The Chicago Cubs visit the Washington Nationals tonight (7 ET on ESPN) in a battle of the teams with the two best records in the National League. Each sends one of its top pitchers to the mound tonight as Kyle Hendricks faces Max Scherzer. Both have been among the best pitchers in the National League, but their styles are completely different.
Hendricks prevents hard hits
Kyle Hendricks is proving you do not have to throw hard to be effective. His fastball averages 87 mph (97th out of 101 qualified pitchers), but he ranks third in the majors in WHIP (0.94).
One reason he's been so successful is that he limits hard contact. Opposing hitters have an 8.2 percent hard-hit rate off Hendricks, the lowest against any qualified starting pitcher.
He has a 1.3% percent hard-hit rate against his changeup, the best of any changeup in major league baseball (minimum 100 pitches). Batters swing at his changeup 68 percent of time and chase it out of the strike zone 57 percent of the time (both lead MLB).
He’s also been dominant with his cutter. Opponents are batting .097 against the pitch, second-lowest in baseball (minimum 100 cutters thrown).
And when opponents don't swing, Hendricks has still been effective. His called-strike percentage (41 percent) is second-highest in the majors.
Scherzer relies on power
Whereas Hendricks relies on off-speed stuff, Scherzer is all about power. His average fastball is seven mph faster than Hendricks' pitch. That power has been a double-edged sword for the Nationals' star this season.
Scherzer strikes out over 30 percent of opposing hitters, the fifth-highest rate among qualified starters. Last month, he had 20 strikeouts in a game against the Tigers, tying the single-game MLB record.
However, he has been victimized by the long ball this season. He's allowed 16 home runs this season, most in the National League. Last season, he didn't allow his 16th home run until Aug. 9.
Hitters have nine home runs off Scherzer's fastball, eight off his slider and two off his changeup.
How do Cubs deal with Harper?
Bryce Harper has struggled of late, hitting .222 over his last 41 games. He's hit a total of 12 well-hit balls in that span, eighth-most on his own team. But unless the Cubs' philosophy changes from the last time these teams met, he might not see anything to swing at.
Last month, Harper was walked 13 times by the Cubs in a four-game series. That ties the modern major league record for walks in one series (since 1900), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only other two players to do it both did it in eight-game series (Lou Gehrig and Roy Cullenbine).
It's not just the Cubs taking this approach with Harper. For the season, only 39.4 percent of pitches Harper has seen have been in the strike zone. That's the lowest percentage for any qualified hitter.