Q&A: Felix Hernandez

We are pleased to welcome David Laurila to the FanGraphs staff. He’s an accomplished journalist who was accepted into the Baseball Writer’s Association of America in December, and has become one of the premier interviewers of those in and around the game. We’re excited to bring his series of excellent Q&As to FanGraphs, and the series kicks of today with a certain reigning Cy Young award winner.

Few, if any, hurlers combine overpowering stuff and pitching acumen quite like Felix Hernandez. The Mariners workhorse has dominated the American League each of the past two-plus seasons, going 19-5 in 2009 and capturing the Cy Young Award last year despite logging just 13 wins. He’s done so with an array of offerings, all of which induce weak contact and swings and misses on a consistent basis. The 25-year-old right-hander led the league in numerous categories in 2010, including ERA, innings pitched, and hits per nine innings. He topped all American League pitchers in WAR and finished second in strikeouts. In eight starts this season he is 4-2, 3.02, including a pair of complete games.

——

David Laurila: How would you define yourself as a pitcher?

Felix Hernandez: I’m a smart pitcher. I’m a hard thrower who knows what he has to do. I know myself and go by my strengths and not by the guys who are hitting. I know what I have to do. That’s me.

DL: Do you use video or scouting reports?

FH: I’m thinking on every pitch that I need to throw — every pitch has to have a purpose — but I don’t like to watch any video or look at scouting reports. I know the other guys in the league. I know what they can hit and what they can’t. If they can’t hit a fastball, I have to throw a fastball. But if he’s killing the fastball, can I not throw a fastball? No. It’s my best pitch, so I have to throw it. That’s why I don’t like to watch video or scouting reports.

DL: Is pitching simple or is it complicated?

FH: It’s complicated. Everything in this game is complicated. First, you need to have talent to be here, and you also need to have heart. Professional hitters are pretty good. That part is hard. You have to throw strikes. That part is simple. It makes it less complicated if you consistently throw strikes.

DL: How important is velocity to your game?

FH: Not so much. My first year I was throwing 97-98 [mph] and now I’m from 92 to 96, but I can locate all of my pitches. That’s what I need to do. I don’t need to throw hard and blow people away to get them out. I just need to throw on the corners. If you try to throw every pitch hard, you’re probably just going to throw five or six innings. If you know the purpose of the pitch — let me throw this pitch to get a double play — then your pitch count isn’t going to be way up.

DL: Are strikeouts important?

FH: I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.

DL: How has your repertoire evolved over the years?

FH: I’ve got five pitches. My first year in the big leagues I just had a fastball and a curveball. Then, in my second year, I started throwing a slider. I [added] more changeups and a sinker and now my sinker is my best pitch. I just need to locate it, and if I do, it‘s my best pitch. When I need to get a double play or a ground ball I throw my sinker.

DL: What role do pitching coaches play for you?

FH: They’re important. Other pitching coaches…I’ve had like five pitching coaches in my years here. They’re always important. Sometimes they give you one tip and it clicks, just like that. [Carl Willis] mostly comes out and just says stuff like “don’t open up too quick,” or “do this,” and he’s right.

DL: Can you talk about your preparation?

FH: My routine…I long toss every day. On the day after I pitch, I work out in the weight room and run a little bit. I do my lifting weights. The second day I do my legs. The next days I don’t do anything. I just come in here [to the clubhouse] and watch TV.

DL: According to Carl Willis, your long-toss program is unique.

FH: Maybe it is. I don’t know what the other guys do. I do my own work, and I do what I do to make my arm feel strong. When I turned professional, that’s when I started throwing long toss and I feel my arm getting stronger and stronger. That’s why I keep doing it.

DL: Could you throw more pitches, and innings, than you do?

FH: I don’t know, man. They’re just trying to protect us. They’re trying to make sure that we can pitch for a long time. But my arm feels strong. I like to pitch and I like to throw the baseball.

DL: You won the Cy Young Award last year with just 13 wins. Was the fact that voters looked beyond the most traditional pitching statistics — wins and losses — an important lesson for casual baseball fans?

FH: It was very important. The award is for the best pitcher, not the one that had the most wins. I think I pitched well, and it’s important that I was recognized for doing that.

——

Carl Willis on what makes Hernandez as good as he is: “He has a tremendous fastball, but what makes him so unique, and what makes him an elite pitcher, is that his other pitches are so well-above average. With the control and command that he has with those pitches, he’s really never in a count, or a situation, that he feels he has to throw a fastball. From a hitter’s perspective, it’s so difficult to sit on, or look for, one pitch, because he can throw any pitch with supreme confidence at any time. You’ll see curveballs on 3-1 or even 3-0 counts, regardless of where runners are on the bases. His ability to do that, along with obviously having great stuff, is what really separates him.”

On the rare occasions when Hernandez is struggling: “When Felix is not throwing well, usually the issue is his front shoulder. He has a bit of a rotation with his hips, in his delivery, and at times that kind of works itself up from the hip into the front shoulder, and he opens up too soon and gets off the plate. He just loses his release point a little bit. It’s never anything horrible, but at same time it gets him off the plate.”

On Hernandez‘s long-toss program: “He’s special in that he plays long toss every day, and it’s not even the normal long toss. It’s almost an extreme long toss. He probably throws the baseball about 280 to 300 feet. For the most part you see guys go out — the longer guys — 200 feet, maybe 225 feet. In his case, he throws the ball with a lot of height — he really gets a lot of air under it — and what he’s accomplishing is not only strength, but also extension. It’s a bit far, but hey, you can’t argue with the success he’s had.

Jason Phillips, our bullpen catcher, plays catch with him. This is something he does the day after he pitches, the day of his bullpen, the day before he pitches. A program like his certainly isn’t for everybody, but as long as he keeps pitching like he does, it’s not something you want to change.”

On mentoring Michael Pineda: “I think we sometimes get so caught up on people’s performances on the field that we lose sight of them as a person, and I think Felix is a tremendous young man. He’s a great teammate. He’s taken Michael Pineda under his wing, really trying to help educate him about Major League Baseball — the game, the life. He’s a special individual, both on and off the mound.”




Print This Post



David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA


39 Responses to “Q&A: Felix Hernandez”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Mike Green says:

    Very fine interview. King Felix has a good head on his shoulders.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Ryan says:

    Will David be posting regularly here? Excellent addition!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Mark says:

    “I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.”

    That is awesome.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Shazbot says:

    Great questions.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Renegade says:

    Great job! Really surprised to hear he doesnt watch video or read scouting reports.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      It shouldn’t be that surprising. He’s elite. He doesn’t watch video because it doesn’t matter what the batters do well. If Felix does what he does well, advantage King.

      I am curious as to whether the interview was conducted in Spanish or English? I ask from the standpoint that I wonder if some of the responses/answers are so simple due to that being how King communicates or because of limited second language?

      More often than not, I am surprised at how few guys can really explain much of anything. You see this at camps and things of that nature when the “star speaker” shows up and tells high school kids the same “awesome” information that our coaches told us in 2nd grade.

      FH: I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.

      This doesn’t raise any red flags as to what Felix might understand as a pitcher? “Sometimes they swing and miss”. That’s classic.

      I [added] more changeups and a sinker and now my sinker is my best pitch. I just need to locate it, and if I do, it‘s my best pitch. When I need to get a double play or a ground ball I throw my sinker.

      I don’t think we appreciate just how gifted/talented (and I don’t say that as an insult or back-handed compliment) he is. Seriously to just be “adding” pitches at the ML level and have them be really good pitches is impressive.

      ————————————-

      It is speculated that one of the reasons that Felix can make so many starts and pitch so many innings is that he is primarily a fastball-change pitcher rather than a fastball-slider guy. I would like to hear his views on whether he ever considered a slider, or how he came to throw a changeup (trying out different grips, coach recommendation, etc).

      I would also like to hear how he developed his pitching motion, which does contain a little closing of the hip, alla Lilly and Brown … only unlike Brown the arm comes out at a better angle, and there’s not so much torque with the sinker.

      Whether he can explain it scientifically or using mechanical jargon is not all that important, but I would love to hear more from him in regards to very specific information about pitch selection, mechanics, sequencing, etc.

      While it’s nice to hear from Cliff Lee, I would like to hear more than just responses to “How important are strikes?” What I mean by that is that I would love to read a part II to this. These are the type of questions one would expect from a “1st interview”, but with someone as dominant as Felix, finding out more, specific information would be gold.

      Very enjoyable, but got me wanting to know more.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steven says:

        Raise red flags? Seriously. Thats funny.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Only in the regard that this is the one of the sites that praises Greinke for understanding the components of FIP in relation to what makes a good pitcher.

        That Felix, in an article describing his insights on pitching, would state that he doesn’t go for strikeouts but they happen sometimes … would seemingly go against what this site believes makes up a “good pitcher”.

        It’s not a big issue to me, outside of just being consistent.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AA says:

        Elite means no video? Maddux did a ton of video.

        I just think Felix has the same approach to every hitter and his stuff is so good and his thought process so sound that he gets away with it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Why are we discussing that point?

        Curt Schilling also watched and recorded a ton of video.

        The comment was in response to the surprise that King didn’t watch video. As an elite pitcher he certainly doesn’t have to. He could watch video if he wanted to, but as his comments suggested “Why?” because it’s not going to change his approach.

        Nowhere did the definition of elite get changed to include the phrase “does not engage in video analysis”.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bronnt says:

        Kyle Davies also watches a lot of video and gets the in depth scouting reports. Sure, it’s easy to point out that Maddux does it, but when you point out that scrubs also do it, perhaps you should realize that maybe there’s something else that makes elite pitchers elite.

        (Disclaimer: I don’t really know if Davies goes to great lengths to study video or scouting reports. I suspect he does, based on having seen him pitch once, giving me extensive valuable insight into his character)

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. DSMok1 says:

    Excellent article and excellent addition to the site! A good Q&A with people in the game is always a great read.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. mike wants wins says:

    Great addition to the site.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Everett says:

    Fantastic addition to the site, and great starting subject.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • McExpos says:

      Agreed.

      I’m loving the input he got from Willis as well. Not that we were going to get something drastically different from the coach – “What’d he say? Oh, no, I can barely keep his arm from falling off.” – but it’s one thing to hear a player talk about their game, and another to hear their coach offer the same thoughts. Seems like it has potential for a pretty well-rounded perspective.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Sean says:

    “FH: I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.”

    Understatement of the century.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Random Guy says:

    What’s not to love about Felix? I hope someday he gets the run support he deserves, and I hope it happens in Seattle.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Freddy T says:

    Love that he’s taken Pineda under his wing. It’s going to help him mature faster and into a better pitcher.

    Great Q&A and a great addition to the site.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Telo says:

    “Professional hitters are pretty good.”

    Hilarious. Great interview

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Jon in CUO says:

    Wonderful interview, can’t wait to read more.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. beastwarking says:

    In the immortal words of Bruce Campbell: “Hail to the King baby.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. fantasystud1305 says:

    Great stuff.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Hold On says:

    Someone had better tell this guy that throwing strikes and pitching to contact makes you a bad pitcher. We dont need another Twins/Liriano situation.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Pat G says:

    One of the few people in the world who get to do something they like for a living “I like to pitch and I like to throw the baseball.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Matt C says:

    “I’m thinking on every pitch that I need to throw — every pitch has to have a purpose”

    I think this is real important and in my opinion it seems like not enough pitchers think like that. Its like some pitchers just throw “waste pitches” that have no purpose to them.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      I can pretty much guarantee that every pitch has a purpose … even (perhaps even especially “waste pitches”). Pitchers throw “waste pitches” in counts where they want to entice a batter to swing at something that they could not possibly hit well, such as an 0-2 pitch, 6-8 inches off the plate.

      AT the MLB level, I think you be a little more aggressive, especially since catcher’s blocking skills are so much better. But, you still don;t throw anything “too good” in obvious “make em chase” counts.

      There shouldn’t be the idea that pitchers are just out there throwing pitches without any reason behind it.

      Some pitchers have a purpose to each pitch, and that purpose can be incredibly flawed. I am comfortable saying that many pitchers should just throw whatever the catcher calls for and focus on relaxing and picking up the target. Not that everything is a Nuke LaLoosh v. Crash Davis situation, but when pitchers start over-thinking and diverting from the gameplan and scouting report, it can be disastrous.

      Even Kyle Farnsworth has a plan and a purpose. He just lacks execution, although quite a few fans might support Farnsworth’s execution.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Sam says:

    I’m pretty sure that if Felix watched video and read the scouting report, he would never allow a baserunner. The truth is the Mariners are so bad offensively that they dont allow him to watch the film. No one wants to be the first team to lose when their starter throws a perfect game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Boris says:

    “I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss” sounds like something Ichiro would say if he were a pitcher.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bronnt says:

      Ichiro: I don’t try to get singles, but sometimes I arrive at first base safely prior to the ball reaching the first baseman.

      +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. adohaj says:

    “I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.”

    pro

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Andy Andres says:

    Congratulations Appleman and Cameron!

    Great mid-season waiver pickup of Laurila!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. JD says:

    Strange to see any words about mechanics or you know, actually how the game is PHYSICALLY played.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. tbone says:

    How about King Felix for Jesus Montero plus one of the Yankee’s stud pitching prospects and slade heathcott to boot? Also, while I’m making such a bold offering- can my internet stalker refrain from any contact of any kind! FYI- things @ the tower with the mrs couldn’t be better!! class is dismissed!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *