Pitching report: Finnegan proving he belongs in starting rotation

The Royals likely don’t regret trading pitcher Brandon Finnegan as part of the deal to get Johnny Cueto, but after Finnegan’s first start for the Reds this season, they have to be feeling pangs of FOMO.
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The Royals likely don’t regret dealing for Johnny Cueto at the deadline last season. He served his purpose for Kansas City, winning two games in the postseason by shutting down the Astros in the ALDS clincher and limiting the Mets to one run in a complete game victory in Game 2 of the World Series. And obviously, they got that World Series ring.

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But that trade wasn’t without its sacrifices for the Royals—the most significant of which was likely pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who made a handful of impressive relief appearances in Kansas City’s run to the AL pennant in 2014. Finnegan made his first start of the 2016 season for the Reds against the Phillies on Weds., April 6, allowing two runs on three hits and one walk in six innings. More importantly, the 22-year-old struck out nine batters, flashing the elite swing-and-miss stuff that made him the No. 17 pick in the 2014 amateur draft.

Finnegan, who measures just 5' 11" (conjuring images of Billy Wagner), primarily throws three pitches. He prefers a sinker, which sits at 93–94 mph, to a four-seam fastball, and he leans heavily on both his changeup and slider, using the former against righties, while favoring the latter when he has the platoon advantage. He can use any of the three as an out pitch, though it’s the slider that produces the highest percentage of whiffs. That he can already throw all three pitches to righties and lefties on either side of the plate certainly bodes well for his first full season as a starter.

In his first outing, Finnegan had all three of his pitches working, getting a remarkable six strikeouts on his sinker, a pitch that most guys aren’t going to rely on for whiffs. Let’s take a look at all three offerings, starting with the slider, before moving on to the heat and the change.




You can see in those three pitches what makes Finnegan so confounding for hitters and exciting for fantasy owners. The sinker is a deadly foundation pitch, especially when Finnegan is commanding it to both sides of the plate as he did against the Phillies. The slider and the change are going to produce plenty of whiffs, and even when hitters make contact, a lot of the balls in play will be on the ground, given the explosive movement on both of those pitches.

Right now, Finnegan is available in about 90% of leagues, which is way too many for a pitcher with identifiable upside who struck out nine batters in his first start and was the centerpiece of a deal that netted his previous team a pitcher like Cueto. Don’t be afraid to roll the dice on Finnegan.

Pitchers to watch this week

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: Strasburg pitched well in his first start of the year, allowing one run on six hits in six innings, walking three and striking out four. More noteworthy than the results, however, was one of the pitches he was throwing—a slider. He tried to integrate it early in the 2014 season, but quickly abandoned it, not throwing it at all after May. In all, Strasburg threw a total of 58 sliders in his career before his first outing in 2016.

But on April 6 against the Braves, he threw 12 sliders in that start, getting two whiffs and four outs with the pitch, while allowing a pair of singles. Strasburg next takes the mound on Wednesday against the Braves again, and you can bet we’ll be keeping an eye on how many sliders he uncorks, and whether or not he truly has another pitch in his arsenal.

Juan Nicasio, Pirates: Nicasio was one of the biggest risers during draft season, gaining a ton of traction as Ray Searage’s latest reclamation project. His first start of the year suggested he could be the next arm in a line of succession that includes Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ. Nicasio allowed just one run on two hits, striking out seven and walking none in a win over the Cardinals in his only outing last week.

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​His fastball averaged a blazing 95.3 mph in the start, which matches where he sat as a reliever, but is a full two miles per hour better than when he was last a regular starter. Neither his change nor slider were that impressive, however, even though the overall results were strong.

As good as Nicasio’s fastball is, he’s going to need at least one of those two off-speed pitches to be a weapon, not just a show offering. It’s also worth noting that Nicasio’s fastball velocity tailed off in his last few innings, raising questions about whether or not he can hold up a as a starter. We’ll be watching all of this when he takes the mound against the Tigers on Tuesday.

Jose Fernandez, Marlins:Fernandez had one of the more bizarre starts of the season’s opening week. At times, he looked to be at his best, striking out 13 batters, getting the trio of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler a total of seven times. He was only able to get through 5 2/3 innings, however, because the Tigers touched him up for five runs on five hits and a walk.

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​Despite all the strikeouts, he wasn’t particularly sharp with his command. He surrendered a homer to Jarrod Saltalamachhia on a curveball that caught far too much of the plate, with Fernandez missing his spot by the entire width of the dish, and was wild in the zone with his fastball, as well.

Of course, the 13 strikeouts are awfully hard to ignore. Fernandez’s next start comes on Tuesday almosagainst the Mets. We’ll be watching that one not only to check in on Fernandez’s command, but also because he’ll be facing off with Noah Syndergaard. Get ready for almost 200 mph worth of fastballs.

Prospect watch

Jose Berrios, Twins: The question isn’t if Berrios will make it to the majors this year. It’s only a matter of when. Chances are we’ll see Berrios in a Twins uniform sometime in the middle of the summer, likely before the All-Star break depending, of course, on his performance at Triple-A Rochester. If he’s able to replicate what he did in his first start for the next two months or so, you can bet on him getting a call to the Twin Cities in June. Berrios struck out nine batters in five innings in his first outing of the year, allowing one run on three hits. He was a bit wild, walking four batters and hitting two more, but that was pretty much the only way Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees) got anything going against him.

Berrios has the stuff to be a frontline starter in the not-too-distant future, and will immediately enter the AL Rookie of the Year race the day he gets to the majors. He already has enough fantasy relevance to be a worthy stash play if you have a roster spot to play with and want to aim for a high-upside player set to make a significant impact this summer.

GIF of the Week

The best breaking balls are the ones that a pitcher can throw for a taken strike. A good pitcher may have a solid curve or slider, but the great ones are able to throw it in the zone, not just counting on it being a chase pitch. Chris Archer is a great one.


Two-start pitchers

  1. Stephen Strasburg
  2. Corey Kluber
  3. David Price
  4. Sonny Gray
  5. Jon Lester
  6. Jose Quintana
  7. Hisashi Iwakuma
  8. Michael Wacha
  9. Carlos Rodon
  10. Patrick Corbin
  11. Kenta Maeda
  12. Matt Moore
  13. Aaron Sanchez
  14. Juan Nicasio
  15. Collin McHugh
  16. Michael Pineda
  17. Wei-yin Chen
  18. Steven Matz
  19. James Shields
  20. Mike Fiers
  21. Anibal Sanchez
  22. Gio Gonzalez
  23. Aaron Nola
  24. Kyle Gibson
  25. Shane Greene
  26. Kris Medlen
  27. Derek Holland
  28. Chris Young
  29. Yovani Gallardo
  30. Clay Buchholz
  31. Ubaldo Jimenez
  32. Jeff Samardzija
  33. Andrew Cashner
  34. Jon Niese
  35. Nick Tropeano
  36. Taylor Jungmann
  37. Colby Lewis
  38. Charlie Morton
  39. Tyler Chatwood
  40. Tim Melville
  41. Jhoulys Chacin
  42. Bud Norris