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Comparing the repertoires of Carlos Martinez and Jose Fernandez

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Warning: This post contains borderline NSFW GIFs.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s come-from-behind victory against Jeurys Familia and the Mets counts the exact same amount in the standings as the team’s previous 53 wins, but don’t let logic get in the way as the win could probably be considered the biggest of the season up to this point. After a "happy flight" out of New York (the double meaning is purposeful given the issues the team had in getting to the Big Apple), the Cardinals are now in Miami for a four-game series against the Marlins, who currently stand one game ahead in the Wild Card standings.

While a Carlos Martinez versus Jose Fernandez matchup would have been drool-worthy, we were already treated to a Martinez-Noah Syndergaard duel this week (which ended up being rather underwhelming due to high pitch counts), so we will have to settle for Michael Wacha-Fernandez tonight. Remember when Wacha started 2015 with a 3-0 record despite drawing matchups against Johnny Cueto (twice) and Max Scherzer? The Cardinals will likely need similar performance tonight. Because with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list due to an ailing back, one could make the argument that Fernandez is currently the very best (active) pitcher in baseball.

And with this distinction in mind, there really is no comparison between Fernandez (4.5 fWAR) and Martinez (1.8 fWAR), from a FanGraphs perspective at least. Yet, the two are considerably closer on Baseball-Reference as Martinez actually leads Fernandez in rWAR 3.6 to 3.0, and while I generally understand the difference between pitcher fWAR and pitcher rWAR, it is still hard to grasp the vast difference between the two values, especially considering Fernandez's shiny ERA. Regardless, let's first take a look at each pitcher's statistics 19 starts into their respective seasons and then finally get into the fun stuff: repertoire comparisons using PitchF/x data from BrooksBaseball.net and GIFs courtesy of PitcherList.com (except otherwise indicated).

2016 Statistics

Pitcher GS IP K% BB% ERA FIP fWAR rWAR
C. Martinez 19 119.1 20.2% 8.4% 2.87 3.69 1.8 3.6
J. Fernandez 19 120.2 36.8% 7.4% 2.54 2.07 4.5 3.0

As mentioned above, Fernandez is arguably the best active pitcher in baseball right now, so it is no surprise to see him leading Martinez in every statistical category included in the table outside of rWAR. Frankly, a strikeout rate of 36.8%, while averaging roughly six and one-third innings per start, is not fair coming from a starting pitcher.

Fourseamer PitchF/x Comparison

Remember: Regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, whereas a positive value means glove-side movement.

Pitcher Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horizontal Mov. (inches) Whiffs/Swing
C. Martinez 33.89% 97.10 -8.15 16.43%
J. Fernandez 50.89% 96.03 -6.93 23.97%

Despite Martinez throwing his fourseamer harder and exhibiting more horizontal movement, he induces fewer swings and misses with the pitch than Fernandez, which can be attributed to at least two things: 1) pitch sequencing (which would require a great deal of research and an entire article to explain) and 2) location. When compared to Martinez, Fernandez lives higher in the zone and more on the corner with his fourseamer, and these are two pitch characteristics that often lead to more swings and misses.

Martinez Fernandez FB Location

Martinez 98.3 MPH Fourseamer to Jonathan Villar

Martinez FB Villar

GIF courtesy of @VanHicklestein

Fernandez 98.3 MPH Fourseamer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Changeup PitchF/x Comparison

Remember: Regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, whereas a positive value means glove-side movement.

Pitcher Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horizontal Mov. (inches) Whiffs/Swing
C. Martinez 18.87% 87.74 -13.92 28.57
J. Fernandez 13.16% 88.76 -12.65 27.94

If you have read me long enough, you know I have made it abundantly clear that I believe Martinez has one of the very best changeups in baseball. As you can see from the data above, Fernandez isn't too far behind (relinquishing a bit of movement in order to throw it a touch harder), but he doesn't use the pitch as frequently as Martinez, and this is probably due to the fact that Martinez utilizes a sinker more than Fernandez. Now, pitcher doesn't need to have a sinker in order to throw an effective changeup (see Wacha, Michael), but from a pitch tunneling perspective, it definitely helps considering they follow similar ball flights to home. All things considered, you simply cannot go wrong with either changeup.

Martinez 85.8 MPH Changeup to Miguel Montero

Fernandez 89.6 MPH Changeup to Lucas Duda

Breaking Ball PitchF/x Comparison

Remember: Regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, whereas a positive value means glove-side movement.

Pitcher Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horizontal Mov. (inches) Whiffs/Swing
C. Martinez (slider) 22.02% 85.63 10.11 38.79%
J. Fernandez (curve) 35.11% 84.21 12.15 51.38%

First, Martinez throws what is commonly classified as a slider while Fernandez's breaking ball is more accurately described as a curveball. While they are actually pretty similar pitches in terms of overall shape, Fernandez's experiences more bite -- both horizontally and vertically -- with the magnitude of drop contributing to its consideration as a curveball. If you call Martinez's slider "gross," take Fernandez's curveball one step further to downright "filthy." The right-hand column provides at least one explanation for how devastating the pitch has been this season. No wonder Fernandez throws it once every three pitches.

Martinez 88.4 MPH Slider to Chase Anderson

Fernandez 85.9 MPH Curveball to Adrian Gonzalez

The rest

Martinez throws a twoseamer/sinker 24.72% of the time, while Fernandez rarely messes around with one (2.73%). This helps explain the difference in ground ball rates between the two as Martinez sits at 57.4% so far in 2016, compared to only 41.3% for Fernandez. For those interested in the new launch angle feature available over at baseballsavant.mlb.com, I have provided each pitcher's respective chart below, which provides a visual for Martinez's propensity to induce ground balls.

Martinez Fernandez LA

In recent starts, Martinez has toyed with a curveball, in the 75-78 MPH range, but as of today, he has only thrown a grand total of nine of them. Thus, it is far too early to take seriously at the moment. That being said, if Martinez is able to use it consistently as a get-me-over-for-strike-one pitch, I would not be surprised if he subsequently experiences an increase in strikeout rate.

Bottom Line

Martinez turns 25 in September and Fernandez turns 24 in three days. The future of baseball is in good hands as long as these two young, filth-throwing pitchers are able to stay healthy -- unless you are a hitter, of course.

Credit to BrooksBaseball.net for the PitchF/x data, baseballsavant.mlb.com for the charts, and PitcherList.com for the GIFs.