Where do I even start?
21 years ago, a big right-handed flamethrower made his Major League debut for the Red Sox after tearing straight through the minors. All he did over the course of the season was strike out nearly a hitter an inning, average almost seven frames a start, and walk fewer than two batters per nine. Within two years, the guy became the best pitcher in baseball, and he hasn't looked back since.
The difference is that Roger Clemens was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues. Felix Hernandez is a young 19. Which isn't to say that Felix is guaranteed to become the next Rocket - he'll have to be handled carefully for at least the next three years or so to avoid injury, and Clemens' career shows better control than Felix currently has - but the potential is there, and when you're able to say that one of your farmhands has a 20% chance of turning into Roger Clemens, you know he's doing something right. Everything's already there, be it the repertoire, the attitude, the velocity, the tendency towards groundballs; all Felix needs to do is find a more consistent release, and he'll be on the fast track to superstardom. If he's not there already.
Felix Hernandez, right now, is one of the top ten or fifteen starters in baseball. How often can you say that about a guy who was pitching in A-ball the previous year? (Hint: Never.) This thing is just beginning.
Biggest Contribution: Felix Hernandez, +61.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -20.6%
Most Important Hit: Betancourt triple, +22.4%
Most Important Pitch: Bartlett groundout, +9.7%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +74.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -25.8%
References to Renaissance art and Greek mythology within six days of each other. Lookout Landing: your one-stop shop for culture.
As you can gather from the image, Felix carried the team on his back tonight, needing just 94 pitches (69 strikes!) to plow through a helpless Minnesota batting order for eight innings despite an almost total lack of run support. As important as Betancourt's triple was to the win, it's worth noting that Felix's performance was nearly three times as valuable. It's almost impossible to put into words. Through two games, he's been better than anything we could have expected out of the gate. I don't think we've been able to say that about someone for a few years.
How much enthusiasm has the guy generated? Apparently enough to make a few dozen people vote in a questionless poll. Along similar lines, both of his starts have required two game threads (something which has only been done three times all year). His name shows up everywhere in the local press, and there's a certain electric hum in the stadium that's been missing since Ichiro's record-breaking night last October. And he's delivered. I can't stress this enough. It's one thing to have lofty expectations for a talented player, but it's quite another for said player to actually match, or even exceed those expectations. It's something that only happens with special players, and Felix is among the rarest of the rare, the group that achieves stardom immediately upon promotion.
It's refreshing that, in an organization that's been so bad to young pitchers, a Phoenix can rise from the ashes and actually get to the level that so many people predicted. It wasn't that long ago that we took notice of a 17 year old relative unknown who was eating up the Northwest League, choosing to follow him through Wisconsin and Inland Empire and ignoring the fate that had befallen so many of his peers. Remember when people used to say things like "our 2004 rotation is going to kick ass, with Anderson, Johnson, Heaverlo, Nageotte, and Soriano"? Well, for once, one of the names that often appeared in those kinds of posts has actually broken into the Majors.
Another way to look at all this: according to Win Probability Added, Felix Hernandez has been the fourth most valuable Mariner on the season. After two starts. Where almost everyone else on the team has had his positive contributions negated by bad games, Felix is standing there around a win and a half added, between Randy Winn and George Sherrill. Any way you look at it, he's been spectacular.
49 batters faced
175 pitches (3.57 per)
118 strikes (67%)
Just looking at the raw totals, you almost get the feeling like Felix wasn't challenged enough in Tacoma. Having been on a pitch count in each of his first two appearances in Seattle, Felix has done well to get pretty deep by throwing strikes and being economical with his pitches (as economical as you can be when much of what you throw is unhittable). Since the start of that first inning in Detroit last Thursday, we haven't seen even the faintest indication that his command is off, which was the lone blemish on his minor league performance record. He's pitched well enough to make us overlook some funny mechanics, having accepted that these are just some of the quirks that come with the package.
John Sickels wrote a little something about Felix today:
I'm 100% confident when I say that he's already there.
Can you imagine what it must be like to be Felix Hernandez's mom? Just think about the conversations she must have with other mothers.
"Your son got an A- on his geometry test? That's pretty great. Mine shut out the Minnesota Twins."
One of the things that really gets on my nerves is when an announcer goes into some length and detail to explain something that any self-respecting listener already knows. Here's what Ron Fairly had to say about a Kyle Lohse pitch in the first inning, having already identified it as a slider:
"That pitch looks like a fastball out of the pitcher's hand, but then it slides down and away off the end of the bat."
Thanks, Ron, you just used 24 words to convey a message that could be rather easily summarized by saying "There's a slider."
Jeremy Reed is going to be a fine player in the long run, but he's not doing too well for himself right now. He started the year strong, walking more often than he struck out in April and putting up an .846 OPS in May, but he hasn't homered since May 29th, and he's hitting just .236 with 13 walks and 24 strikeouts since June 1st. The step backwards has been more than a little disappointing, coming from a guy who was supposed to be a quality #2 hitter by the end of the season.
Fun fact: Reed is hitting .387/.486/.452 in games following a day off.
Back to work tomorrow (7:05pm) as Brad Radke takes on the New & Improved Joel Pineiro!