Felix Hernandez and His Fastball, Part 3

Continuing from the past few days, I this time separated Felix Hernandez‘s starts based on the percentage of fastballs he threw within the first 20 pitches. Five times during the season Felix throw 65% or fewer fastballs during this opening stretch. For reference, those five games were: April 1st against Texas, April 6th at Baltimore, April 11 against Anaheim, July 28th at Texas and August 29th against Cleveland.

Counting up the batters that came to the plate within that 20 pitch barrier (including those that finished their plate appearance past the 20-pitch threshold), here were Felix’s relevant totals for those five games:

27 batters faced, 15 ground balls (56%), 1 fly ball (4%), 1 line drive (4%), 8 strikeouts (30%), 2 walks (7%).

That is a pretty dominant stretch and it came against some really good hitting teams. How did Felix do in the other 26 games?

147 batters faced, 55 ground balls (37%), 27 fly balls (18%), 20 line drives (14%), 31 strikeouts (21%), 14 walks + HBP (10%).

It doesn’t take someone well versed in FIP or tRA or any advanced metric to see which of those two lines is better. Interestingly, of the five games in the first sample, three of them were Felix’s first three starts of the year. I wonder why he quickly departed from it when even by traditional measures, he was successful.

Five games certainly isn’t a big enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions from, so I dearly hope Felix provides us with some more such games in the future. Then I would like to look not only at his performance during the first 20 pitches, but from pitch 20 onward as well to see if the improvement sustained itself throughout the game or not.

Will mixing in his off speed stuff earlier in the game cure Felix of all his problems? Of course not. He still has pretty lousy command of his fastball. What it will do though is force batters to not just sit fastball and the evidence leans heavily toward showing us that in those situations, Felix becomes a much tougher pitcher to face. The type of pitcher we all thought he would be by now after his debut in 2005.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

11 Responses to “Felix Hernandez and His Fastball, Part 3”

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  1. Cameron says:


    Using Yahoo’s Situational Stats on Felix you can see that his first 15 pitches throughout his career have been by far his worst. His 5.52 era during those pitches is a full run and half higher than any other stretch of pitches besides the pitches over 105+. I mean opposing hitters during the first 15 pitches are hitting .338 against the pitcher who probably has the best stuff in the game. Hopefully, the new Mariners staff will correct this problem.

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  2. John says:

    Cameron, that’s the kind of post that will get you laughed at and ignored by Matthew. Matthew hates people who mention ERA. He hates people who attempt to judge pitchers by ERA. He laughs at them. Just look at some of his posts at lookoutlanding where he belittles people.

    Replace ERA with FIP or tRA (tRA*, preferably), if you do not want to get laughed at by Matthew.

    PS I have nothing personal against Matthew, it’s his holier-than-thou, uppity, snooty attitude that peeves me. It makes me sick watching him belittle people. He will delete your posts if you attempt to defend the newbies or the people who are just getting into sabermetrics.

    Did Matthew start off by knowing what he knows now? No. He should have a little more respect for newbies and people who are just getting into sabermetrics. I try to defend them the best I can, but Matthew won’t allow it.

    Shame on you, Matthew. You really should be ashamed of yourself. The way you treat other people is sickening!

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    • Kevin says:

      And here we have the most sensitive man in the world, ladies and gentlemen. Imagine, if you dare, the exquisite emotional torture this man must undergo every day when dealing with the real world if the words of a baseball blogger “sickens” him.

      Your empathy does you credit, sir, and puts the rest of us poor beleaguered souls to shame. I have idea how to make your world less painful though. You can 1.) stop reading Matthew’s belittling comments, 2.) stop over-emoting or 3.) grow up.

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  3. rwperu34 says:

    Could it be that he had beeter command which allowed him to move away from his fastball? The increased BB/HBP rate is a pretty good indicator of this.

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  4. Cameron says:

    Thanks for the heads up John, but the reason I posted that link is because Felix’s pitch count stats are broken down for his entire career. Not many sites catalog pitching stats based on pitch count so I thought the site would be relevant. If you use mainstream baseball’s statistics you can see there is a big disparity between his first 15 pitches and the rest of his pitches in each outing. However, if I converted it into FIP it would show that his FIP for his first 15 pitches is about 3.37 which is below his career average. So bringing that up doesn’t really make any sense to Matt’s article because it suggests that Felix has pitched well at the beginning of starts.

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    • BJ says:

      The point you are missing is that you should not disregard evidence because it does not validate your point of view. The fact that the FIP numbers do not agree with Matt’s point has nothing to do with the fact that FIP is better than ERA at evaluating of how well a pitcher is preventing runs. Perhaps this means that Matthew’s contention is wrong, and that despite being predictable, the fact that Felix’s fastball is so good means he should pitch it even if the batter knows it is coming.

      However, FIP only uses Ks, BBs, and HRs, so all we really know is that when Felix throws lots of fastballs early it results in some combination of more Ks, less BBs, and perhaps less HRs. Still, the high ERA might be felix’s fault, perhaps the batters hit better balls during these 15 pitches just not good enough to be HRs, so looking at LD % and BABIP would be very instructive. I think in this situation, tRA is much better than FIP and even ERA tells us more information, as what would be the reason for fielding to be so different in the first 15 pitches than for the rest of the game.

      Sure, ERA is not a good stat if you are comparing the contributions of two individual pitchers in a league wide background, but when you are looking at one team, or in fact one pitcher, and looking for effectiveness in a certain situation and how it could be improved in that context, I think ERA holds up pretty well. Simple example: A pitcher uses his fastball more earlier in the game and gets more Ks, less BBs, and the same HRs than later in the game when he primarily uses his sinker. His FIP is lower early in the game but his ERA is better later, because his GB to FB ratio increases and he is in front of a great infield and a poor outfield. If you were writing an article recommending whether the pitcher should go with one pitch or the other, which stat would be more important, considering that whatever input fielding put into ERA, that fielding is going to be the same, and the pitcher should use the fielding to its greatest advantage to be most effective in preventing runs. A question like this requires a balance of what the pitcher does effectively and what the fielding does effectively, and ERA takes this into account better than FIP.

      But still, as always, tRA FTW

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      • Cameron says:

        The reason I mentioned ERA was because I thought it better illustrated Felix’s struggles rather than FIP. I personally think FIP is pretty useless in when applied to a strikeout pitcher like Felix. Felix could give up 100s of hits in the beginning of his starts this year but still strike out a good percentage and he’d have a microscopic FIP. It is pretty obvious that his first 15 pitches are the worst part of his starts and his FIP doesn’t portray that at all.

        Felix has some of the best stuff in baseball so he can throw it 15 straight times and opposing teams will not be able to hit any home runs. (small FIP) But with that predictability teams are going to get base hits and score runs. So for Felix’s sake and my fantasy team’s sake I hope the Mariners correct this problem so he won’t constantly be pitching from behind and he’ll be able to get some more wins.

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      • BJ says:

        Yeah, I was basically agreeing with you that FIP is not a great stat to use in this context, I was just saying that your reason for ignoring it was bad (that FIP did not support Matt’s argument). I basically was saying that ERA should not be dismissed offhand, and in situations like this might even be a better metric.

        Think about it like this: FIP is pitching with no defense, tRA is pitching with league average defense, and ERA is pitching with the actual defense that pitcher had. In situations like this, where you want to factor the actual defense into the analysis, ERA might be the best we have right now.

        Of course, the problem is defense is fickle, so even if it would have some definable effect over the long term, looking at the first 15 pitches for one pitcher over a season might not be enough to overcome the randomness, so you risk adding a random skew by going with ERA over tRA. A better way might be to figure out how good a given defense was at turning a certain type of hit into an out for all pitchers that year and then figuring out how often a pitcher gave up those types of hits and then factoring that into tRA to make a new stat. As far as I know there is nothing like that out there.

        I also wanted to dig at john for blasting Matthew when Matthew has done nothing offensive and has indeed not even responded to a comment on this article.

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  5. JMK says:

    Keep posting about it and hopefully he or his coach will learn something. I’m exited to see Felix become the pitcher we all hope to see him be.

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  6. Mark says:

    Great analysis whether you are a heavy saber guy or not. Bottom line is this guy arguably has the best stuff in the game and needs to mix it up to take advantage of it. Would like to see his results broken down vs. good fastball hitting teams to see if they hit him better.

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  7. thank you perfec web site

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