1. Tony Cingrani
Michael Wacha was the more-hyped sophomore in Wednesday's matchup, but Cingrani had a stellar rookie season in his own right, going 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 104.2 innings with 120 strikeouts. While Wacha is a more conventional pitcher with a four-pitch repertoire, Cingrani throws primarily fastballs. Last season, among pitchers with at least 100 innings, only Bartolo Colon threw a higher percentage of fastballs than Cingrani's 81.7 percent. What makes Cingrani even more unique and wonderful is that he isn't overpowering; he throws hard enough but his average fastball velocity of 91.8 mph is hardly Randy Johnson territory.
He pitches up in the strike zone, with a deceptive delivery that hides the ball well. Batters seem to have a hard time reading the pitch for some reason, leading to a high strikeout rate so far in his career.
Against the Cardinals, 75 of his 92 pitches were fastballs, nearly all of them high fastballs -- only eight of those 75 fastballs were in the lower third of the strike zone or below. His average velocity of 92.7 mph was a tick higher than last year. But it works. He gets batters out. He pitched seven scoreless innings.
2. James Paxton
Mariners left-hander Paxton was making his fifth career major league start. He looked great in four September starts last year (3-0, 1.50 ERA), but that was on the heels of a mediocre, up-and-down season at Triple-A Tacoma (4.45 ERA). Against the Angels on Wednesday, he threw seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits, two walks and nine strikeouts. His final fastball of the game was clocked at 97 mph.
Like Cingrani, Paxton relies a lot on that fastball -- 56 of his 99 pitches were fastballs. But he mixed in 35 curveballs and sliders and those two pitches registered seven of his nine strikeouts: Locate the fastball, put hitters away with the offspeed stuff. On this day, it's clear what Paxton's game plan was and he executed if perfectly: Spot that fastball low and away to lefties, down and in to righties. The heat map shows that he pounded that corner:
3. Mark Buehrle
Our third lefty of the night is the veteran Buehrle. His 187th career victory in the Blue Jays' win over the Rays was one of his best -- with 11 strikeouts, he registered double-digit whiffs for just the second time in his career. His Game Score of 86 ranks seventh on his career list (his no-hitter in 2007 and perfect game in 2009 rank 1-2). Not bad for a guy whose fastest pitch of the night was 83.8 mph. If he was pitching in high school with that kind of velocity he wouldn't even get drafted.
How does he do it? Smarts, command, deception, control, brains, location, smarts, command, deception ... He threw 108 pitches -- 39 "fast" balls, 22 changeups, 20 sliders, 18 curveballs and nine cutters. Five different pitches but he attacks the same general area: A completely different approach than Paxton or Cingrani. Sixty-two percent of his pitches were strikes even though only 42 percent were actually in the strike zone; Buehrle has made a lot of money getting batters to chase pitches just off the plate. (Interestingly, Paxton had the same 42 percent of pitches in the strike zone.)