The King Seeks Re-Election

Felix Hernandez has been pretty terrific since his arrival in 2005, but over the past four years he’s been awfully special. Despite playing for mediocre, even terrible, teams, Hernandez has provided the elusive anchor that fantasy managers pay so dearly for. And although he’s changing as a pitcher, he continues to baffle opposing hitters, very much earning the title King.

As you well know by know, we’re doing the rear view mirror thing by position recently, using the mojo of Zach Sanders and his abacus to help us quantify 2012 values. In that lens, he has Hernandez valued at about 21 bucks in relation to all the other starting pitchers you might have trotted out there over the course of the season. Chances are, many of you paid a good sum more than $21, or perhaps a draft pick that would reflect a more sizable investment, but that’s not to say his contributions weren’t worth it to your squad.

There’s so much to like about Hernandez that it seems rather ridiculous to list it all, but here’s the quick and dirty from 2012. Among qualified starters in the American League, Hernandez had the lowest FIP and tied for fourth lowest ERA. He was second only to Justin Verlander in innings pitched and ranked sixth in strikeout rate at 23.8%, actually tying Verlander for second in K/BB at 3.98. He walked just 6% of hitters, tossed a perfect game, and managed to win 13 decisions despite another anemic showing from the sub-sub-Mariners of Seattle.

But what makes Hernandez, dare I say, so friggin rad is that he does this year in and year out. Over the last four seasons, Hernandez has averaged a 2.81 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, and a 8.43 K/9.

But then there’s his withering fastball, right? Well, sort of.

Over the first half, there were some oddities about his repertoire. He was using his change over 30% of the time, and this change of speed pitch was averaging over 89 mph. He was using his fastball and cutter about 29% of the time, averaging 91.8 and 92.1 mph, respectively. Over his last half, his fastball usage increased to over 38% between his four seam and cutter, averaging 92.8 and 92.7 mph, while his change-up usage dropped 10% and the separation in speed grew, with an average speed still at of 89 mph. Everything else really remained constant.

For you visual learners out there:

and:

I left out his curve and slider since they just kind of sullied the whole visual aspect of the velocity increase on the fastball, but included the change because… well, I wanted to and this is my party.

The increase in speed over the course of the season is something that we can reasonably expect, but given the adjustment in repertoire, you have to wonder if Hernandez made some changes mid-season. But I wonder a lot of things that I’ll never know. What’s almost certain, and kind of the point, is that Hernandez himself wasn’t concerned with his own fastball because he actually used it more and more as the season wore on.

Hernandez induced opponents to swing at over 34% of pitches out of the zone in 2012, which is a career high. His overall contact rate was 77%, the lowest in three seasons, and his swinging strike rate was 10.6%, matching a career high. Hernandez isn’t hitting 95+mph like he used to. But, as they say, he’s now pitching instead of throwing. And if you liked what you saw back when Felix Hernandez was winning Cy Young awards, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t like Felix Hernandez entering 2013. Because he’s still every bit the King he used to be.

And yes, I know you don’t elect a King in a Monarchy because of the whole Aristocracy bloodline thing. Just let it go.




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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


7 Responses to “The King Seeks Re-Election”

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  1. Evan says:

    Felix had a stretch of rough games in 2012, said he was all over the place, then he tightened his mechanics and went on a rampage that included a perfect game. Perhaps his best quality is that when he knows somethings not working, he pulls tricks out of the bag we didn’t know he had. Every year he starts slow in April/May, has a rough patch, then straps in and goes all Cy Young on the American League.

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  2. Paul Clarke says:

    I think you’re being misled by the Pitch F/X pitch classification algorithm here:

    1) According to Shannon Drayer (Mariners radio reporter) Felix doesn’t throw a cutter, but his fastball sometimes cuts. This isn’t something he can control, apparently.

    2) Earlier in the year Pitch F/X was having great difficulty distinguishing Felix’s changeup from his fastball, probably because his fastball velocity was down and his slower fastballs were falling into the normal velocity range for his changeup. The drop from 30% changeups to 20% isn’t because he started throwing fewer changeups, it’s because Pitch F/X stopped misclassifying so many fastballs when his velocity increased.

    Have a look at the human-assisited pitch classifications at brooksbaseball.net – they show <= 20% changeups all year and only a handful of cutters.

    You're right, though, that Felix made changes mid-season. After one particularly bad start he looked at video of his delivery (something he rarely does) and noticed problems. See this Lookout Landing article for some details.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Interesting. I don’t discount what you say here, but if a pitch behaves like a cutter, isn’t it… a cutter? Regardless, I agree on the pitch classifications — BIP, Brooks, and PitchF/X can’t agree on Felix’s repertoire, which makes it maddening.

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  3. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Only slightly relevant fun fact: There actually are some elected Monarchies in the world today, where the King is elected and called, well, a King.

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