I Don’t Get It

Dave · May 20, 2009 at 7:17 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Last week, Felix threw 22 change-ups against the Texas Rangers, and tossed seven shutout innings against an offense with a bunch of good left-handed hitters. His change was the difference maker in that game, and allowed him to shut down quality LH bats.

So, last night, fresh off the reminder of how good his change up can be, Felix threw it twice. The entire night, he threw two change-ups – the first one induced a ground out from Bobby Abreu in the third inning, and he missed out of the strike zone with the second one against Chone Figgins in the sixth. The rest of the night, it was mostly fastballs, some sliders, and a curve ball here or there.

Remember the conversation we had with Dave Allen the other day? The two seam fastball and the slider are the two pitches that have the largest platoon split. They work great against same handed hitters, and they’re meatballs against opposite handed hitters. So, facing a line-up where four of the first five hitters are lefties, Felix decided to go after them with his fastball and slider.

Predictably, it didn’t work. The left-handed hitters against Felix did the following:

1st inning: Single, walk, single, strikeout, groundout.
2nd inning: Single, strikeout
3rd inning: Groundout, double
4th inning: Walk, popout
5th inning: Single, single, walk, groundout
6th inning: Popout, single, double

That’s six singles, two doubles, three walks, two strikeouts, three groundouts, and two popouts. That’s a .533/.611/.555 line that lefties put up against him last night. Yea, the defense behind him was lousy, but this was the dumbest game plan we’ve seen in a long time. 16 straight fastballs to start the game (all against LH hitters), 71% fastballs against LH batters on the night, and two change-ups in the very next start after that pitch helped him shut down the Rangers in Texas? There’s nothing else to call that besides stupid.

The Mariners have a lot of problems. They don’t need their 23-year-old with a hall of fame arm to be one as well. Pitch smarter, Felix.


73 Responses to “I Don’t Get It”

  1. John D. on May 20th, 2009 12:34 pm

    If you are Wakamatsu, is your explanation for the game that you had a good game plan, but your pitcher and catcher refused to follow it? Really?

    Sounds like Wakamatsu’s carte blancis about to expire.

  2. msb on May 20th, 2009 12:37 pm

    Today, between Baker and Olney, the names of Halliday, Schilling & Koufax came up as pitchers who took a few years to get their heads to come up to their arms.

  3. joser on May 20th, 2009 1:09 pm

    With respect to Johjima’s pitch calling, I agree we’d need to look carefully at with-Kenji vs without-Kenji to determine if there is anything to it. The people laying the blame at his feet certainly don’t have convincing evidence just from the results of the games alone.

    However, it is possible that Felix, for whatever reason, doesn’t trust Kenji as much, or doesn’t respect his pitch-calling, or something like that. (Silva’s influence on Felix? — oh wait, now I’m the one casting speculative aspersions with no factual basis). If Felix shook off Kenji’s signs all night, got whacked around, and still thinks he pitched a good game, then clearly something is amiss. And it would seem to lie mostly under that askew hat on Felix’s head.

  4. joser on May 20th, 2009 1:12 pm

    wouldn’t this be the optimal solution, complete randomness?

    No, it wouldn’t. The goal is not perfect randomness, because some hitters are very good with certain pitches and lousy with others. Some pitchers are very effective with some pitches and not with others. Everybody knows what Mariano Rivera is going to throw: there’s no randomness, no guessing he’s going to throw much of anything beyond his cut fastball. But he throws it where very few hitters can get a lot of wood on it. Even with pitchers that have a large repertoire of pitches, some are going to more (often much more) effective than others in a given situation, and just throwing out those advantages in favor of the supposed benefits of surprise is foolish. If the batter is a good fastball hitter, he’s not going to care if the pitcher has four different pitches that might appear at random, he’s just going to wait until he sees a fastball. (Which is why the changeup is so effecitve against those kinds of hitters, of course).

    The whole point of Dave’s post (and several he’s made before this) is that the changeup is the best pitch Felix throws, especially to left-handed batters. In contrast, the fastball is the worst pitch for him to throw to lefty batters. You don’t want a random number generator telling him to throw fastballs to lefties. That’s what we apparently have right now (and it’s in Felix’s head, and it’s mostly stuck on “fastball” for the first few innings at least).

    Wakamatsu got upset when Kenji called for a changeup from Silva because “That’s his third-best pitch, so it was a little questionable.” You don’t want a random number generator doing that either. You’re trying to be smarter than random. Random isn’t smart, it’s just saying being smart is too hard.

    Now, I’d be willing to entertain the possibility that the M’s (or at least Wakamatsu and/or Felix) don’t know or don’t actually believe that the changeup is Felix’s best pitch, especially to opposite-handed batters. But then we have that outing at Texas to confound things. And we’re back to the point of Dave’s post: I don’t get it either.

  5. Breadbaker on May 20th, 2009 1:16 pm

    Fwiw, last year Felix was the one starter that never expressed any problems with Kenji. They’ve worked together pretty much Felix’s whole career and it’s not come up before. If I were to pick one start as Felix’s signature moment, it would be this one and the man listed under C there is Kenji Johjima.

  6. marinerfaninpdx on May 20th, 2009 1:17 pm

    Good, important post, Dave. I generally stay away from posting because I don’t have the detailed knowledge that is commonly referred to on this site nor the time to hunt it down.

    But watching last night, it was just visibly obvious how Felix wasn’t committed to playing smart.

    Too many shake offs and fastballs – basically pitching with everything but his head. I just kept saying to myself, “come on kid, just listen to your coaches.” I so don’t want to see him continue to waste so many of his starts pitching “his way.” Frustrating!!!

  7. TCW on May 20th, 2009 1:53 pm

    I was at work and thus ‘watching’ on MLB GameCenter, and when I saw Felix’s first 16 pitches were fastballs, I was immediately concerned – I figured it was his doing, and looking at the comments above that’s apparently true.

    My mind is still blown by how he (apparently) didn’t realize that the Rangers’ game was a good model to follow.

    Is there any way of easily looking back through multiple years/starts to see if he’s typically followed good (non-fastball heavy) pitching with going back to fastball reliance in the next start?

  8. rmac1973 on May 20th, 2009 2:12 pm


    Good question. I’m sure Dave and Dave have already discussed the possibility.

    I’d point to his relative inconsistent results as at least enough circumstantial evidence of your suggestion to warrant an investigation, but I’m not on Crime-Stoppers, so this doesn’t count.


  9. CCW on May 20th, 2009 2:49 pm

    What is Wakamatsu’s job if not to deal with this situation? I don’t blame him for the problem, but at some point (and that point is now), he needs to fix it. Tell your pitchers/catcher battery not be stupid with their play-calling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Kenji or Felix – the two of them need to do a better job. It isn’t that hard.

  10. SeasonTix on May 20th, 2009 3:14 pm

    For a couple years now, Felix has reminded me of Freddy Garcia — great potential, but never really lived up to it.

    Freddy was so inconsistent I used to call him “Dr. Freddy” and “Mr. Garcia” because you never knew if the “good” Freddy or the “bad” Freddy would show up.

    Frankly, I think Freddy was just plain dumb.

    As much as I really want to believe that Felix is the “King,” he has never shown that he can CONSISTENTLY be good start after start after start.

    Even the best pitchers have a bad outing once in a while, but with Felix it seems to be about 50% of his starts. His stats may prove me wrong, but that’s how it feels to me.

    I know that it took Randy Johnson several years to really get it together and as others have said, I’m afraid Felix will be pitching for the Yankees by the time he’s got it figured out.

    Am I the only one who sees disturbing simularities between Felix and Freddy?

  11. Mat on May 20th, 2009 3:27 pm

    I don’t think it’s that easy. To me, the only way to know whether or not it’s Kenji that’s the problem is to know the following:

    1) What Kenji originally calls,
    2) Whether or not the P shakes him off,
    3) What the pitch thrown finally is.

    And since we don’t know all the signs, we cannot definitively say that it’s one way or the other.

    Comparing Felix’s pitch selection when Kenji is catching to when non-Kenjis are catching certainly wouldn’t tell us definitively where any fault lies, but it could give us some evidence of whether or not Felix pitches differently with Kenji behind the plate.

    It may be that Felix listens more to other catchers than he does to Kenji. It may be that he listens more to Kenji than he does to other catchers. I’m not really interested in casting blame so much as I’m interested in the question of whether or not Felix pitches differently when there are different catchers behind the plate, and how big that difference is if that’s the case.

  12. SequimRealEstate on May 20th, 2009 3:38 pm

    @skeets35, Maybe some pitchers shouldn’t have the last word. My guess it might even be the majority. I always hope that Jamie Moyer will one day come back as a pitching coach. Talk about control of the game. Even talking to the umpires to be sure that is what they are going to be calling a ball or a strike. He is unreal as we all will probably agree. What do you think he would say to the “King”?

  13. marc w on May 20th, 2009 4:19 pm


    What do you make of the fact that Felix’s linear weights on FBs has gone up markedly as he’s used it more? It was negative when he was throwing less than 60% FBs, and has steadily risen. Much of this must be the use of the 2-seamer, but I wonder if the team’s been looking at FBs versus offspeed pitches and noticing the trend. The trend on offspeed pitches in general is muddled, as his change started awesome, continued to be awesome, and is now his best pitch. But his curve went from being a dominant pitch (the old ‘Royal Curve’) to being a show-me, average-at-best offering.
    Any thoughts on how usage might impact the linear weights?

  14. WTF_Ms on May 20th, 2009 4:39 pm

    Whatever the problem, it needs fixed.


  15. WTF_Ms on May 20th, 2009 4:40 pm

    I guess the larger question is, do we sign him long term, and hope he “gets it”, like others have (Unit, Ryan, etc…), or do we get the max value out of him now, and cut our losses so to speak?

  16. Mothy on May 20th, 2009 5:38 pm

    Although I’m not ready to blame the coaching staff yet, I am starting to get suspicious of them. Because it’s not just Felix that is throwing too many fastballs. Although it might be on the players that they’re not following Wak’s game plan… I don’t lean that way. When the offense or defense doesn’t follow the game plan Wakamatsu has been pretty vocal about it. The only time I’ve heard him complain about pitch selection was when Silva didn’t throw a fastball. I tend to think the coaching staff is overemphasizing the fastball to the pitchers.

  17. ThundaPC on May 20th, 2009 6:55 pm

    Hey, guess what?

    It’s not Johjima’s fault.

    If you were wondering about the 16 straight fastballs he threw to start the game, I asked Johjima about why he wanted to do that and he told me to go ask the pitcher. He tried to get him to throw the breaking ball but Felix was insisting on the fastball. Adair said that will be addressed.

  18. joser on May 20th, 2009 6:59 pm

    His stats may prove me wrong, but that’s how it feels to me.

    Which is why we try to ignore our feelings and go with the data. So far this year, four out of Felix’s nine starts have had a net positive WPA, and one was just fractionally negative, so your feelings jibe almost exactly with what we’ve actually seen.

    The only time I’ve heard him complain about pitch selection was when Silva didn’t throw a fastball.

    No, he wasn’t complaining that Silva didn’t throw a fastball, he was complaining that Silva didn’t throw his best pitch. It so happens in Silva’s case that is a fastball, but it was pretty clear that Wakamatsu wasn’t fixated on “fastball”; he was fixated on “the best pitch in that situation.” I’m just worried the organization thinks Felix’s best pitch is his fastball, because it clearly isn’t. Especially when he’s facing a lefty.

  19. waltcohe on May 20th, 2009 9:22 pm

    Felix threw 12 changeups last night. Not sure where USSM got the ‘2’ data. It’s easy to get confused because many of them register at 89-90mph.

    His fastball is his best pitch. And it needs to be.

    He buries a ton of his changes. It’s easy for the changeup to look good in the data when he’s using it as a ‘kill pitch’. They’re unhittable due to the fact that they’re physically on the ground when guys hit it/or strikeout. But how much “work” is he really doing with it?

    Linear weights is a tremendous idea, a promising one. But the data source should be reliable. I think you guys could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

  20. feingarden on May 21st, 2009 6:44 am

    If we’re going to start quoting Crash Davis in regard to Felix, I’m seriously starting to get the sinking feeling that we should be using the “million dollar arm… 5-cent head” line. Either arrogance, ignorance, or stupidity, but 16 straight fastballs HAS TO STOP. Jeezuz.

  21. Carlj17098 on May 21st, 2009 8:46 am

    I’ve never posted on this site before, but I’ve read it for a while, so I just thought I’d throw a comment in on this. One of the most interesting aspects of this story to me is that Felix’s situation is the kind of thing that the mainstream media and beat writers should be all over. We have the technology and data to know that he threw way too many fastballs and it didn’t work, but we have no way of discerning why. Baker kind of alluded to some of the potential confidence issues in one of his blog posts, but it seems no has has asked him a direct question about it. Not that a reporter would necessarily receive a direct or straight answer, but there has to be someone, if not Felix himself, who might be able to at least try and explain why he’d throw so many fastballs.

    For what it’s worth the Associated Press kind of vaguely chalked it up to chemistry issues in this article lacking anything resembling an informational substance.

  22. Carlj17098 on May 21st, 2009 8:47 am

    The link to that AP article is [long link to article lacking anything resembling an informational substance]

  23. joser on May 21st, 2009 12:50 pm

    His fastball is his best pitch. And it needs to be.

    It isn’t. And it doesn’t.

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