Felix Hernandez kicked off his eighth season in the majors (has it really been that long?) in fine form in Tokyo on Wednesday, striking out six, walking none and surrendering one run in eight innings pitched. King Felix recorded three K's with his changeup, including two of the swinging variety against Seth Smith and Yoenis Cespedes.
The soon-to-be-26-year-old gets most of his whiffs with the changeup, racking up 86 of his 222 K's (39 percent) last year. Felix throws the changeup to lefties (23%) and righties (21%) about the same amount, and batters from both sides can't help expanding their zones when Hernandez takes a little off.
First, here's the average swing rate by pitch location for changeups in 2011:
Overall, hitters chased changeups out of the zone about 37% of the time in 2011. Now, look at hitters' chase rate versus Felix's change last year. First, lefties:
Lefties lunged at 42% of Felix's out-of-zone changeups. That's a high number, but righties were downright giddy by comparison:
Right-handers chased 55% of Felix's changeups off the plate.
With a 47% overall changeup chase rate, Hernandez trailed just Roy Halladay, Kyle Lohse, Doug Fister and Carl Pavano among MLB starters. And with a .211 slugging percentage against the pitch, Felix placed second in the majors behind Ricky Romero. Felix has four other plus pitches in his arsenal, too, but his chase-worthy changeup might be his biggest weapon.