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.