Here's to Felix' Imminent 2.13 ERA
and here's to Occam's Razor

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Felix is a threat to have his best year.  The Mainframe logic is simple and transcends the need for eight regression charts.  True things are usually easy to convey.  This logic may be reprinted and disseminated for non-commercial purposes:

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Argument Block Type Idea
Premise 1 Red Pitch = 3.75 ERA
Premise 2 Yellow Pitch = 2.99 ERA
Premise 3 Orange Pitch = 0.89 ERA
Premise 4 Pitcher said, "I will throw more orange pitches now"
Conclusion Pitcher will have a lower ERA

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As Ken Shih complained, "Your style is most inelegant."*  Jim Kelley grinned widely.  "But efFECTive."

Dr. D, you come right out of a comic book
Dr. D, you come right out of a comic book

Bruce Lee and Dr. D are jokes by definition, but can tell you this, man.  They both were into "self-aware irony" loooonnnnnng before the age of Marvel Comic book movies.  Oh yeah baby.  You can't be a joke if you're IN on it ... we hope.  That's as true of the cosmos, the election cycle and Kung Fu Island Gulags as it is of Seattle Sports Insider.

.....

Felix Hernandez is the anti-Captain America; Felix jokes and laughs a lot while not BEING one, whereas the common comic-movie hero reverses this syndrome.  Last start, six days ago, the second batter stepped in there and Felix started him off with a crackling 81 MPH overhand curve.  The count clicked over to 0-1 with the air of your car odometer acknowledging that you'd driven 0.1 miles.  The batter found this unfunny.

Dr. D thought, well, wasn't THAT refreshing.  Felix throwing a curve ball to START a count.

Thing is, see, Felix has always thrown his curves in the MIDDLE of counts.  He has annoyed Dr. D greatly with this habit.  First two pitches are fastball-spitter in some permutation thereof.  Then, with the count 1-1 (within a pitch either way), here came the one curve ball per batter.  Easy strike.  But neither would he FINISH a batter with the curve, on 2-2 or 3-2.

Oddly, Felix threw first-pitch curves to 5 of the first 10 hitters on Mar. 14.  Dr. D thought his safety goggles had too much explosion residue film on them.  But here he was again on the 19th, throwing the yakker to start off the count.

......

Last year, American League batters hit .134 off his curve ball (the "orange" pitch in the table, of course).  Three extra-base hits all year, none homers.  Fangraphs gives the pitch value as +2.92 runs to the Mariners' bank account per 100 Felix curves thrown.  The year before that, he registered +2.28.

Note well.  There is no reason to pay any attention to pitch values once they go beyond +2.00.  It's like saying the Space Shuttle has 3,000,000 horsepower?  Let's just not compare the U.S.S. Freedom to a barnyard horse at all, what do you say.  Let's use a different scale.  And once a pitcher has a batter's AVG below .199, the rest of it is noise.  Bad offensive results below (say) .199/.249/.299 are balls going at fielders too much.

Point is.  Last two years, Felix' curve has helium-balooned up against the "GREAT PITCH BABE!" stats ceiling and rolled around up there.

.......

It so happened that Blowers relayed a conversation he had with Felix after that last game.  (Blow very frequently wonders about chemical film on his goggles at the same time SSI does.)  Quick D-O-V grok of Felix' answer:  "I just felt safe out there using my fastball and changeup.  But lately they'd started to get to my changeup a little bit.  So I decided to use my curve, like I did as a rookie, and it felt really great in my hand.  I kept throwing it.  I'm going to throw it more."

Pitch F/X is eager to back up Felix' observation, not that F/X knows Felix better than he does.  But Felix' changeup had dropped from +2.plenty in 2013 and 2014 to +0.89 last year.  Still a great pitch, but they're cheating on it.

Felix' curveball usage has risen from 13% to 16% to 20% the last three years.  The last two games, it's been 28% and 26%.  Much more importantly, he's throwing it first pitch and last.

.......

What you have here is a pitcher who can adapt.  Blowers' summary:  "He'll be able to pitch as long as he wants to."  The idea is that an Erikkkk Bedard is always a couple MPH away from fading out; a more diversified attack pattern leads to a more resilient career.

But my thing is, it could be a big year looming.  For it to be his BEST year, the ERA will have to dip under 2.13 or lower.  He's already demo'ed the 2.14 shtick.  Whatever the ERA's the first-pitch curve balls make the show a lot more fun.  Even so, a 2+ ERA from Felix would not do any harm to the Mariners' creeping hopes for a spectacular rotation.  

Enjoy,

Dr D

...

*Han said "unorthodox."  But inelegant woulda been better.

Comments

1

You had me at "with the count 1-1 (within a pitch either way)."

Be gentle with me, please.  :)

2

Thanks for sharing that bit of info, Doc...I didn't watch last night's game, so I wasn't aware that Felix was game-planning his comeback. :)  Felix might be one of the smartest pitchers in the game, at this point...really seems to have an immediate feel for what is working and what isn't from start to start and to be able to craft a gameplan in like...two hitters...based on the info of the night.

The danger with the curveball as your ace weapon is that it is blinkin' hard to throw it for strikes consistently.  He will have less margin for error with that pitch...if he is on his game with it all year, he might outpitch prime Pedro...but that is a pitch that can easily lead to a big uptick in walk rate and homers.

3

Easier for any pitcher to throw a straight pitch where he wants than to bend it there.  Three balls two strikes, it's not a lot of fun to throw a curve that doesn't break.

Less fun to get splashed against the fence, though ... baseball looks like it could be a pretty tough game...

Honestly would put Felix' curve ball command in the top echelon, though.  Not sure Mussina or Moyer controlled theirs any better.

4
RockiesJeff's picture

Good words from smart guys. Clearly smart enough to realize that Felix is one of the few that knows the art of pitching sometimes like a good chess match and not always about being able to blow a fastball past someone. If Felix can maintain his health/conditioning, I hope that the ERA will be near the 2's!

And a first pitch curve? Very good points Matt but, as you know, even if it gets in the head of the batter, worth it.

Here is a thought I have had for a long time but thought it would be applicable for Felix too. I did watch him near the end of the season here in CO and regretfully he got hit hard. A disappointing season...I am sure he was as tired mentally as physically. Back in 2001, and watching from afar so ​hope this is accurate....if my old memory serves me, I think that the 5 M's starters did not miss a start the entire season. And often they went deep into the count before the big 3 from the bullpen closed the deal. I had always wondered about giving a starter a couple of off nights as the season got into July and then August with the hope of having a slight fresher arm come Sept/Oct. No one wants to miss a game but for a slight rest in a long season? My feeble 2 cents but would wonder if even a slight adjustment would help an older Felix? 

5

Or so it is in my childhood memory, at least.  Used to be no big deal to skip a turn and just tell the press "Nah, we're keeping Saberhagen fresh for the stretch run."

Not sure when it became the conventional wisdom, that pitchers have to stay in rhythm.  Maybe nowadays the pitch counts are so well-controlled that it's not needed.  Bah humbug.

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DagGummit's picture

Back in 2001, and watching from afar so ​hope this is accurate....if my old memory serves me, I think that the 5 M's starters did not miss a start the entire season - See more at: http://seattlesportsinsider.com/blogs/drs-prognosis/heres-to-felix-immin...

You are incorrect to say that happened in 2001.  They used 8 SPs -- right around what most teams use, regardless of how good or bad they are (a team that uses less than 7, I go, "... heh... that's probably because of bad depth".  A team that uses more than 9 = massive injury issues and no depth).

Nothing about Piniella's patterns as a manager indicate he would use only 5 SPs for the season, even if able (which is all-but-never the case).  In fact, one of Piniella's favorite things to do with his roster was have a platoon #5 SP.  In 2001, he would switch between Piniero and Halama (11 and 17 starts, respectively).  Come 2002, he would do the same with Halama and Franklin (Piniero now a regular in the lineup).  The year you're most likely thinking of when the Mariners only used 5 SP would have been the 2003 -- as they were managed by Chuck Armstrong behind the facade of Bob Melvin

7

... in 2003.  You, sir, are incorrect to react to a minor dating error rather than to the substantive and interesting idea.

;- )

He even gave "2001, if my old memory serves."  98% accuracy grade on the tracer, 2% accuracy grade on your rebuke.

....

Agreed, though, that Lou Piniella was very quick to swap out a starting pitcher who was getting racked up.  For sure.  Not sure he'd have swapped out Freddy Garcia or Gil Meche, though.

Can't come after RockiesJeff in this clubhouse any more than Stefen Romero can yell at Felix for having his son in his locker.  Ya'll will get the towel-snaps for it :- )

8

Right - 2003 was the "only used five starters" year. Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Joel Pinero and Jamie Moyer. Pretty remarkable. Over 1,000 IP by those five guys, with Gil Meche being the only one under 200IP. Three clocked 32 starts and the other two has 33.That was also Shigi's incredible 1.48 ERA/73 IP bullpen year. Meche and Freddy weren't great - mid 4ish ERA's but they must have been better than whoever was pitching for Tacoma. 

The bench was terrible but other than Cirillo and Wilson, the offense was pretty good until Edgar ran out of steam down the stretch. 

9
RockiesJeff's picture

That is what I get for not looking it up and actually trusting my feeble mind! Thanks DagGummit! I moved in 2001 but somehow had thought in that almost glory year they had the solid rotation all season. And I had forgotten that Melvin was merely the Manager with an asterisk by the name! Politics should be outlawed the dugout!  

Speaking of memory, Jeff, you are right about the breaks way back when. I know the pitch counts help to some extent but I was also thinking too about the mental grind beyond the fresh arm and legs. See if Pops with Duncan and friends becomes a trend setter again.

Well deserving of a good towel snap here to wake up my mind!

10
tjm's picture

Felix has never shook off much. I always thought it weird that one of the best pitchers in the bigs would throw whatever that year's anonymous backstop told him to. For a point of reference, Felix shook off Jaso three times in the perfecto. I don't think Felix does much in the way of game plans. He goes by feel - see the mitt, throw the ball. He does work on new pitches all the time. He's been wanting to throw a cutter for years but the coaches tell him he doesn't need it.*

He doesn't watch much video, and when he does it's of himself, not hitters. He doesn't look at hitter's stats, either. 

* Reminds me of the story Ron Fairly likes to tell about Koufax, who of course had one of the best fastballs in baseball history and a better curve ball, yet worked to develop another pitch. At the height of his dominance, he decided he’d be better if he could throw a slider. He started working on it on the sidelines and told teammates he would use it in play the next time the Dodgers played the Milwaukie Braves’ Henry Aaron. “I'll try it on Hank, and if it works, it will work against everybody else," Koufax said.

 

During a day game that summer at Milwaukie Stadium, Aaron came to the plate and sure enough, Koufax threw him the slider. Aaron hit it 400 feet, but just foul. He turned to Dodger catcher John Roseboro and asked what that pitch had been.

 

Slider, Roseboro said.

 

Aaron replied: Tell Sandy he doesn’t need that pitch.

12
RockiesJeff's picture

Terry, thanks for the story. Loved it!

13
tjm's picture

The Koufax story and lots of others are included in a book that is now in final edits. It's called OFF SPEED - Baseball, Pitching and the Art of Deception. It's a weird mix of personal memoir, science and the history of pitching all attached to a pitch-by-pitch recounting of Felix's 2012 perfect game. It'll come out either this fall or next spring, depending on what the publisher, Pantheon, decides. Whichever, I'll be in Seattle to promote it at the time.

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tjm's picture

Might even have a couple books to donate to the site for give-aways.

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RockiesJeff's picture

I would buy a few right now! I look forward!

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