Is It Time For To Worry About Felix Hernandez?

Shaky Spring Has Some People Worried

Felix Hernandez is without question the face of the Seattle Mariners.  He’s the rarity in the Emerald City– one of the few that publically stated that he loves Seattle and wants to play his entire career as a Seattle Mariner and actually signed a deal to do so.

For that and many other things that Hernandez has done, I thank him.

Despite the greatness of being a perennial Cy Young candidate, the face of a franchise, and arguably the most dominate pitcher of his generation, some people are beginning to worry about Felix.  The worry stems from a couple of sub-par, outings this spring in which the King, has been made to look like a mere mortal.

Felix has already thrown his last pitch in spring training.  His overall numbers for the spring of 2015 are not pretty, at all.

Consider these for a moment.

Year Record ERA Games Inn Hits ER HR HB BB SO AVG WHIP
2013 1-1 2.65 4 17 14 5 1 1 2 17 .219 0.94
2014 2-0 4.73 4 13.1 13 7 0 0 3 13 .250 1.20
2015 0-4 10.33 4 12.1 13 14 3 1 4 8 .277 1.38
Should anyone worry that Felix is fading? (Photo: Otto Greule Jr/ Getty Images)

Should anyone worry that Felix is fading? (Photo: Otto Greule Jr/ Getty Images)

Clearly, Felix’s spring has been not up to his usual standards relative to his last two springs.

In 2014, his ERA was higher than normal at 4.73 and he of course went on to one of the best seasons of his entire career, a season in which I thought he deserved his 2nd Cy Young.

His awful looking 10.33 ERA for the 2015 spring is due mostly to a couple of really bad starts.

On March 21st against the Cubs Felix was lit up for six runs in only 2.2 innings including a couple of homers.  The other bad one was his most recent.  On March 31st the Indians got to Hernandez for seven runs in only 1.2 innings.

Following his final shelling of 2015 spring training, Felix was adamant that he just had sore legs from a hard work out earlier in the week and that he had a minor mechanics issue that he needed to take care of.

That sounds reasonable to me.  After all we are talking about the King!  He’s been a dominate starter for 10 straight seasons now.  How dare anyone question the King!

Well, maybe, just maybe, we should be.

Felix turns 29 years old next week.  It’s the start of his 11th big league season.  He hasn’t pitched less than 190 innings in any of those 10 seasons with the exception of his rookie year in 2005 when he only threw 84.1 innings.

Can Hernandez continue to dominate on the other side of 30? (Photo - Getty Images)

Can Hernandez continue to dominate on the other side of 30? (Photo – Getty Images)

The years, innings, and wear and tear, might be starting to show on Felix after 10 seasons.  This can be illustrated by looking at his velocity.   His average pitch velocity has decreased each of the last six seasons prior to 2014.  From 2013-2014 he held his velocity at the same rate.  This is a guy who came into the league throwing his fastball 98 MPH.  Now it’s 92 MPH.

To compensate, Hernandez is now throwing his change-up more and more.  In fact, Felix throws more change ups than any other starting pitcher in baseball.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

Felix boasts one of the best, if not the best changeup in baseball.  Unlike Mr. Bugs Bunny himself, Jamie Moyer, Felix’s changeup comes in to hitters at three miles per hour less than his fastball.  Mr. Moyer and other changeup superstars would tell you they always strived for at least a 10 MPH differential.

Despite the lack of speed differential, the change up is working for Felix, which is I am sure why continues to throw it at least once out of every three pitches on average.  It works for him because he gets so much drop on the baseball when he throws it.  Unlike most changeup pros, Felix gets that great downward movement without giving up a lot of velocity.  That’s what makes that pitch special for Hernandez.

When batters swung at Felix’s change last year they caught nothing but air just over 40% of the time.  Think about that, no contact at all four out of 10 swings.  When batters swing at Felix’s change AND put it in play they put it on the ground nearly three out of four times.  That means even when they get a piece of it, they don’t really do anything with it.

The fact that Hernandez is so good with his changeup gives you hope as he enters what has to be considered the 2nd half of his career– the over 30 years old part.  It’s baseball scout rule #1 folks–  arms get slower as they get older.

On the other hand, pitchers with great off-speed pitches tend to be the ones that thrive in the big leagues well into their 30s and Felix certainly falls into the category of a pitcher with great off-speed stuff.  How he continues to manage the transition from having a thunderbolt for an arm to being more and more of a fineness type of pitcher remains to be seen.

Should we doubt his ability to makes this transition?

I personally don’t see why anyone would.  Felix has never failed to find a way to win.  A couple of shaky starts, where he may or may not have had no legs under him, isn’t enough to make me pronounce to the world that King’s reign is over.

On the contrary, I think Felix will figure this out and his career as a dominate pitcher will continue, albeit on a slightly different path.  It’s a path that everyone on this planet must walk too.  It’s the path where physical prowess yields to wisdom.  The King is still the King and he shall be a wise one for years to come.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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