Today’s Fun Fact
Earlier against the Rays, Felix Hernandez did something extraordinary. He set a new career high in strikeouts, and he became just the fourth Mariners pitcher ever to record at least 15 strikeouts in a single start. Felix was brilliant, obviously, and while sometimes achievements are only revealed to be brilliant upon in-depth analysis, Felix’s brilliance would’ve been apparent to a blind dead person. Joe Maddon thought Felix was better today than he was when he threw his perfect game. Felix was just putting fools away, and while I’m not saying all the Rays players are fools, everyone’s a fool trying to bat against Felix Hernandez. At least, for now, as Felix is pitching at an inconceivable level.
So, you don’t need to get analytical to appreciate what Felix is pulling off. But I do want to throw one thing your way, to function as a Felix-loving supplement. Felix’s whole game, mostly: trying to pitch down in the zone. That’s the goal, and today, out of 100 pitches, Felix threw 61 of his pitches no higher than two feet off the ground. Many of those were in the zone, low; many of those were beyond the zone, low, yet still good pitches. Curious about significance, I went over to Baseball Savant. I looked for Felix’s highest single-game low pitch rates, from 2008 to the present day. Here’s a table of the top ten:
Sunday’s performance: No. 2, since 2008, and probably of Felix’s whole career. The only start with a higher rate of low pitches: Felix’s previous start, in which he dismantled the Yankees. In fact, look over the whole table. You see eight starts from this season alone, and two from last year, caught by Henry Blanco. You don’t find a start from before last season until No. 14, and then not again until No. 20. Felix has always wanted to work down. Now he’s doing it more than ever, and though I’ve indicated this before, it’s worth a quick re-visit. Implied is that Felix has better command than ever. Implied is that Felix has more trust in his catcher to get strikes than ever. Implied is that Felix is constantly executing.
Felix started out great this year. Then he hit something of a rough patch, lasting perhaps as many as five starts. Within that slump, Felix was ill and he lost a lot of weight. Anyhow, he’s clearly back to normal now, where by normal I mean this year’s normal, which is abnormally amazing. Of note: during the five-start skid, Felix threw 46% of his pitches at two feet or below. In the other nine starts combined, he’s thrown 56% of his pitches at two feet or below. Here’s what those starts look like together:
When he wasn’t at the top of his game, Felix was late-career Pedro Martinez. The rest of the time, he’s been prime-of-career Pedro Martinez. That’s what we saw today. That’s what we’ve been seeing a lot of. You can’t excuse Felix’s whole slump just because he was sick for a part of it, but even 2000 Pedro Martinez had a six-run outing, and a start in which he gave up three dingers. More often than not, Felix and Mike Zunino have worked together to generate Pedro-level results. I know that sounds insane, but, Felix has been kind of insane. Look at what he just did to the Rays, and then look away at something else, and then look back again at what he just did to the Rays. Consider how amazing you know that is. Consider you’re already burdened with the bias of expectations. Hitters against Felix are swinging underwater.
You know what FIP is. FIP- is like ERA+, where FIP is adjusted for park and compared to league average. An FIP- of 100 is average, and an FIP- below that is better than average. Kenley Jansen has a career FIP- of 55. Aroldis Chapman’s at 57. Mariano Rivera came in at 63. Felix Hernandez right now on the year is at 51. Felix Hernandez is a starting pitcher. Felix Hernandez is our starting pitcher. And he’s the biggest reason why the Mariners are presently in a playoff position. Where, in a one-game playoff, the Mariners could conceivably hand the ball to Felix Hernandez.