We did this with Michael Pineda, and now we're doing it with Felix Hernandez. Even though Felix has lost that new car smell that Pineda's got seeping out of his big giant pores, sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves about the stuff that Felix can throw so that we don't get caught taking him for granted. And no, I'm not going to do this post every time Pineda or Felix take the mound, but I am going to do this post when I need new content and have neither the time nor level of energy to think up something more clever or informative.
Recall that this is founded on MLB Gameday's 'Nasty Factor', which assigns a grade to every pitch on a 0-100 scale based on its various traits and batter performance against similar pitches in the past. It is by no means a perfect metric, but it's the best and most convenient we've got, so we're going to run with it. And by "run with it" I mean sit right here and type about it.
Here we have an 88mph first-pitch slider to Kevin Kouzmanoff in the top of the third. Miguel Olivo sets up down and away and Felix hits his spot right on, leaving Kouzmanoff helpless to do anything other than gently foul the ball off. Look how quickly Kouzmanoff's hips open up. It's a small miracle he made contact with the ball at all. All the crap that Kouzmanoff's been through in his career, and now Felix Hernandez is throwing him first-pitch sliders? I just want to have a beer with Kevin Kouzmanoff and reassure him that, hey, you're all right, and then I would pat him on the back.
Felix started the top of the fourth with an 81mph first-pitch curve to David DeJesus that DeJesus took for a close ball. One of the things you quickly learn about Nasty Factor is that it isn't only strikes that get graded highly, and the reason this came out so high is, imagine if DeJesus swung. There's nothing for him to do with that pitch. That's maybe not a great pitch to start an at bat to a disciplined hitter, but had Felix been ahead in the count, that pitch would've been lethal.
Note that Felix did miss his spot, here. But if you're going to miss with a curveball, that's how you do it.
Daric Barton came off the bench to pinch-hit for Kouzmanoff in the top of the eighth, and the first pitch he saw was arguably Felix's second-best pitch of the game, an 81mph curve that caught the edge of the zone for a strike. You can see from his body language how badly Barton was fooled, and perhaps even more impressive, watch Olivo's glove. It rises into place as Felix is going through his motion, and then it doesn't move an inch. That's how you hit your target with a breaking ball. We know that high breaking balls are dangerous to opposite-handed hitters when they drift over the plate, but Olivo has confidence in Felix's ability to stay out of the danger zone, and that's exactly what he did.
I'll be perfectly honest with you - after playing around with Nasty Factor for a few days, 100 grades aren't as rare as I would've liked them to be. But they're still exceptional, and here we see Felix go after Coco Crisp in the sixth with a first-pitch 82mph curve. As with the curve to DeJesus, Felix missed his spot here and barely threw a ball, but he missed in the right area, and he nearly got Crisp to bite. Had Crisp bitten, he would've whiffed. There's no other option. That is a tempting pitch that, if you swing at it, you miss it. It's impossible.
In all, we've got a slider, a curve, a curve, and a curve. The Royal Curve lives. All hail King Felix.