Monday, November 10, 2008

2008 Review: Felix Hernandez

The pitching rotation, while presumably a weakness back in the spring, now is actually shaping up to be the team's biggest strength going into '09 year, thanks to the emergence of guys like Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow. Example #332,659 why throwing $48 million at one pitcher and gutting the farm system for another is a stupid, stupid idea.

Anyway, let's get on to the reviews, separated into three categories: the good, the bad/ugly, and what to expect going forward. All stats are provided courtesy of Fangraphs and StatCorner.

Felix Hernandez

The Good: His traditional stats suggest that Felix has taken another step forward: 3.45 ERA, 175 strikeouts, and a slightly lower home run rate. Also, he hit a grand slam off Johan Santana, further cementing his awesomeness. However....

The Bad: ....his peripheral stats suggest that his progress has at best stagnated, and at worst has regressed. Felix's walk rate was way up (3.59 BB/9, compared with 2.51 from '07), his FIP was slightly up (3.80 from 3.75), and his tRA was up as well (4.45 from 4.02). What is most concerning is his severe drop in groundballs, as this chart demonstrates:

That's an 8% drop in groundballs (from 60% to 52%) and a sharp rise in flyballs (23% to 29%). That is a problem.

What could be the culprit? After watching him for most of the year, and looking at the data, the answer should be obvious: Felix throws too many damn fastballs. Fangraphs has him throwing the fastball 65.9% of the time, compared to 57%. The fastball also happens to be his worst pitch, as it is the one with the least movement on it. In other words, Felix has too much confidence in his fastball. The batters know this, and they're sitting on it, which can partially explain those annoying early-inning jams he always seems to get himself into.

Going forward: With all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I have admittedly succumbed to, it's easy to forget that Felix is still only 22, and has already had a better start to his career than many HOF pitchers had (Randy Johnson, anyone?). With that in mind, he still has much to learn about the game and some maturing left to do.

The ceiling on King Felix is literally endless, and we've seen brief, fleeting glimpses of what he's really capable off. When Felix is mixing his pitches and hitting his spots, there is not a single batter in the world that can touch him. It's just a matter of him trusting his stuff more. Don't be afraid to throw pitches that bend, Felix.

I was planning on using this one post to cover the whole rotation, but Felix's entry alone was large enough that I'm letting it stand alone. I'll cover the rest of the rotation tomorrow.

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