"Edgy" Felix Looks the Opposite of His Pitches
... Jays 0


In the seventh inning Friday night, Jose Bautista worked the count to three and two. Felix threw him a fastball out and over, and Bautista whacked the ball down into the left-field corner for a single.

It was the first hard-hit ball the Jays had during the game. After we were one hour and 45 minutes into it. Up to that point, the Jays had:

  • three swinging strikeouts
  • three called strikeouts
  • a pop-up caught in foul territory
  • a pop-up fall in for a single
  • six routine ground ball outs
  • three sharply struck ground ball outs
  • a double play
  • a single off Felix's glove

How many line drives do you count in there?  How many fly balls of any kind?

(Two pitches later, Felix threw Edwin (9 HR) Encarnacion a changeup, Encarnacion took a MIIIIIGHTY swing, and ... it cracked his bat in half lengthwise.  Seager plucked the one-hop ball out of the cloud of sawdust and tossed the ball around the horn for a leisurely double play.)

Dave Valle, after the game, said that it had been a "game off" for Felix.  As the 95-pitch starts pile up, so do the 94-MPH fastballs for the King.


Pitchers Who Don't Look Like Their Pitches.

Endy Chavez is two players. He's the guy you see when he swings the bat, and then he's the guy you see after the bat makes contact.

He swings out of his shoes like Carlos Delgado, and then ... the ball does its own thing, relating to Chavez as though he were Joey Cora. The optical illusion is amusing. Every time he swings, I think of the weird Mars Attacks! Pierce Brosnan head sewn onto a dog body. That is the way with Chavez's batted balls vs. his swing.

Have you ever noticed that Felix is the same way?

He heaves the ball like an NFL quarterback throwing a line drive through the linebackers. You would expect the ball to go 98 miles an hour. You would expect him to throw 140 pitches an outing, like Nolan Ryan did. He's a big blocky guy and you would expect him to take a blunt force trauma approach like Roger Clemens.

If you buy into that, you're going to forever be a little disappointed that Felix doesn't throw hard.  I mean, we all love to watch him pitch, but me?  I watch him tuck the front shoulder, put the baaaack into it and then ... 90 MPH?  Huh?  It's just a little twinge in the back of my mind.


It's funny ... Dr. D tried to think of other pitchers whose pitches don't match their bodies.  It's hard!  Iwakuma looks like his pitches.  Maurer?  Perfectly!  Jamie Moyer, of course ... Randy Johnson, LOL.  Doug Fister looks tall, angular, and brainy, like his pitches do.

It's not easy to think of pitchers who look the opposite of their pitches.  Felix does.


21st Century Baseball, Dept.

You know who Felix actually pitches like?  Felix' reality is precisely the same as our idealized fantasy of what Dice K was going to be. Think about it:

  • 91 mph razor-sharp fastball -- used, oh, 40% of the time
  • five different strikeout breaking pitches ... just "Take Your Pick" every time there are 2 strikes
  • one nuclear Secret Weapon pitch:  a gyro ball… um, changeup ... that dives under hitters' bats any time he likes
  • aura of complete unhittability, along with feature games that include perfectos, 1-0 wins in NY, etc

Had DiceK come over here, and given us 8 years' worth of Felix' baseballs in flight, he'd have been one of the great phenomena of all time.  Or ... suppose that Felix were lean, lanky, and "paused at the top" before every pitch... and then these pitches came out of his hand?  There you go.  DiceK.

Some folks won't take this as exactly a compliment, but to truly understand Felix you need to compare him to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, and Hisashi Iwakuma.   That's not Dr. D's love for NPB talking. The Japanese way is based on a six-headed hydra of offspeed pitches. It's based on confusion, on making it impossible for the batter to load up.

The only thing that keeps people from realizing that Felix is a Japanese-style pitcher is the fact that he physically looks like Roger Clemens.

It's one thing for a burned-out innings eater to throw slop, to throw junk, in an effort to cobble out one more season in the sun.  It's a different thing for a pitcher to truly attack with offspeed stuff.  The Japanese way is the future of baseball.  Justin Verlander is pitching this way now.  The two dominant AL starters are getting better and better, because they're getting more Japanese.

Once upon a time, the NFL thought that the Larry Csonka off-tackle run was The Coin of The Realm.  You block, you tackle better than the other team, you win, right?  You can't take blocking and tackling out of the equation... you'd lose the soul of the sport.

Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are giving the Mariners a sensational one-two punch, in part because their approaches are ahead of their time.  In America, the league is still clinging to the idea that The Fastball Is The Coin of the Realm.  The Mariners' pitchers are exploiting that untruth.  They're edgy, ahead of their time.


We have mentioned the Billy Beane complaint, " we get better swings off Pedro than we do off Jamie Moyer." The awesome change speed game creates games like tonight's, where the first hard hit ball is in the seventh inning.

Pedro combined the best of two worlds: Jamie Moyer's world and Roger Clemens' world. That's what Felix is doing, giving you the best of Japanese and Latin baseball.

His last four starts, he's got 31 innings, 35 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 2 runs allowed, total.  In sabermetric terms that's "Vintage Unit Territory."





He's asking out of games when he's not needed to save those pitch counts for the games where he needs to throw 125.
He's not throwing every fastball at max effort either...he's making you THINK he is, but then it's 90 mph one pitch and 95 the next...he is mixing speeds on the fastball both to save his arm AND to confuse the hitters (if you can lollygag your fastball sometimes and still get outs...you should)
You know who Felix is pitching like right now? Tom Seaver. He used to pile on the innings by doing exactly what Felix is doing...throwing easy pitches when he wasn't in trouble and much tougher pitches when he was...throwing hard only rarely, but using a motion that LOOKS max effort. Throwing multiple offspeed pitches that literally cannot go straight.
I think the real key to Felix' game is that his velocity curve is not one with neat separations that cluster...he can throw it any velo he wants. His curve ball is anywhere from lollipop speed (70-72) to yellow hammer speed (80-83) depending on what he's trying to do. Last night he lollipopped it several times on first pitches to steal strikes. His slider is anywhere from 83 to 92 mph (yes...92...that has happened a coupla times this year). His three different fastballs are 89-95 and the hardest one is actually his cutter (LOL!) His change-up is a relatively reliable 86-90 mph and it moves in insane ways.
Point is...you can't read curveball and know what the speed will be...you can't real fastball and know what the movement OR the speed will be...and you can't read change-up because he has such good arm action. So if you're a hitter facing him...what is your game plan? How do you take any of his pitches away from him?

okdan's picture

It just goes to show how smart Felix is. He didn't always pitch this way. Remember the days of trying to establish the fastball, culminating with USSM's letter to the pitching coach Chavez? That seems like a decade ago.
And here we are now, with Felix taking a super cerebral approach to the game. Of course it wouldn't be possible without his immense talent, but it just goes to show you that he's been proactively adapting his game and leveling up, even after he was already one of the best in the game. I love it.
And even though I already know it, it still blows my mind to remember he's just turned 27. Wow.

tjm's picture

What's weird about the letter (http://www.ussmariner.com/2007/06/27/an-open-letter-to-rafael-chaves/) is that Cameron's principle complaint wasn't that that Felix threw too many fastballs, it was that he started off the game throwing too many fastballs. You know what, in his perfecto he threw seven pitches in the first inning - six fastballs. In the second he threw ten pitches, seven fastballs. Not much has changed in his pitch selection. What has changed is his control of the fastball and the quality of his off-speed stuff, which right now is probably the best in baseball.
Barring injury, there is no reason he couldn't throw just like this for another dozen years.

Steen.'s picture

This isn't fair, at the time of the letter Felix's pitch selection, sequencing and specifically his macho bent with the FB were hurting him. His control is better, but he's not the same macho kid anymore, either.

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