left-handed hitter would have destroyed. Harvey hung several sliders and curveballs, including ones that Humberto Quintero and Young failed to capitalize on, with the curve the bigger problem on Monday.
Harvey also missed up in or above the zone way too often for my tastes. He did blow it by a number of hitters, which is great when the location is planned, but when you miss, it's much better to miss down in the zone than it is to miss up. Quintero also got a fastball up in the first pitch of his second at-bat that might as well have been on a tee, a mistake Harvey will pay for if he does it against better hitters.
He didn't get a ton of help from his defense. Ike Davis was an adventure at first base all night, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis struggled picking up some balls in center. It also seemed like John Buck struggled to catch Harvey's better velocity, jerking some borderline pitches away from the zone.
Overall, I'm still as bullish on Harvey as I was when I scouted his major league debut in July, but there is a gap between that ace potential and what he showed Monday night in both command and in consistency on the two breaking balls.
Julio Teheran pitched Saturday against the Cubs and, in spite of spring training numbers that were practically shoved down our throats, struggled as he has in previous major league outings.
His main issue is that he lacks an average breaking ball, which was still the case Saturday. He worked the pitch from 70-76 mph, but it had no depth, he left several hanging, and he caught too much of the plate with the better ones.
He also struggled to get sink on his fastball, adding a two-seamer this spring and throwing a number of them in the game against Chicago but not getting enough action on the pitch to make a difference. It didn't help that, in the fifth inning, he didn't get a called third strike on the 0-2 fastball he threw to Starlin Castro, a pitch that nailed the corner low and away, after which Teheran threw him five more pitches, the final one a curveball in the dirt that Castro tapped for an infield single.
But Teheran hung a curveball to the next batter, Anthony Rizzo, who gently placed it over the right-field fence, and later gave up a run-scoring single on a flat fastball up in the zone. Teheran is a little maddening because the velocity is so easy and he can turn over a changeup, but until he develops at least an average breaking ball capable of changing hitters' eye levels, he won't reach his ceiling.