Contenders? We Got Felix

As you might recall, on May 19th, Felix opened the game with 16 straight fastballs to the Anaheim Angels, who pounded him for 6 runs on 11 hits. 

After the game, Don Wakamatsu said he didn't think Felix' head was in the game, specifically said that Felix' effort "comes and goes" quote-unquote, and challenged him (in essence) to grow up.

After the game, Felix shrugged and denied that he'd given any subpar effort, and stated that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with his performance.

After the game, Dr. D once again wrote that nobody, not even King Felix, can just go out and heave the ball toward the strike zone.  Randy Johnson tried and failed, and if Randy Johnson couldn't pitch mindlessly, neither could you.  So we said.

Felix, bloated 4+ ERA in tow, sort of wandered off unfazed by it all.


=== Let The Rejoicing Begin ===

Since Wok's callout, Felix has started seven (7) games and been unhittable in every blinkin' one of those games.  He has given up 5 runs, count them, in those seven games -- and if he'd been taken out one pitch sooner against Arizona, he'd have given up 3 total runs in those seven starts.

That is vintage Bob Gibson Territory.  The NL.  1968.   Felix has been in a time warp.


I was particularly taken by Felix' back-to-back detonations of Blake and Ethier in the 6th:

BLAKE:  on 1-0 count, toss two gorgeous curves right down the middle, freezing him like a Yeti for a 1-2 count.  Then blast a thunderous 96 jam pitch tight against his hands ... for a garbage-swing strike three.

ETHIER:  lock him up with a first-pitch yakker for 0-1, get the second strike called 96 m.p.h. RIGHT ON the black .... .show him a curve inside to go 2-2, and now with Ethier confused by the offspeed pitches ... blast another 96 thunderbolt RIGHT ON the black and Ethier does not move a muscle.

After both of these K's, Felix had precisely the "You're Not Good" demeanor that Randy Johnson used to show when he literally waved guys out of the box with the back of his hand.   It was this demeanor that was the key for me.  Felix, FROM HIS POINT OF VIEW, is toying with the hitters.


=== One Problem ===

I went to tally up the glorious stats of the last 7 starts... all the K's, the tiny BB's, the oodles and noodles of groundballs ...

And guess what?   Felix' component stats aren't any different the last 7 starts.

:- /

I mean, you can quibble about small differences in the splits (though I hope you won't, because the broad point is important here).  Felix has 51 K and 13 BB in his last 53 innings -- but that ratio is not fundamentally different than his overall season total.

I expected to see a higher GB rate his last seven starts.  It's not higher.  Not so's you'd hang a theory on it.  He's throwing lots of fly balls in his glory run.

I thought his LD% would be nonexistent.  It isn't.    For example, he gave up 5 line drives last time out against Arizona, just like he did against LAA.   ... you might find a little difference there, but it wouldn't explain a 4.25 ERA vs. a 0+ ERA.


Really, Felix only had 3 bad games this year, but.... check it out.  The one where Texas got him for 6 runs?   He fanned 9 men and walked 0 that game.  Aren't we behaving like 1960's sportswriters here?  Looking at a guy's 7-16 record and assuming he's a loser?   We're going off Felix' losses and runs allowed and forgetting that maybe he was just unlucky.

And it started to alarm me:  perhaps Felix was right after the Angel game.  Maybe he WASN'T doing a blasted thing different.  Maybe we were just being 1960's sportswriters, us and Wok and everybody together.

Maybe, maybe not.  That's a subject for a column next week.  But give it some thought.  Maybe, just maybe, we were all yelling at Felix for something he didn't do.

Felix had two or three off games in May.  If it wasn't mostly just bad luck, I'm guessing he just didn't have the great movement those nights, or whatever.  But it's pretty tough to say that Felix evolved starting on May 12, because his component stats say that he has not.


=== Pronator Teres Dept. ===

Shifting gears:  Felix *is* throwing the type of swerveballs that he did in Boston in early 2007.  (And he has been, most games, since Opening Day.)  Rob Johnson is practically giggling about the joke pitches here.

I don't know whether his arm matured and now can handle the stress, or what, but he is evidently finishing those pitches with the kind of finger pressure that is creating crazy swerve on his fastball and sinker.

As we've said since early 2007, when Felix' ball moves like that, everything else is moot.  The hitters can't gear up for centered fastballs because payday will never arrive.   You throw a 95 screwball and you can pick whatever pitches you want.

For one game in Boston in 2007, Felix and his 95 frisbee was "The 30-Year Pitcher."  In 2009, Felix seems to have that video-loop spliced and ready to cue up any time he wants.

After Felix' couple of off games in May, Dr. D opened his big yap about his being the M's #2.  There is no doubt this time:  I'll take Felix #1 in the big leagues if we're picking sides tomorrow.

Because of Felix, I like the M's chances to stay in it.


Dr D


Anonymous's picture

IIRC, Felix was under the weather that time. He was suffering from some flu.

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Great article.  This is the high quality H20 that sets you apart from so many of the others in the blog-o-sphere.  It's not just that you're willing to say, "Maybe I was wrong" -- but that given the evidence, you're savvy enough to NOT simply jump full force into a new position, (being blind from a new point of view is still blind).  The "maybe" is critical, because maybe has to come from a place of humility and openess to previously unexplored possibilities.  Wonderful read.
That said -- something I would add is that your findings here are intimately related to one of my favorite talking points -- that players are NOT exactly the same every day they take the field -- that consistency is what sets the greats apart from the disappointments.  But, your findings here expand on that point in a way I hadn't really seriously contemplated.  Even when you're the same guy today as yesterday, the RESULTS can be different. 
It's actually a major step forward to understand that players have good and bad days (of performance).  It's another to accept that players have good and bad days of RESULTS, (regardless of performance).  This season, Javier Vazquez for the Braves could EASILY be leading every Cy Young discussion ... except almost nobody knows he's pitching well, because he's had as bad (or worse) run support than Washburn.  The Braves have created new ways to prevent him from getting wins all season -- collapsing bullpen - anemic offense - little league defense.  It's a new disaster every outing.  Best pitcher in baseball with zero chance at the Cy Young?  I dare anyone to go look at Vazquez' stats on the year and not go slack-jawed.
Of course, this doesn't apply to just pitchers.  In April, Seattle had FANTASTIC offensive *results*, while having miserable offensive production.  They hit much better in April, but scored less.  They are hitting even better in June, but are barely equalling their April run totals.  As you note -- like '60s sportswriters, it is very easy to lose track of everything when you get too focused on the results.  It can blind you to what's coming up the road, (good or bad).
With Felix, I think you are missing one simple reality.  Yes, he's been pitching great all season.  He's been the same - and had bad results in a few games.  This means, it is LIKELY to happen again.  That nature of the game is such that you run into a tight strike zone, a check swing single, a HBP -- and you're one "he sat on the fastball" away from a 4-0 deficit.  This is why, regardless of offensive force of a team, the best pitchers still only win just over 50% of their starts.  34 starts -- 17 wins.  That's an All-Star performance in either league.  You get that 1 or 2 extra wins over half of the starts and you're looking at a CY.  Even if you have the best starter in baseball - he doesn't win every time out.  I know.  I got to watch the glory years of Maddux -- where he performed miracles on the mound and kept winning 19.
No matter what.  If Felix is fanning 9 per 9, that still means another 18 outs have to be generated from the defense.  Some days, they fall in, no matter how good your pitcher might be.  But yeah - if Felix keeps dealing - if Bedard returns healthy - if the offense continues posting the .770 team OPS they've put up in June - they can stay in it.

Anonymous's picture

I tried to look for an article. All I can come up with is a post from SABRMatt from MC's game thread of that particular game:

Rangers are a very good hitting club...and Felix is pitching as well as you could expect given his flu...8 Ks in 5!...but man...they have bunched those hits.



He and at least one other Mariner got a brutal stomach virus in that Texas series and Felix looked visible weak that day.  In fact his fastball velocity in that game was ditty-bopping between 90 and 93 with one or two touch-95 pitches.  Not his usual 92 2-seamer, 95 4-seamer arsenal.
And he was highly unlucky in that start.  8 Ks in 5 innings despite the queasiness and dehydration and obvious velocity drop, but the Rangers scored 4 runs in one inning because they just happened to get two guys on base in front of a big honking HR.  It happens.
As far as which starts Felix has had where he was legitimately not dominating?  At least two of the starts in which he gave up 4 runs or more were 99% bad luck.  There was one in Oakland which the Mariners ended up winning 6-5 where Felix gave up 5 runs, 3 in the 2nd inning on a hit sequence that went something like:
Infield Single (9 pitch at bat)Bloop SingleSac BuntWalk (13 pitch PA)KRocket double to the LCF gap scoring all three (fastball outer third that they just guessed right on)K
And Niehaus stupidly called it a rocky inning when he looked fine to me.  And that start against the As, you can see the 8 Ks and 3 walks...his typical line...and he had just thrown too many pitches because they were being pesky little gnats and fouling things off when he gave up the 2 run homer in the 5th.
Basically...I can only think of one start where I was actually mad at Felix...that start against the Angels...and that may have actually been bad luck too.

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