Mariners, Felix Achieve Inevitable Destiny
Wins and losses, obviously, are bad metrics for individual pitchers, but they do manage to capture something. It’s not like they’re completely independent of the signal. If you allow six runs, you probably deserve to lose. If you allow four or five, in this day and age, the same might apply. But as the runs allowed are reduced, losses remain possible, but they’re a hell of a lot more difficult to justify. A guy gave up a two-run homer? And that’s it? Shouldn’t have done that, but a loss seems harsh. One run? That’s severe. One run isn’t on the pitcher. One run is on the non-pitchers. Felix, in his career, has been saddled with a number of harsh losses, to say nothing of the no-decisions. But here’s how he lost tonight:
Top of 9th
- groundball single
- runner steals on bad throw
- walk, runner moves to 3rd as ball gets away from catcher
- [relieved by Fernando Rodney]
- run-scoring fielder’s choice
It’s impossible to get a loss allowing zero runs. As you approach the most extreme possible loss, you get to the loss being extremely unjustifiable. Above is the run that lost the game, in the final inning, and it scored after Felix had been removed. Finally, Felix Hernandez has been given a loss in a game in which he personally allowed no runs. It feels like we’ve been building to this. All along, this has been the inevitability, and in this specific regard, this might be the floor. I guess technically the floor would be Felix losing after leaving a runner on first in the ninth with two outs. Any maybe the runner reaches on a dropped third strike, or an error? I don’t know exactly how these things work. It would be possible for Felix to get stuck with a worse loss, but this is arguably the worst yet. It’s arguably the most nuts. Because this happened on a Friday night, it’s kind of hidden, but this was classic Mariners in that they achieved a new level of misery. They’ve always been creative.
But, you just have to tip your cap to a guy like Nick Tepesch. Today I learned how his name is pronounced.
I’m not going to pretend like this was Felix at his best. This was just Felix being really outstandingly good. I’m also not going to pretend like I deeply care about pitcher wins and losses, but I do deeply care about Felix and when things don’t go his way, things generally also don’t go the Mariners’ way, and those wins are important. This makes 37 times Felix has started a game, allowed no more than one run, and not gotten a win. In that stat he’s the leader among active pitchers. Felix is 28.
It’s interesting — three times this year, the Mariners have scored double-digit runs. All three of those games were Felix starts. This year he hasn’t been totally lacking in support, but it takes a while to forget the past, and tonight felt more familiar and tragic. Tonight, and Felix’s last start, reset the meter. We’re back to operating under the assumption that Felix can’t get support. Maybe it’s him. Maybe that’s bad for his WAR.
Stepping back a little, do you know where the Mariners’ offense stands now after tonight? As a unit, they have an 83 wRC+, where 100 is average and 99 is worse than average. In baseball history, teams with offenses that bad have averaged 66 wins. At times this team has felt like magic, and that’s in large part because it’s been featuring a 66-win offense. Not a 66-WAR offense. The offense of a 66-win team. That’s a 66-win offense plus Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma and Roenis Elias and so on, but even $240 million hasn’t made this group acceptable. Last year’s offense was 8% worse than average. That’s the best the Mariners have been since 2007. All it took was a complete and utter sacrifice of fielding. Kind of like 2007.
In one way, the Mariners and Felix did something they’d never before done. In a more general way, they did something they’ve become known for. Submit this game to memory. I mean, I know it’s already in there, blended with all the others, but make a note of this game. Record the re-airing of this game and keep it on your DVR into the winter. When it’s cold and raining and you’re stuck inside and you’re missing having baseball on the TV, watch this, from the start, and get to the end. This is what the baseball experience is like. And sometimes you have the balls to miss this? I know, you’re right, baseball is about the journey and not the individual daily battles, but I’m not going to bed tonight thankful that I got to watch my favorite pros, thankful that I got to participate in the nationwide dialogue. I’m going to bed tonight thinking about the embarrassment of having and playing Endy Chavez. The Mariners can make the regular season a thing to endure. In no January will I ever wish that I could watch this game.
We always want for baseball to be Type 1 fun. We’re often left in the position of having to claim it’s been Type 2 fun. I’m increasingly of the belief it’s commonly Type 3 fun, and we just don’t recognize it as such because it can make us forget what fun is. Fun is what watching Felix is supposed to be. Fun is what watching Felix is, some of the time. The rest of the time, the game sucks and it never starts to not suck upon reflection. Just because you can joke about something doesn’t mean it’s fun in retrospect. It means you can be creative with jokes. Having survived something doesn’t automatically classify that something as enjoyable.
The good news is the Mariners still have more wins than losses. The good news is Felix knows how to deal with these things by now. The good news is we’re sufficiently privileged to be in a position of being able to be pissed off at a baseball team. The good news is tomorrow the Mariners face Joe Saunders, and the next Felix Day isn’t all that far off. But sometimes good news ends up not-so-good news. Sometimes, the news is delivered by the Mariners.