An Open Letter To Rafael Chaves

Dave · June 27, 2007 at 8:51 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Mr. Chaves,

By most accounts, your reputation among pitching coaches in the organization is second to none. People talk about your great rapport with the guys on the staff, especially Felix, and your willingness to listen in an attempt to make sure you get the best out of the guys on your staff.

So, I’m appealing to that second virtue – the ability to listen. I know, I’m just a fan, a guy who watches games from thousands of miles away, and I have no contact with the guys in the locker room. But I think, if you’re willing to hear me out, you might find that what I have to say is of interest to you.

You have a couple of 21-year-old kids in your rotation right now, the younger of which is the prize of the organization and the best arm the team has ever developed. Felix Hernandez, we all recognize, has limitless potential. His stuff is top notch, and his level of major league success at his age is extremely rare in the history of baseball.

However, there are still stretches where Felix looks eminently hittable, especially at the beginning of games. Last night, we saw another example of this, where the first four batters reached base and the Red Sox had scored a run and loaded the bases before the Mariners were able to record an out. This has been a common theme all year, as Felix is allowing a .370 batting average in the first inning, and it’s actually unusual for him to get out of the first inning without already being behind.

Now, I know that you guys believe that his struggles are directly related to his command, or lack thereof. When he keeps his fastball down and gets ahead in the count, he does fine, but he struggles when he falls behind hitters and leaves the fastball up at the belt. There’s no doubt that if Felix could just put his fastball in better spots, he’d be significantly more successful.

But he can’t.

Felix’s command of his fastball has never consistently been there. He didn’t have fastball command in Everett, Wisconsin, Inland Empire, San Antonio, or Tacoma, and he doesn’t have it in Seattle. At this point in his development, he’s simply not able to repeatedly put his fastball where he wants it. We all hope that his command improves as he gets more experience, but it could take him years to learn how to spot his fastball. It may never happen. It certainly won’t happen overnight.

This team needs Felix to be better in 2007 than he has been. Since it’s unlikely that you can fix his command before his next start, there has to be another way you can help Felix get over his first inning struggles. Thankfully, I believe there is. It’s pitch selection.

Last night (6/26), Felix threw 10 straight fastballs to start the game. Coco Crisp singled on an 0-2 fastball. Dustin Pedroia singled on the first pitch he saw, a pitch he knew was going to be a fastball. David Ortiz drew a four pitch walk, all on fastballs. The bases were loaded with nobody out after 8 pitches, all fastballs.

In his previous start against the Pirates (6/21), Felix threw 13 consecutive fastballs to start the game. Those 13 pitches turned into 5 outs, as the Pirates hitters aren’t very good.

In the start against Houston (6/15), he threw 7 straight fastballs to start the game, tossed in a hanging slider to Carlos Lee, and then threw four more fastballs. 12 of his first 13 pitches of the game were fastballs. The Astros went 3 for 4 off Felix in the first inning.

In the start against San Diego (6/10), he threw 7 straight fastballs to start the game, which resulted in a leadoff walk to Marcus Giles and a first pitch strike to Jose Cruz Jr. He then went change-up, fastball, slider, curve and got Cruz to ground out back to the mound.

In the start against Baltimore, he actually threw a slider on the second pitch, getting a called strike and leading to an 0-2 count. He then threw a fastball that got ripped for a double.

Through extensive charting of the games Felix pitches in, supplemented by the data culled from MLB Advanced Media’s Pitch F/X system, it has become apparent that Felix throws an extraordinary amount of fastballs in the first ten pitches of each game. In June, here are his pitch selections by game date:

Pitch	6/26	6/21	6/15	6/10	6/4	FB%
1	FB	FB	FB	FB	FB	100%
2	FB	FB	FB	FB	SL	80%
3	FB	FB	FB	FB	FB	100%
4	FB	FB	FB	FB	FB	100%
5	FB	FB	FB	FB	FB	100%
6	FB	FB	FB	FB	SL	80%
7	FB	FB	FB	FB	SL	80%
8	FB	FB	SL	SL	CH	40%
9	FB	FB	FB	FB	CH	80%
10	FB	FB	FB	SL	FB	80%

10 straight fastballs last night. 10 straight fastballs the start before. 9 out of 10 in the start before that. The game against Baltimore on 6/4 is the massive outlier, where he went to the breaking ball early after giving up a lead-off double against, what else, an 0-2 fastball. And it worked, as he gave up just a Nick Markakis single the rest of the inning.

This is taking “establish the fastball” to an entirely different level. This is predictability beyond comprehension, and every team in baseball has caught on. Felix put four guys on base by chucking fastballs last night, then struck out J.D. Drew with four consecutive offspeed pitches.

You’re the pitching coach. You have a 21-year-old pitcher who badly needs coaching. Intervene. Take over control of the pitch selection to start the game. Make Felix throw a change-up or a curve ball to the first batter. Throw a first pitch slider in the first inning.

What you’re letting him do is simply not working. By throwing nothing but fastballs to the first several batters of the game, every game, he’s asking hitters to come to the plate and sit on a straight, high velocity pitch that they know they’re going to get. Is it any wonder the league is hitting .370 off Felix Hernandez in the first inning?

Pitch selection won’t fix Felix’s command, and it won’t make him a Cy Young contender. Command is a problem, but so is his pitch selection. You can fix the latter.


93 Responses to “An Open Letter To Rafael Chaves”

  1. joser on June 27th, 2007 11:58 am

    You know how fans put up “K”’s whenever their pitcher records a strike out? Why not show up with signs that say “FB”. Everytime he throws a fastball, put up a “FB” sign.

    Actually, to be really effective with that you’d put up 8 or 10 FB signs to start the first inning and then put big red checkmarks beside them as the fastballs come in. You might keep an “x” around too to put up as a reward on the odd chance he doesn’t throw one.

    However, from any location where they let you hang signs like that, it’s going to be awfully hard to correctly judge the pitches (unless you’re getting info relayed by cell or something). Of course you could just do it blind — so far this season, you wouldn’t have been wrong very much.

  2. bhsmarine on June 27th, 2007 12:02 pm

    Most players are also seeing Morrow for the first time. They haven’t seen his release point, arm angle, or the movement on the fastball. By now most hitters have seen Felix and know his fastball is the pitch to wait.

    36- Doesn’t Zumaya throw 100 consistantly?

  3. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on June 27th, 2007 12:12 pm

    Dave probably knows the Mariner email extension, and maybe even Rafael’s personal address based on that, and has better ways of getting messages nobody will listen to to the team if he chooses. But here’s something from the Answer guy from back in ’03:

    “E-mail sent to is forwarded to individual players. It is, of course, up to the player to respond.” Maybe Chaves will get something sent here . . that he will promptly delete without reading.

  4. chuckm792 on June 27th, 2007 12:13 pm

    Since his injury, Felix’s fastball has not consistantly been in the 96-98 MPH zone, it’s been more in the 94-96 MPH area.

  5. williebfan on June 27th, 2007 12:19 pm

    They all seem to know that Morrow can’t throw strikes.

  6. Doc Baseball on June 27th, 2007 12:27 pm

    Morrows fastball is 94-95 when thrown for a strike. Felix throws his 96-98. To throw a fastball 4 mph faster than Felix you’d have to throw 100-104. That person hasn’t been born.

    Felix’s velocity has been down since his layoff. Morrow is throwing 95-97, with movement, and also beginning to get hit more.

    There are guys who throw 100+.

    Straight 4-seamers of any velocity when they can be anticipated can be hit by major leaguers.

    I think the argument is that his command is off and his pitch selection is too predictable. The fact that Morrow is getting hit less than Felix does not prove that Felix’s only or primary issue is command, or that somehow Felix’s stuff is bad, or that pitch selection is irrelevant.

  7. johnb on June 27th, 2007 12:30 pm

    “To throw a fastball 4 mph faster than Felix you’d have to throw 100-104. That person hasn’t been born.”

    That person was born November 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa. You might have heard of him, his name was Bob Feller.

  8. Nuss on June 27th, 2007 12:39 pm

    A wise man once said — who knows who it was at this point — that pitching is all about disrupting the hitters timing, however you can do it. It’s how guys like Randy Johnson and Jaime Moyer can both be successful. If you know what’s coming, with few exceptions (Joel Zumaya, Mariano Rivera for years, etc.) it doesn’t much matter how fast the pitch is coming. Major League hitters will hit it.

    It’s why Felix fixing his pitch selection could help him be more successful. It’s not going to solve all his problems, but sometimes good pitch selection — see Weaver, Jeff — can cover a lot of deficiencies.

  9. Nuss on June 27th, 2007 12:40 pm

    And if he gets his stuff back in the meantime … watch out.

  10. kenshabby on June 27th, 2007 12:45 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s possible to make a more compelling case. Very good piece. It’s amazing what a bit o’ logic can do. Let’s just hope someone’s listening.

  11. Steve Nelson on June 27th, 2007 12:51 pm

    A wise man once said — who knows who it was at this point — that pitching is all about disrupting the hitters timing, however you can do it.

    Warren Spahn: “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing. “

  12. joser on June 27th, 2007 1:08 pm

    You might have heard of him, his name was Bob Feller.

    And he’s one of only four guys since 1900 to start and win an Opening Day game before his 21st birthday (in 1939). The others? Chief Bender in 1905, Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, and Felix this year.

    Let’s not forget how young this kid is, and how much he can still learn. Fortunately, this kind of thing is pretty easy, as long as the people involved want to learn it.

  13. Doc Baseball on June 27th, 2007 1:19 pm

    The winningest southpaw of all-time also had another well-known quote that is relevant here:

    “A pitcher needs two pitches, one they’re looking for and one to cross them up.”

  14. Nuss on June 27th, 2007 1:38 pm

    61 — Thanks for the assist.

  15. Rick L on June 27th, 2007 1:42 pm

    Great letter, Dave. I hope he gets to read it.

  16. metz123 on June 27th, 2007 1:42 pm

    Felix was consistently 96-98 last night. There are guys who can bring it at 100MPH. Zumaya is one, however he doesn’t bring it 100-104. There hasn’t ever been a pitcher that has brought it at 100-104. There have been guys that touched 102, there have been guys that could consistently hit 100.

    By the way, just how fast was Feller’s legendary fastball? Well, the Air Force clocked its speed using an early radar gun in 1946 and decided that his best pitch of the day topped out at 109 mph. Take that as you will, but no pitcher since has been clocked higher than 103 mph.

  17. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 2:30 pm

    Steve Dalkowski. That’s all.

  18. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 2:34 pm

    I wouldn’t trust a radar gun from 1946, especially to measure a pitch.

    Also, Zumaya is a reliever, not a starter. Bad comp. Felix at his hardest (97-100) is about as hard as a starter is going to throw.

  19. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 2:39 pm

    RJ could deal some heat back in the day. No idea what his average was though. What about Nolan Ryan?

    The greatest reliably recorded speed at which a baseball has been pitched is 100.9 mph by Lynn Nolan Ryan (California Angels) at Anaheim Stadium in California on August 20, 1974.

    I’m sure someone’s thrown harder than that, but the human body can’t really handle more than. The stadium guns pick up 100+ mph pitches sometimes, from the lieks of Zumaya, Felix, Verlander (last year), etc. Somehow I just don’t trust the guns used for the TV broadcasts. I’m not sure what the fastest pitch Gameday has picked up is.

  20. Dave on June 27th, 2007 2:43 pm

    Gameday had Felix hitting 100 on opening day.

    The hardest thrower in professional baseball is probably a kid most have never heard of – Jason Neighborgall. He throws a legit 101, has popped 102 at times. But his command? It’s, uhh, not good.

    2006, rookie ball: 13 IP, 11 H, 46 BB, 15 K
    2007, low-A ball: 1 IP, 3 H, 12 BB, 2 K

    He also threw something like 20 wild pitches and hit another 15 guys last year. You couldn’t pay me to face that guy.

  21. ellerbro on June 27th, 2007 2:43 pm

    This is excellent. As many have commented before me, well written sir.

    The objective of any pitcher at any level is keeping the hitter guessing, and off balance. I gives no who is on the hill, if ANY major league pitcher can ‘sit’ on a pitch they’re going to hit it hard if the pitch is in the zone and at the velocity that they’re anticipating. Felix simply needs to mix it up more to be more effective.

  22. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 2:44 pm

    RE: #62 (Without data to back me up, ok, let the flogging commence)

    I believe most pitchers who can reliabily hit 100 generally stop doing so fairly early. Someone like RJ is the freak of all hard throwing freaks. Usually it doesn’t take long before their touching more like 95 regularly.

  23. Hooligan on June 27th, 2007 2:51 pm

    Establishing the fastball is something that pitchers do so they can get away with their off-speed stuff. Felix doesn’t need to get away with his curve, slider, or change. He doesn’t need batters to be worried about his fastball to make his breaking balls effective.

    And why, Mr. Chaves, do you allow his 4-seamer to be the featured pitch? How many times must it be punished before you begin to encourage the two-seamer, a pitch that adds four inches of drop while only sacrificing two miles per hour?

    If you want to establish the fastball, establish the sinker. The straight heater is alot nastier when hitters are swinging behind and under it.

  24. metz123 on June 27th, 2007 2:54 pm

    Stadium guns pick up pitch speed about 10 feet from the release from the hand. Ryan’s “record” breaking pitch was captured about 10 feet from home plate. No big deal you say? Most of the pitches “recorded” at 100MPH today are traveling around 93-94 mph when they hit home plate. Yup, a baseball loses 6-7 mph in 50 feet of distance.

  25. Doc Baseball on June 27th, 2007 3:09 pm

    I believe most pitchers who can reliabily hit 100 generally stop doing so fairly early. Someone like RJ is the freak of all hard throwing freaks.

    If Randy is the freak, then Nolan Ryan would have to be The Mother of All Freaks…. he was upper 90’s and >K/inning til he was 45….

  26. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 3:25 pm

    Does anyone know what it is Felix is throwing in the 88-89 range? Dave mentioned a pitch in that range a couple weeks ago, describing it as a meatball. I remember seeing the pitch and thinking it was very flat, so it must have been a failed change. I saw a few in that range last night. I thought it was a 2-seamer because of the way it moved, and usually his change is fairly flat. I tried narrowing it down on, but even with the 700K feed it was hard to tell for sure. It actually looked like a circle-change based on the grip, but again it was fuzzy, so I could be wrong, and I didn’t think he throws a circle-change. If it’s a 2-seamer 88-89 isn’t an awful speed, but it aint Felix. If it’s a change-up, it’s moving more than I’ve seen in the past. Again, I’ve never heard for sure how he grips his change-up, but if he’s been throwing a circle change, It’s about as flat of one as I’ve ever seen. These actually did break a little like a circle change. One example was to Alex Cora in the 2nd. Also it seemed like he was falling to first even more than usual.

  27. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 3:26 pm

    If Randy is the freak, then Nolan Ryan would have to be The Mother of All Freaks…. he was upper 90’s and >K/inning til he was 45…

    I can totally agree with that.

  28. Steve T on June 27th, 2007 3:32 pm

    Ryan also had terrible control. All time leader in strikeouts, all time leader in walks by an even bigger margin. Super freaky, now. I don’t want Felix to turn into Nolan Ryan; I want Felix to turn into Greg Maddux.

    Does Morrow still have more walks than strikeouts? However fast he’s throwing, he’s not a very good pitcher yet. But then, lately, neither is Felix. Velocity’s off, pitch selection is poor, control is still poor, results are bad. He’s not progressing. It’s not crisis time by any means, but I do think some work needs to take place. I’d like to know the rest of the story on the injury, for starters; is the 3-4 MPH ever coming back?

  29. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 3:33 pm

    I was gonna say, Ryan was amazing in that he was still totally awesome despite having awful control.

  30. Steve T on June 27th, 2007 3:41 pm

    But Ryan wasn’t TOTALLY awesome; he was a just-above-mediocre pitcher for most of his career, who built up a public image, especially late in his career, of the ultimate grizzled veteran stud. But that’s longevity, not quality. The no-hitters were fun to see, but that’s only seven games out of a thousand. A workhorse, surely, and that should not be underestimated. But oh, those bases on balls. 2,795 of them. Randy Johnson’s at about half that.

  31. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 3:46 pm

    #75, this isn’t meant to say you’re incorrect, or anything against what you just said, or discredit Ryan, but one thing to keep in mind K/IP or K/9 has to be looked at along side K/BB and GB% or BABIP (at least). If a guy gives up 4.5 BB/9 and another gives up 1.5 per 9, and they give up similar rates on batted balls, and both have say 7 K/9, the 1.5 BB/9 guy is going to look worse if you only look a K/9. K/BFP and BB/BFP are better if you’re going to look at them by themselves. That said, for most pitchers the ammount it’s going to change things isn’t that much, but in the case where guys give up a ton of walks, or any situation where lots of guys are making bases (bad defense home runs), K/9 goes up relative to K/BFP.

  32. Chris Miller on June 27th, 2007 3:51 pm

    Having seen a bit of Ryan growing up, I always found him totally awesome “to watch”. I wouldn’t call him “just-above-mediocre”, but maybe totally awesome isn’t right, at least if Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux are the bar for totally awesome. I think Ryan was a good pitcher for a good part of his career and very good at different times, despite the walks.

  33. moocow on June 27th, 2007 5:55 pm

    Sometimes I wonder how Felix can be considered to have such great talent if he can’t command his pitches and his fastball is so hittable. Isn’t commanding the fastball a kind of important thing for a good pitcher to be able to do? Especially one so often compared to the greatest pitchers in the history of the game?

    Aren’t there plenty of crappy pitchers out there who throw meaty fastballs that they can’t command? What sets Felix apart from them? A nice curveball and change?

  34. metz123 on June 27th, 2007 6:07 pm

    1) Velocity – The thinking is, you can get away with more mistakes when you have velocity

    2) Age – He’s incredibly young and we hope that with age comes maturity and pitching knowledge

    3) Stuff – He throws 2 plus pitches (fastball and curve), has the potential for three (if he ever gets his slider back or gets a good feel for the change up or starts throwing the sinker more often)

    4) Did I mention he’s only 21 and deserves to be in the bigs at that age? Very few kids have the talent, presence & command to be legit #2 starters at that age.

    And I’d hardly call his fastball meaty. He gets a lot of swing & misses on his fastball. It’s a good fastball. It’s got good movement and velocity. It’s just not his best pitch and he shouldn’t rely only on it in the early parts of the game.

  35. metz123 on June 27th, 2007 6:09 pm

    Hey Dave, how come when you go back and edit a comment (like you did with #41) it keeps the original comment time & date? Is it a function of the blog software or do you intentionally do it?

  36. moocow on June 27th, 2007 6:39 pm

    #84 – all true, thanks. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s only 21. Even some of the other recent notable young phenoms like Francisco Liriano are several years older than Felix.

    I suppose if you had a pitcher with less talent having the same kind of command and pitch selection problems Felix is, you end up with…Jeff Weaver.

    So another thing that’s been bugging me since last year is how Felix seems to be giving up an inordinately high number of hits per batted ball in play. As I understand, the average for BABIP is around .290 and a pitcher has little or no control over this–all he controls are strikeouts, GB/FB ratio, and walks.

    So how come Felix is putting up GB/FB and K numbers other pitchers would kill to have, and a respectable BB rate, and yet he’s still getting shelled (84 H in 68.2 IP!)? By my calculations he’s sporting a .393 BABIP this season, and .315 last year. So what’s the answer here? Can Felix be the victim of simply bad luck? Or is the premise that a pitcher can’t control their BABIP not entirely true?

  37. scraps on June 27th, 2007 6:52 pm

    he was a just-above-mediocre pitcher for most of his career

    Nolan Ryan is one of those players that people love to underrate, because he’s perceived as overrated. He was a very good pitcher for a long time. His career ERA+ is 112. His walk rate was much lower in the second half of his career than in the first half. Even in his most walktastic years, he was excellent: from 1972 to 1974, for example, his ERA was under 3 each year and he won 19, 21 and 22 games for a bad team.

    At his best, he was as devastating as a pitcher could be, but even on an average day he was hard to beat. He’s not one of the half dozen best starting pitchers ever, but I don’t see how he isn’t one of the twenty best. He was certainly much better than mediocre for “most of his career”.

    But that’s longevity, not quality

    You don’t get the longevity without quality.

  38. scraps on June 27th, 2007 6:56 pm


    The no-hitters were fun to see, but that’s only seven games out of a thousand.

    If you’re not impressed by seven no-hitters, how about twelve one-hitters and eighteen two-hitters?

  39. Jeremy on June 27th, 2007 10:10 pm

    Or, to put it in baseball speak.

    “Mr. Chaves, please have your uber-phenom change speeds and keep the hitters off balance.”

  40. carlls007 on July 7th, 2007 4:29 pm

    Wow, it’s all paid off after Felix’s shout out 🙂

  41. serpentear on July 9th, 2007 1:56 pm

    You know Chavez actually read this and made Felix read it…you came through bro thats pretty awesome

  42. Carson on April 20th, 2010 10:23 pm

    Oh, fond memories of this post.

    Happy Felix Eve!

  43. Westside guy on August 16th, 2012 12:04 pm

    Wow, it was eerie reading this five years after the fact…

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