Newham on moving up Felix

DMZ · January 30, 2005 at 11:20 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Ahhh, the Seattle Times. Blaine Newham’s column today advocates starting Felix.

If it were any other sport, Felix Hernandez would be penciled into this season’s starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners.

Hey, here’s the thing, and I’m not sure if you’re up on this… those other sports don’t have minor league systems. Football has a practice squad, that’s pretty much it. Basketball teams don’t have many levels of quality leagues they can advance prospects through.

Felix Hernandez will be 19 on April 8, the day the Mariners play the fourth game of the season against Texas at Safeco Field.

I’d hand Hernandez the ball. The fourth spot in the rotation is perfect for him, perfect for the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball, perfect for what may well be a once-in-a-decade talent.

The fourth spot? Why the fourth spot? Is there something about the fourth spot that makes it special — perfect — for a once-in-a-decade talent?

I’ve never understood the weird fixation on 1/2/3/4/5 “roles” as if those pitchers did different things. The ace v ace thing happens once at the start of the season and then everyone’s rotations drift apart. The #5 guy might be someone who can pitch out of the bullpen if you’re going to skip them when you can, but almost everyone sticks to a strict 5-man rotation now, so that’s not as important either. And for any given team, there are other considerations that tie into team construction, like G/F pitchers, L/R, whatever.

But all five starters have the same job. There’s no reason a pitcher that does well in the second slot would do worse in the third, or better in the fourth. The rotation slots are almost titles. They have no effect on a pitcher’s ability to perform.

There might be, frankly, less pressure on him knowing he was in the big leagues than there would be on him trying to get there from Tacoma, especially on a cold, rainy night.

What? How… what?

And then — it’s not important.

What’s bizarre aboutt his article is that the Mariners come off, organizationally, as well-prepared and intelligent. They’ve considered the possibility that he’s going to light it up in spring training. They want to continue to closely monitor his usage, and protect his health. They don’t want to rush him.

Yet here’s Newham arguing, who’s convinced that King Felix should be the #4 starter (again, why #4?) based on… I don’t know what, a quick persual of the stat lines and a read-through of a Baseball America profile (or our site, possibly). He’ll mention arbitration, etc, without really touching on why that’s important (King Felix facing free agency in, say, five years at *24* with his best years likely still way ahead of him) and what issues declaring him the starter right now creates for the team.

“Why won’t you put Felix Hernandez in the starting rotation?”
“Well, Blaine, that may happen, but there are a couple of excellent reasons why we’re reluctant to do that.”
“You and your excellent reasons! I’m going to go write a column that shows you’re taking a responsible and reasonable approach! And I’ll argue against it!”
“Um, okayyyy….”


58 Responses to “Newham on moving up Felix”

  1. Paul Weaver on February 1st, 2005 12:57 am

    Sad thing about these Seattle Times writers is that they are going to make the cut in the upcoming lay-offs due to their seniority.

    But Newham has a point: if he’s ready, he’s ready. If his mechanics are fine, why not put field a team that could win some games.

    If Piniero returns to form, and Madritsch pitches as well as he did last year, a third starter who excels would make this a playoff team. What good does Felix do us dominating in the minors?

    Now that I’ve taken Newham’s side, yes, comparisons to sports not baseball are asinine. The 4-spot thing was odd. I don’t get why striking out Tim Salmon during his rehab assignment is such a feat.

    We’d all hate to see Felix brought up too soon, but the flip side of the argument is that he is held down when he could have been contributing. He could also be brought into the fold as a long reliever much as Franklin or Piniero were, or how David Cone or Orel Hershiser broke in. Of course…none of them were teens – it all depends on his development, and I’m glad M’s management will be weighing all the factors, making the decisions, rather than Newham.

  2. Paul Weaver on February 1st, 2005 12:59 am

    Gah, I spelled his name wrong too!

  3. Joseph on February 1st, 2005 4:08 am

    It used to be that we thought 300 innings was a lot. Then, we thought 200 innings was a lot. Now, 150-180 is too much for some, and 100 IP is the magic number for Felix.

    Why not 20 IP? Where’d we get 100 from as the safe number of innings. Seriously. Why is 20 safe, or 200 safe? Isn’t 200 just a number we pulled out of our ears? Isn’t it newblown-snow-pure assumption?

    Here’s another question. Would an overhand curve ball be more stressful on your arm if thrown in AAA than it would be in the majors? What’s the evidence as to whether 150 innings in Tacoma is more or less dangerous than 150 innings in Seattle?

    Do we have any clue whatsoever what is safer for Felix and what is more dangerous, aside from the fact that we don’t like high pitch counts?

  4. RealRhino on February 1st, 2005 10:27 am

    #50. I could be wrong, but I think one train of thought on the stress of AAA vs. MLB is that because the hitters are less likely to get on base and score runs on him in AAA, he will face fewer batters per game — and thus fewer pitchers per outing — in AAA. (Note that the pitch count could be the same, but these factors play against each other. If he was held to a pitch count of 100 in MLB, for example, then he presumably wouldn’t go as many innings, meaning the bullpen is taxed more and he becomes 80% as effective as a lesser pitcher who could go 7 innings each time out). That might be the basic deal here. What it comes down to is that the games don’t count in the minors the same as in MLB. You can worry more about progress and protection from injury than you can about winning that night’s game.

  5. John on February 1st, 2005 11:52 am

    RE: $ 25 I think that the reason that the Ms are protective of FELIX, and weren’t protective of others–such as RYAN ANDERSON–is that with others (such as Ryan Anderson), they learned their lesson, and are not about to blow it again.
    BTW, IIRC the reason that Felix does not throw his vaunted slider is that the Ms will not let him. They don’t want to risk an arm injury.

  6. Bill Creech on February 1st, 2005 9:41 pm

    I have read both the PI and the Times sports since the mid-fifties and I can assure you that Blaine Newnham is a much better than average newspaper columnist. Is he a baseball guy? Probably not, but I am sure that he talked with knowledgable baseball guys before writing this column. Here is what he is saying:

    Felix Hernandez is ready for the majors. Tell him he is part of the team and let him work on getting ready for the season. If you do not do this and let him have Spring Training with the big team he might try too hard to make the team and hurt himself.

    Everyone seems to be worried about Felix throwing too many innings in the regular season, but that is controlable. Might he overthrow in Spring Training to make the team? I don’t know, but it is an interesting point.

  7. John on February 26th, 2005 2:10 am

    Re: many comments, especially part of 6 – HALAMA & MOYER.

  8. John on February 26th, 2005 2:26 am

    [rest of # 57] Tidbits: Halama’s best minor league game–the PCL’s first perfect game–was pitched while Moyer was in Seattle. Halama’s best Major League game–that 6-inning SO against the Yanks in the 2000 playoffs (the one that Arthur Lee coughed up)–was thrown when Moyer was on the DL.