The Felix Hernandez Turnaround

peer pressure

It's funnier now to look back at what we were so worried about. We were so worried about Felix Hernandez. Not consistently worried, but occasionally worried, more worried than we've been in the past. And while we all knew we were being overprotective and just a little bit irrational, it's not like we didn't have reasons. No matter how much the coaching staff tried to explain things away, we had reasons. His velocity was down. The results weren't right.

Through Felix's first dozen starts, leading up through June 1, he threw just over 81 innings. He registered 81 strikeouts. What's the most important thing you want to see from a strikeout starting pitcher? Strikeouts, and Felix was still getting them. It would've been one thing if Felix were averaging five or six strikeouts per nine innings. He was averaging nine strikeouts per nine innings. And we were worried.

But we had our reasons. And Felix himself validated our concerns at the beginning of June. We've linked to this Shannon Drayer post before, and now we've linked it again, just there, a moment ago. Nevermind how we felt, or how the coaching staff said that it felt; what mattered most was how Felix felt. Here's how Felix felt:

"I was watching film yesterday, and it looked terrible," he told me. "Everything, my upper body is up, I'm not finishing my pitches, not just because of my back. I went to the films before my bad back, and still like that. I am not pushing with my back leg, not finishing my pitches. It surprised me a lot."

That's not quite how Felix felt; Felix said that, when he was pitching, he felt fine. But he watched himself and subsequently felt bad about himself. Felix saw that he needed to make changes, just as soon as he could get over a minor back injury. It was both encouraging and not. It was good that Felix had identified problems he needed to address. It was bad because, what if he couldn't address them? What if they didn't go away?

Felix made his first start after watching video and after recovering from the injury on June 12. Even though he wasn't very good, we're going to break Felix's season up into two ~halves, the first ending on June 1, the second beginning on June 12. Felix saw that he needed to make some tweaks. Presumably, he worked on making those tweaks. Here are Felix's statistical splits:

R/9 K% BB% Strike% Contact%
Before 3.64 24% 9.4% 63% 80%
After 2.01 25% 5.9% 66% 75%

Remember that, even before, Felix had his moments of impossible brilliance. He beat the living shit out of the Indians on April 19 before Brandon League frittered everything away. He maimed the Twins on May 5. But still, something seemed off - Felix's command wasn't what we'd grown used to it being. Felix admitted that he didn't have great command of his fastball, and that's still the pitch off of which all his other pitches work.

The splits aren't quite night and day, because Felix was difficult to hit before, but Felix went in search of his command, and it appears that he found it. It's not like every single start has been spectacular, but nobody is spectacular every single time. Felix has thrown two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. He's reduced his contact rate by five percentage points. The walks are way down as Felix has weaponized each of his pitches. Since June 12, spanning 13 starts, Felix has allowed two home runs. He threw a complete-game shutout against the Red Sox. He threw a complete-game shutout against the Rangers. He threw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees. He threw a perfect game against the Rays. Even just typing this out - holy shit. Remove the four shutouts from the sample and over the remaining nine games Felix's ERA is 3.03. Since June 12, Felix has posted a 3.03 ERA when he hasn't thrown a shutout or a perfect game, which he has done four times, against good teams.

What we can't prove, obviously, is causation; as always in these circumstances, we can observe a correlation and make as much or as little of that as we want. We don't know if Felix hit a statistical turbo boost because of the issues he identified when watching himself on video. That would make a lot of sense, though. This isn't like ice cream sales and shark attacks. It makes sense that a guy would begin making necessary adjustments and go on to improve. That's the whole point of adjustments.

Whatever's been going on, better this sequence than the other way around. Better to have Felix getting stronger than to have Felix getting weaker. In a way, Felix's season is not unlike Felix's game just yesterday - acceptable beginning, followed by unbelievable domination. But then, Felix's game yesterday is over, and his 2012 season is not. So just how in the hell does he intend to do yesterday one better?

The crazy thing is I think he could do it. Sure, Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game. I bet he could throw a better one.

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