So, last night, I decided to chart King Felix’s pitches. We’ve heard a lot of scuttlebutt over pitch selection, location, mechanics, velocity, and what have you, so I busted out the ultimate geekery and tracked each pitch. Well, until mlb.TV died after it was 8-1, anyways. But, I got the first 73 pitches and the bulk of his suckitude, so here’s what I saw.
Felix was clearly looking to establish the fastball. He threw first pitch fastballs to five of the six hitters he faced, and all three baserunners reached on fastballs. He wasn’t missing his spots, and his stuff looked fine, but he wasn’t mixing his pitches at all. My comment in the game thread after that inning: “Throw more offspeed stuff, Felix”.
This is where you see the A’s approach made plainly obvious; see fastball and swing. Felix got through the inning with just 9 pitches thrown, 8 of them fastballs, but the A’s were jumping on the first straight pitch they saw. They swung at 6 of the 9 pitches he threw. It made for a quick three-up, three-down second inning, but the tone was clear; they were all looking dead-red every at-bat, and they were going to jump on the first fastball they saw.
Ellis leads off the third by hitting the first pitch of the inning into left field. It was, naturally, a fastball. At this point, I’m openly pleading for offspeed stuff. Swisher fouls out after fighting off a bunch of fastballs, and then Felix has his best pitch sequence of the game to Eric Chavez. Change-up, Curve, Curve, Change, Change, Curve. Strikeout. All three strikes were looking. Chavez was clearly looking to hit the first fastball he saw 450 feet, but he never saw one. And he walked back to the dugout with a wimper. Then the floodgates opened.
Crosby reached on Beltre’s error, swinging at the second pitch he saw (shockingly, a fastball). Payton got an infield single on a curve that was just a lucky high hop. Then, the Melhuse at-bat. Melhuse fouls off a fastball, Felix misses with two pitches, and then, on a 2-1 count, bases loaded, where everyone and their mother knows he’s throwing a fastball, Melhuse gets one at the belt and launches it. Just a terrible pitch in so many ways. Melhuse has been swinging at every fastball he sees, and he’s a terrible breaking ball hitter. Compound that by leaving it up, and well, that’s recipe for disaster.
Kendall ended the inning by looping out to short on a change-up. Two pitches too late.
By then, the damage was done – Felix just went out there throwing frisbees in the fourth, and they continued to tee off on the fastball.
The A’s had a painfully obvious plan; hit fastballs, don’t swing at curves or change-ups. And Felix pitched directly into that plan. Of the first 73 pitches that I charted before mlb.TV got cut off, 68 percent were fastballs, 20 percent were curves, and 12 percent were change-ups. He threw first pitch fastballs to 20 of the 26 batters he faced.
His problem last night wasn’t command, mechanics, or stuff. He had the normal 2006 Felix package working. He just had a bad gameplan. The pitch selection was brutal. When I can call the next pitch coming with almost 90 percent accuracy sitting at home, you have to know the A’s were as dialed in to what was coming as I was.
I don’t know who is responsible. Felix has had this problem with both Johjima and Rivera, so I don’t think its the catchers. He didn’t shake off many pitches, but it might be time to start. My guess is that its a coaching philosophy to establish the fastball and work the breaking balls in for strikeouts. Personally, I think that philosophy is wrong.
Felix’s 95 MPH fastball is his worst pitch. If he figures out how to dial it back up to 98 like he had last year, great, feature the fastball. But right now, he can’t get it by hitters when they know its coming, so he needs to mix his pitches better. He needs to exploit hitter’s flaws. Chavez is a fastball hitter, and he got nothing but breaking balls. It was brilliant. The rest of the line-up, though, saw fastballs all day long.
How do you fix it? Felix has to learn how to pitch. I don’t know how to teach that. I’m a blogger – thats not my job. Hopefully, Rafael Chaves can instill some words of wisdom about gameplan and approach into the King’s ear. Because, when he’s throwing fastballs that often, he’s hardly royalty.