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June 18, 2011, Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners fans cheer in the fan section known as King

You bored? I am too. Let's talk Felix Hernandez

Not too much going on right now. I’m pretty much loving all the pictures and video supplied by Jeff Evans and folks over at the Mariners communications department. There is a little bit here and there going on but besides that nothing. It’s just the general hey Smoak lost weight, Kawasaki is also amazingly the name for a motorcycle and Jason Vargas is still starting the second game in Japan.

This is all stuff that we already have known and talked about in the last month. Maybe not specifically by me, but people smarter than myself. I’m in the final two weeks of work here in Africa so you know I’m distracted in general and just waiting to see the first pitch official pitch to be thrown in Spring Training because I’ll be back in the states to at least watch it from my home.

But I’ve wanted to take a look at Felix Hernandez this past winter and never took the time to really mess around with some of the utilities available. Then Brooks Baseball unleashed their “player cards” system and I decided it was high time to start messing around with what was available.

The first thing that I wanted to look at was the difference between his 2011 stats versus his 2010 stats. We all know that Felix is great, we love him and I in no way am I am unhappy with him nor do I believe he plans on leaving anytime soon. I say this as a preemptive measure because at this point I’ll make the obvious statement that his 2011 campaign wasn’t what his 2010 was. It wasn’t as good from a stastical sense and there are reasons for that. Again, this is all obvious. Yet, I fear that if I didn’t convey his awesomeness that I’d have rocks thrown at me or three years from now –when I go to buy a in Seattle, or much more likely Everett— they see on my credit check that someone stuck the “Anti-Felix” flag pole on my credit score and I’m denied my loan.

In 2011, we can see that he stopped throw his Fourseam fastball and Sinker as much as he did. It’s not a huge drop just a total of 8%. But that’s a total of about 8 pitches a ball game and they’ve all seemingly gone into his change-up. This makes a lot of sense being that Felix’s change-up has been his most valued pitch over the last two years. In fact if you want to have some fun with pitch f/x run values and the Fangraphs leader board, setting the minimum IP at 200, it’s been the second most valueable change-up thrown the last two years combined. Oddly enough he sits right behind Mike Pelfrey. Really, who would’ve have guessed that one. Third place is more obvious in Cole Hamels and he actually had the #1 spot for 2011, yeah he’s really good too.

The more I dug into his change-up the more it interests me. For instance while he threw it a total of 766 vs. 499 times (woah…8% increase is a lot) and lost a little over 4% off his ability to miss bats. That’s obviously going to happen the move often you throw it. I’m not even going to get into the idea of how much you lose per additional… say 10 throws of the same pitch. That makes my head want to explode. But with that he saw the amount of times he got it called for a strike double (8% in 2011 vs. 4% 2010).

The pitch, while extremely valuable to him last year, got even better with the increase. Ironically what suffered most last year was his Fourseam-Sinker combo. I don’t have any suggestions about the sinker. I think it’s pure happenstance that it was less valuable. It was pure into play less often (though less ground balls), he got it called for a strike more often and he got more hitters to swing through it.  I think the pitch is just fine and he’ll continue to be comfortable with it.

The Fourseam fastball does have a bit curious. I wonder if he’s not using a new grip or what he changed while throwing it. It had substantially less movement, both vertical and horizontal, and he wasn’t throw it nearly as hard –on average– as he had in past years. In fact if you look at his velocity charts for his fastball the last few years it would get strong as the year would go on but it seems like last year it kind of stabilized in terms of volatility but never really hit those big numbers we were used to seeing, especially down the stretch.

I’m not worried about Felix in terms of injuries. I’m pretty certain the team is very, very interested in that specific department and has done a lot to monitor him and to keep him from becoming another one of those stories that we have to hold back tears as tell our children. I think he’s still got that fastball I’m just not entirely sure why it was so terrible last year. If you look at his game score over the last three years it’s not like he’s becoming more “relible” in the sense that he doesn’t have less bad games. Every pitcher is going to have down days. I mean the guy is human… at least we think he is. He is really good…

Speaking of him being inhuman there is one angle and it just might be purely coincidental. But you can see that his total pitches thrown didn’t go up last year. And while they went up 100 pitches from 2009 to 2010 the guy did throw 6 complete games compare to his one the year previous. So I wasn’t really concerned.  But if you do take a look at 2009 he had one game where he threw more than 120+ pitches, in 2010 he had 3 and 2011 he threw 5.

I’m not saying that it’s in fact a problem. To best honest last year was the least amount of games he threw over 100 the past three years (28). But it’s the only thing that I could find that could point to some type of possible fatigue. 4 of them were before June 29th and the 5th being July 5th. So it’s possible that he just got a little tired. Considering the extra amount of work he has put in both 2009 and 2010, compared to his 2007 and ’08 season, it’s not entirely surprising. 

Again, I’m not worried about his fastball or anything about him. In fact despite the fact he came a little bit back down to earth (Hahaha a 5 wins above replacement back to earth). The thing is we all know that Felix is destined to be more than what he still is. He’s still growing and learning and progressing. Only 25, and turning 26 in April, I’m far from convienced that he still doesn’t have another plateau jump in the near future at which time he would truly enter into his prime.

A wonderful thing to think about. Especially when you think about what could happen if everything comes to get at the right time.

 

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