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Entries in Felix Hernandez (13)


#RoyalPerfection in a Heatmap


Chasing King Felix's Changeup

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:

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. changeups, 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:

Lefty hitters' swing rate by location vs. Felix's changeup, 2011

Lefties lunged at 42% of Felix's out-of-zone changeups. That's a high number, but righties were downright giddy by comparison:

 Righty hitters' swing rate by location vs. Felix's changeup, 2011

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.


Felix is good, he's just not a king this season

When a pitcher goes 13-12 one season and then 14-12 the next, you presume you are either dealing with a knuckleballer or a pretty average pitcher. You would be wrong in both cases when that pitcher is the Mariners' Felix Hernandez. Last season, King Felix had a groundbreaking season by virtue of his winning the Cy Young Award despite his .520 winning percentage. Yes, his 2.27 ERA was outstanding, but voters really started paying attention to stats such as WHIP (1.957), hits per 9 innings (7.0), and Quality Start percentage (88%).

This season, Felix is still pitching for the last-place Mariners, and his winning percentage has "leaped" to .538 but, Hernandez is not the dominant force he was last year. Truth be told there are many stats that are so close it's hard to see the reason why. His strikeout to walk ratio is the same 3.31. His strikeouts per 9 innings are actually up from 8.4 to 8.9. His WHIP is still a very good 1.173. And while he led the league last season with a 6.2 WAR, his 5.0 WAR is still good for seventh in the league this year.

For me, the biggest difference this season is in his batting average against which is still a .237 figure that other pitchers would envy, but it's up .025 from last season. The right hander is up against righties, .212 to to .236, and up against lefties, .213 to .238.

In terms of Felix's pitches, the biggest difference is in his use of his fastball and his changeup:

  • In 2010 - 25.0% of his pitches were fastballs and 15.9% were changeups
  • In 2011 - 17.1% of his pitches are fastballs and 22.0% are changeups

The differential is even larger against lefties:

  • In 2010 - 30.9% of his pitches against lefties were fastballs and 15.9% were changeups
  • In 2011 - 17.4% of his pitches against lefties are fastballs and 22.9% are changeups

Felix's fastball is not as effective this season

The difference for Felix in his fastball this season is significant as he is not busting that pitch inside and tying up batters, but is letting that fastball get to the fat part of the bat.

Here is the 2010 fastball against leftiesLefties hit .191 against the fastball in 2010.

The 2011 fastball against leftiesYou can see why lefties are hitting .295 against Felix's fastball this season as his location has spread all over the plate.

Felix's fastball against righties in 2010Righthanded batters were held to .154 in 2010.

Felix's fastball against righties in 2011Felix's numbers against righties are still a great .186 this season by any measure except when comparing him to last season.

When you look at Hernandez' release velocity, in both years  you see large red blobs on the heat map, so I don't think there is much difference in the speed of his fastball, but we can clearly see the story this year is placement and because of that, there's no reason to think that we won't see a repeat of 2010 next season.