Charting Felix

Dave · May 17, 2006 at 10:53 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

First Inning

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”.

Second Inning

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.

Third Inning

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.


65 Responses to “Charting Felix”

  1. Thingray on May 17th, 2006 4:09 pm

    I don’t think Felix’s issue has anything to do with the catchers. He seems to have the same struggles regardless of who is catching.

    I think most of it has to do with him being 20. When you come up that young, there are going to be some struggles.

  2. Gomez on May 17th, 2006 4:21 pm

    Breaking pitches don’t mess up your elbow unless your mechanics are screwed up… oh wait.

    Well, by that logic, then throwing fastballs is bad for Felix’s elbow as well. In fact, throwing is bad for Felix’s elbow. Thus I advise that Felix not throw pitches, ever again 😛

  3. Bender on May 17th, 2006 4:22 pm

    True, I mean look how Doc Gooden struggled when he was 20.

  4. John in L.A. on May 17th, 2006 4:50 pm

    53 – there is a reason Gooden at 20 is an exception, not the rule.

  5. Bender on May 17th, 2006 4:52 pm

    Humor, man…humor.

  6. Frozenropers on May 17th, 2006 4:55 pm

    #48, “Pitching well” as you say it, comes from having command of your pitches and being able to throw strikes. If you can’t consistently command your pitches, then you aren’t going to be able to consistently throw strikes…..and if you can’t consistently throw strikes then you are going to consistently be pitching from behind in the count. As Dave said, last year in the majors was one of the first times Felix was able to consistently command his fastball and he was extremely success, even at the young age of 19, at getting major league hitters out, because of it.

    ….and No, it is not a “circular arguement”, its one of the most basic elements of successful pitching. You must be able to command your pitches, especially/primarily your fastball to be successfull in the majors.

  7. Thingray on May 17th, 2006 5:00 pm

    I’ll take Felix’s struggles at 20 in exchange for him having a LONG and succesful career (rather than tearing up the league at 20 like Doc, and then flaming out early!).

    Having said that, I want to see him dominate again like he did last year! Man, was that fun to watch!

  8. DavidE on May 17th, 2006 5:08 pm

    My theory is that management doesn’t want him throwing too many curveballs and his changeup was stinky (technical term) while warming up so he didn’t want to throw it. Pure theory, idle speculation. If I’m right (probably not) than I REALLY don’t understand why you would want your young stud pitching without his best pitch at his disposal? Maybe they’re trying to get him to be more ummm….say it with me…”gritty”?

  9. John in L.A. on May 17th, 2006 5:19 pm

    55 – sorry, man, missed it.

    56 – I didn’t say command was unimportant, I was saying that pitching better leads to being ahead in the count, not the other way around.

    And he has been dominating, even without fantasic control. I agree it’s important, but i don’t see it as the big difference between the Felix we’re seeing and the Felix we’ve seen.

  10. Paul Covert on May 17th, 2006 6:14 pm

    I agree [control is] important, but I don’t see it as the big difference between the Felix we’re seeing and the Felix we’ve seen.

    For another perspective on Felix’s struggles, I turned to the Hardball Times pitching stats.

    What I found there was that, for all his struggles this year, he still ranks fifth best, among 54 qualifying AL pitchers, in THT’s “ultimate stat” of xFIP– that is, Fielding-Independent Pitching, adjusted according to the Ron Shandler hypothesis that (home runs / fly balls) may tend to even out over time. (The top 10 in the category are Bonderman, Kazmir, Santana, Halladay, Felix, Haren, Escobar, Schilling, Mussina, and Westbrook– not a bad group to be associated with.)

    Now, the xFIP number is based on three key inputs: K/9, BB/9, and GB%. Of those, Felix is (even with his struggles this year) one of the best in K/9 (#3/54) and in GB% (#5/54). He’s a little worse than average in BB/9 (#35/54), but not enough to drag him down much.

    But in the HR/Fly category, Felix’s 25.9% ranks dead last in the league, about double the normal figure. (He does have company, however; Pineiro’s 21.8% ranks as #52/54, with only Radke in between them among AL qualifiers.)

    When we turn to the DER stat– what percentage of his batted balls turn into outs, more or less– we again find Felix on the bottom of the stack, at .635. (His LD%, or Line Drive Percentage, is also a bit worse than average, at 20.3%.)

    What is this telling us, then? Are Felix’s current struggles just bad luck? Maybe partly so. But I’m not yet concluding that that’s the entire explanation. I tend to suspect that the Shandler Hypothesis (and maybe even the Voros) is more valid in describing “good luck” cases than “bad luck.” If a pitcher has .850 of his batted balls turning into outs, or with 98.5% of his fly balls staying in the yard, then I would hesitate to attribute that to skill– if that were the case, it would be a skill previously unseen in the major league game. But if forty percent of his balls in play become hits, or if thirty percent of his flies leave the yard, then yes, it’s relatively easy to imagine a natural explanation for it: The pitcher is just making too many mistakes, for whatever reason.

    So I think that Felix’s difficulties this year are real– but that they should be solvable.

  11. Murton on May 17th, 2006 7:40 pm

    Even if Felix isn’t reaching 97 consistently, his mid-90’s fastball should be more than enough. His stuff are breathtaking. In fact, it’s razor close to what Pedro Martinez had during his prime, the same three plus-plus pitches. I don’t understand why the comparison isn’t made more often. Despite their different builds and different batted ball tendencies, I can’t remember another pitcher other than Pedro who had three great pitches.

    It seems to me Felix hasn’t had many games this year where he’s had command of both his fastball and breaking pitches at the same time.

  12. tangotiger on May 17th, 2006 8:20 pm

    First off, Dave, thanks much for doing this work, and posting it. It’s data compilations like this that is needed.

    Paul/60: good job. It’s a rare combination to have a guy give up lots of HR and lots of GB! Note that the batting average on groundballs is higher than on flyballs (though the SLG average is higher on FB). So, getting a low DER for a severe GB pitcher is not unheard of. But it is extremely weird to have such a low DER with the quality of fielders he has at SS and 3B.

    What would be interesting is to track Felix’s balls in play, and see how many are “close”, or if the fielders simply didn’t have a chance.


  13. gwo on May 18th, 2006 3:48 am

    Felix Hernandez is a frontline major league starter.

  14. chindogu on May 18th, 2006 1:53 pm

    The idea that they’re trying to keep Felix from throwing curveballs has merit. Not because there’s any proof that curveballs are any worse for your arm than fastballs, but because there’s a perception that that is the case. It seems like every move the Mariners make is designed to keep them from appearing to be to blame; if they limit Felix to 100 pitches and 190 innings, and tell him to throw mostly fastballs, it’s not their fault if he gets hurt.

  15. Arkinese on May 18th, 2006 2:30 pm

    Thanks to Dave for his great stat-taking and analysis. When Felix gets shaken up (normal for a young pitcher) and wants to try to blaze his fastball by people (normal for a young pitcher whose fastball has been touted), he’s got to remember the three simple rules of pitching:

    1. Work fast
    2. Change speeds
    3. Location, location, location

    He struggles with #1 when he gets shook up; he bombed on #2 in Tuesday’s game and has in other games, particularly in early innings; #3 appears to be a problem only with the fastball (though it got better last year when he came up).

    So, if his fastball location needs some work (which several of us have agreed will get better with age and practice in the majors), then he’s got to focus on his offspeed location, changing his speeds regularly and working fast both when he’s doing well and a bit shook up.

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