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Entries in Felix Hernandez (13)

Sunday
May052013

The Buchholz enigma - Strikeouts: Looking vs. Swinging and Missing

As I was reading David Golebiewski's dive into the Clay Buchholz controversy, it got me wondering about strikeouts - what does a swinging strikeout tell us versus a looking at a called third strike strikeout?

A pair of positives come to mind: 

  • A pitcher who is getting swings and misses obviously has nasty stuff that is often in the strike zone, but too difficult to hit.
  • A pitcher who is getting batters to take a third strike is obviously throwing a good mix of stuff, changing locations and speed, and working the black. 

And a pair of negatives come to mind: 

  • A pitcher who is getting misses is inducing swings and anytime a swing happens, well as the expression goes "other things" can happen as well.
  • A pitcher who is getting batters to take pitches, you are umpire dependent and control dependent, meaning if the control is off, as the expression goes other things can happen as well. 

2012 AL Starters (minimum 30 starts)

As I looked at the AL strikeout elite last season, I found that the top pitchers had significantly more whiffs swinging than looking. 

It's interesting to note that two Rays pitchers had the most called third strikes and among the smallest differentials: Cy Young Award winner David Price had just 37 and Jamies Shields, now of the Royals, had 95.

Among pitchers with with at least 100 swings and miss whiffs, Ricky Romero had the fewest call third strikes with just 18. Based on his lack of success it obvious that batters wanted to swing at Romero's pitches.

Take a look at the the 2012 totals

2013 AL Starters (minimum 5 starts entering action on May 5)

 

  • Yu Darvish is dazzling batters who are unable to make contact with his pitches.
  • Scherzer and Felix are dominating once again.
  • Anibal Sanchez as we all know has been dominant.
  • Maybe under appreciated are Ryan Dempster and Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • David Price is doing what he did last season in strikeouts but is his minimal differential a reflection of his 6.25 ERA?

 

The Buchholz enigma

That brings us to the case of Clay Buchholz, who is way down on the swing and miss list, but through the roof on called third strikes.

 

  • Conspiracists in the Jack Morris camp would say, Buchholz' pitches are moving funny and are not being read well by batters.
  • Red Sox Nation would say, Buchholz' mix of pitches and sharp control are simply freezing batters as he replicates the success of Price last season.

 

After all is said and done, the numbers indicate the efficacy of pitchers getting batters to swing and miss versus take a called third strike. But you can't argue with success of the outliers: Price and Buchholz.

Time will tell, but I look forward to hearing what you think of the Buchholz enigma.

Sunday
Feb102013

Will King Felix Be Like Tom Terrific, Or Doc Gooden?

Felix Hernandez has been historically excellent as a youngster, ranking 15th all-time in Wins Above Replacement among starting pitchers through age 26. He also has a lot of mileage on his golden right arm. Hernandez has thrown 1,620 innings in the majors so far, the highest total for an Expansion-Era pitcher through age 26 since Dwight Gooden tossed 1,713 frames from 1984-1991.

With Hernandez on the verge of signing a contract extension that will keep him in Seattle through the 2019 season at a cool $175 million, it's worth asking: How have other pitching phenoms fared in their later years? Do they keep on racking up Cy Youngs, or do they crash and burn? Unfortunately, the answer isn't nearly that neat and tidy. History suggests that Felix could be anything from an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer to a guy who has to buy his own ticket into Cooperstown.

Using Baseball-Reference's Player Index tool, I made a list of Expansion-Era starting pitchers who accumulated between 25 and 35 Wins Above Replacement through their age-26 seasons. Hernandez has 31.5 through age 26, so these guys were in the same ballpark as the King. Here's the list, with WAR totals before and after age 26:

You can't get a much wider range of outcomes than this. Tom Seaver remained a workhorse into his early forties. So did Roger Clemens, either through a Nolan Ryan-esque work ethic or a willingness to turn himself into a science experiment, depending upon whom you ask. Pedro dominated into his early thirties before breaking down physically.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jim Maloney suffered numerous shoulder and arm injuries before tearing his Achilles trying to leg out a hit. He threw his last pitch at age 31. Dean Chance lost his fastball and was out of the game at age 30. Doc Gooden was done as a durable, productive starter by 28, though he hung around through injury and substance abuse problems long enough to throw a no-hitter and capture a pair of World Series rings with the Yankees.

Will King Felix's career turn out like Tom Terrific's, or Doc Gooden's (minus the legal run-ins)? I have no idea, but that's the $175 million question.

Sunday
Feb102013

With Improved Fastball Command, Felix Still King

Not since the days of Roger Clemens, Doc Gooden and Bret Saberhagen has a starting pitcher had as good of a start to his career as Felix Hernandez. But the curly-haired teenager throwing upper 90s gas who debuted with the Mariners back in 2005 would scarcely recognize the crafty 26-year-old who's set to sign a contract extension that will pay him the highest average annual salary ($27.1 million) ever for a pitcher. King Felix's fastball no longer sizzles toward home plate, but he has extended his reign with improved command of the pitch.

Hernandez's fastball averaged 94.4 miles per hour at the beginning of the Pitch F/X era in 2008, a mark bested only by Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana among qualified starting pitchers. Last year, Felix's average velocity with both his four-seam fastball and sinker was 92.4 MPH -- just a tick above the 91.2 MPH average for right-handers. Yet, batters didn't really do all that much more damage against Hernandez's fastball last year (.410 slugging percentage) than they did in 2008 (.396).

How has Felix remained so effective with seemingly run-of-the-mill velocity? By hitting his spots. He's throwing fewer fastballs over the heart of the plate as he makes the transition from flame-thrower to marksman:

Hernandez's percentage of fastballs thrown over the horizontal middle of the plate, 2008-12

2008: 22.9%

2009: 22.4%

2010: 23.4%

2011: 20.3%

2012: 19.8%

MLB AVG for SP: 23.6%

Fastballs left over the middle of the plate tend to get thumped (batters slugged .502 last year) and Felix's is no exception (.525 opponent slugging percentage), so avoiding that spot is key. Few did a better job of that in 2012: Dan Haren (19.6%), Doug Fister (19.5%), Jason Vargas (19.1%), Tommy Milone (18.9%), and Jeremy Hellickson (18.5%) were the only AL starters who threw a lower percentage of fastballs over the horizontal middle of the plate.

King Felix, power pitcher, is dead. Long live King Felix, command-and-control artist.