I don't know much of anything about the first 15, but let me tell you, with the way Felix was pitching tonight, the Royals didn't have a chance. As easy as it is to look at the standings and write tonight off as another fluff outing against a crappy offense, doing so only serves to distance Felix from the credit he deserves to get for dominating Major League hitters at 19 years old.
Sure, the kid's gone up against three subpar lineups in his first three starts, but maybe that's by design - maybe the organization though the best way to ease Felix into the Majors would be to put him on the hill against weak hitters in low-pressure situations. Debuting in a day game in Detroit that wasn't televised? Going up against two floundering offenses at home? It's almost like the Mariners intended for him to get some experience against AAAA lineups before slotting him in to face a title contender.
Of course, this is almost certainly untrue - Felix was brought up after the trade deadline, when the rotation needed a little extra manpower - but the timing has worked out perfectly. He's in line to get another soft start against Minnesota before taking on the White Sox (who really don't have much of an offense themselves). If I had my way, this is how all talented young pitching prospects would break into the Majors. No more of that "getting your feet wet in the bullpen" stuff like the Mariners did with Pineiro; keep the guys in their standard roles, just make sure to give them an easy transition. The only downside is that it elevates their workload, but the organization should be keeping a close eye on that anyway, so it shouldn't be much of an issue.
Biggest Contribution: Felix Hernandez, +26.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Jeremy Reed, -3.9%
Most Important Hit: Morse homer, +19.6%
Most Important Pitch: DeJesus strikeout, +4.8%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +26.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +24.5%
It was like the polar opposite of Sunday's game, in terms of Win Probability Added - today, only a few players made negative contributions, and each was pretty small and borderline inconsequential. Which makes sense, because as soon as Morse homered in the second, you felt like the game was over, so anything that happened after that wasn't likely to have much of an effect. In fact, no single play after the home run swayed the Mariners' odds of winning by more than 8%, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that Morse did his yardwork in the second friggin' inning.
There's only so much you can say about Felix Hernandez before you start repeating yourself, so let's just let the numbers tell the story:
Home runs: 0
1st Pitch Strike%: 57%
Strike% After 1st Pitch: 71.5%
I like to think those last two are pretty important - where Felix has had a little trouble starting guys off with strikes, he's been able to consistently battle back and get ahead without getting into any trouble. Where he might throw off the plate to see if the batter will bite early in the count, Felix's stuff is good enough that he can come back over the plate when he needs to without getting hit. It's been three games, and he's allowed a grand total of ten fly balls, maybe two of three of them being hit well. Regardless of where Felix puts the ball, you're either going to beat it into the ground or miss it completely. That's a repertoire to die for.
The best thing I've seen from Felix so far is the ability to throw strikes when he has to, with only the most intermittent blips in his command. He's looked nothing like the guy who walked 48 hitters in 88 innings in AAA earlier this summer. He's absolutely pounding the strike zone, with a strike percentage that would rank among the league leaders over a full season. Granted, the Tigers, Twins, and Royals aren't exactly renowned for their patience at the plate - ranking 30th, 14th, and 29th, respectively, in walks drawn this season - but these are Major League hitters who want to see what this 19 year old rookie has to offer, and all he's done is come right after them. He's talented, he's confident, and he's utterly unflappable. Pitchers like this aren't born unto humans; they descend from the heavens.
And yet, performance aside, the greatest thing this teenager has done so far is get Seattle interested in baseball again. Fans show up for a Monday night game against the worst team in baseball. They get to their feet and clap for every two-strike count. They hang on every pitch and give standing ovations to recognize a job well done. Felix has been a blessing for Mariners fans around the world who were having trouble convincing themselves that this team was still worth watching. God knows he's been a blessing for me, since this team of assbags usually doesn't give me much to write about. Finally, we have a guy we can stay up and chat about with friends until the wee hours of the morning. It's been eons.
It takes a special kind of defensive aptitude to make people forget that you're hitting .218 with zero homers and one walk in 55 at bats. Yuniesky Betancourt has got it. His work at second base tonight saved Felix at least one hit, and probably two. Had he been playing shortstop, Felix would've tossed a shutout. This isn't like a Wilson Valdez "his offense sucks so his defense must be terrific" thing, either - Betancourt is legitimately amazing with the leather. Even if he never hits, he'll have a job until he's however old Rey Sanchez is these days.
In three starts, Felix Hernandez has become the fourth most valuable Mariner on the year, worth roughly two wins above average.
The Ichiro we're seeing this year is almost identical to the Ichiro we saw in 2003 - his extra-base hit percentage is hovering around 23%, and he's elevating the ball more than usual (GB/FB below 2.00). The result is a few more homers at the expense of a bunch of singles, which he's most adept at collecting when he's putting the ball on the ground and running it out to first base. His grounders are down 13% from where they were a year ago, and his singles are down 26%, which is why it seems like he's been slumping so often. The key is for Ichiro to find the best balance between slapping singles and pulling the ball into the right field seats. In terms of pure player value, the balance should be heavily skewed towards the left-hand side of the equation. Ichiro is of little substantial value to this team when he's popping up.
Jamie Moyer Joel Pineiro goes up against Kansas City's own little phenom tomorrow night at 7:05pm.