Has Former Mariners Ace Felix Hernandez Rejuvenated His Career?

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners looks on from the dugout prior to taking on the Texas Rangers during their game at T-Mobile Park on April 26, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners looks on from the dugout prior to taking on the Texas Rangers during their game at T-Mobile Park on April 26, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

It’s hard to imagine a Mariners team without Felix Hernandez being apart of it. His name is nearly synonymous with the team itself. Once one of the most dominant starters in all of baseball, Felix has found himself on the losing end of an uphill battle in recent years.

As he enters the last year of his contract, the King looks to once more reign supreme. Felix came into the year on the outside looking in. It was the first time in a decade that Hernandez was not selected to start Opening Day for the Mariners.

Then, adding insult to injury, he didn’t start the second or even the third. No, Felix was outcast to the fifth spot in the rotation, and due to the schedule at the start of the year, he didn’t make his first start until the 8th game of the year.

The king was clearly unhappy about this but it was a reasonable decision made by the Mariners coaching staff. Felix pitched to a 5.55 ERA in 2018 and a 4.36 the year prior.

One of the main problems over the past few years with Felix was his unwillingness to change. The league was easily able to catch up to his fastball after his velocity diminished to just a tick over 90 MPH. They were able to sit on his changeup because that was basically the only other offering that Felix would use.

He was fooling nobody but he still thought he could overpower hitters and was feeling the consequences. In an era where trends and video had become a dime a dozen, Felix still was under the impression that he had the upper hand.

2019 has been a new season for the king. Coming into his start Tuesday against the Cubs, Felix was sporting a 3.91 ERA with a BB/9 of 1.07. Compare that to his BB/9 last year of 3.41 and it’s easy to see why Felix has found success early in the season.

It’s also clear that Felix has a different game plan. His Curveball use has increased a ton, from 27.9% to 34.6%. A byproduct of that is a drop in his use of the Changeup, which was getting hit around in recent years. Interestingly enough, his fastball percentage is still roughly the same at 43.8%.

Felix’s start against the Padres last week was the best show of his new and improved approach. It also kept Felix efficient, throwing just over 70 pitches in 7 innings. His start against the Cubs, while not as encouraging, still followed a similar gameplan.

The Curveball usage was over 40% and the biggest mistakes that he made were on Fastballs to both Daniel Delscalso and Anthony Rizzo. He struck out 8 in 6 innings however and still looked good even while giving up four runs. He wasn’t the ace of years past but he did have the looks of a decent number 5 starter.

Some other interesting stats to note, he has not given up many hits the opposite way. He is down to just 11.2% hits the other way. This could be attributed to his loss in velocity, giving opposing righties a chance to be early on it and pull the ball. A lot of this could also be a part of his curveball usage since hitters are early on the curveball.

His hard hit percentage is also up to 43.2% from 38.7% last year. Not shockingly, that is adding up to a hirer BABIP, up to .321 from his career .293. Somehow, this is adding up a much better season for the King. He has definitely pitched better than some metrics show but it is still fascinating to see how his season unfolds.

So what can be attributed to Felix’s change of heart? Could it be new pitching coach Paul Davis who finally broke through to Felix that he needed to change? Was it a big slice of humble pie that Hernandez was served up at the beginning of the year? That is something we may never know but it is surely important for the future of Felix Hernandez.

Felix is coming up on 2,500 strikeouts on his career, a monumental number for most pitchers. This will come shortly after CC Sabathia recorded his 3,000th, just the 17th pitcher to accomplish such a feat. In many ways, Felix and Sabathia are similar.

Sabathia had to reinvent himself on the mound after a few down years in an otherwise dominant career. If Felix can continue this pace, he will prove that he still deserves a spot in an MLB rotation.

dark. Next. Former Mariners Prospect Andrew Moore DFA'd

Now, I’m not saying that the Mariners should resign him in 2020 (Okay I’m kind of saying that) but Felix should get a shot with someone. If he can prove that he has reinvented himself, he could find himself right back on track for the Hall of Fame worthy career that he was on not so long ago.