Is Felix Hernandez’s Pitching Leash Too Long?


Apr 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) in the dugout during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Felix Hernandez is arguably one of the five best pitchers in Major League baseball today. Maybe even top 3.

Ever since he was called up 10 years ago as a green 18-year-old flamethrower, he has being the darling– the King, if you will– of the Seattle Mariners. He has been on most every advertisement, and his name is usually the only one casual Mariners fans recognize. 

But, despite his profound talent and superstardom, the question needs to be asked: do Felix’s managers give him too much leeway out on the mound?

Let me clarify what I mean by this: are managers letting Felix talk his way into pitching longer than he really should be?

One of the most important things a manager needs to do is to choose when to call in a relief pitcher or pull a starter. Sometimes that decision is an easy one: when there is only one out in the first inning and your starter has already given up 5 runs; or if the other team’s best hitter is coming up to bat and you want to bring in your strikeout specialist in high leverage.

But sometimes, especially with a starter of King Felix’s caliber, the lines become grey and fuzzy. Take yesterday’s matinee for example. Going into the 7th inning the Mariners led the A’s 2-1.

The first batter Eric Sogard gets on with a deflected single off of Felix. Then Gentry, the next batter, cranks a double to left and it’s 2nd and 3rd with no outs, the M’s nursing a one-run lead.

Now at this point it’s not necessarily time to yank one of the greatest pitchers in the game. He can induce ground balls and strikeouts and avoid too much damage. And though the bullpen has been more solid of late, it’s still hard to trust guys like Tom Wilhelmsen coming out of the ‘Pen when the game is on the line.

Maybe you go and talk to him at least, settle him down on the mound. Unfortunately the skipper stayed seated one batter too long. Lloyd McClendon let’s him pitch on, letting Felix be Felix.

Secret Agent John Jaso is now batting, and singles to left to tie the game for the A’s at 2-2. Do you pull Felix now? Let him try to get through the rest of the inning? The line is starting to get fuzzier as Felix is no longer in line for the win, and at the same time in jeopardy of giving away the lead.

Then Josh Donaldson comes to bat and scores Gentry on a sacrifice fly– a run traded for an out and now the A’s have tied at 3-3.

With a man on first and one out in the inning, this seemed like the prime time to get Felix out of there. Now, no longer in line for the win and fresh off a number of games where he wasn’t at his best, it was time to send in the reinforcements.

But McClendon let the leash a little longer, and Felix faced one more batter. That being Brandon Moss who tripled to left field and a game that was in hand is now 4-3 A’s.

Finally Felix gets pulled at 97 pitches with one out in the 7th. A game that had looked so good unraveled in less than an inning of work.

It is so difficult and often so subjective being a manager for an MLB team. A lot of it comes from experience, feel, and just gut instinct.

And let’s be honest, it’s hard for your gut not to side with King Felix.

But there are times, especially when a star is struggling, that you need to get them out while they still have their confidence. Sure, Charlie Furbush or Wilhemsen could have come in and given up all those runs anyway. They also could have shut the A’s down.

Sometimes the psyche is just as important as the stat line. And even though Felix is the picture of consistency and tough as nails confidence-wise, it’s not always a bad thing to reel him in and take the load off.

After all, he has been carrying this team for almost a decade.