We've seen nearly two years of terrible baseball, but the true extent of this team's crappiness never really hit me until last night, when I was talking to someone and somehow the subject of the Mariners came up. I mentioned how they lost again despite having Felix on the mound, and how I still have to write about these guys every day, and the girl - who pretty much knows absolutely nothing about baseball - replied:
"They blow. A lot."
It's not the same as hearing that from an ESPN studio analyst. Old bags like Joe Morgan and John Kruk get paid to say things like that, and - truth be told - they didn't seem to much care for the Mariners when they were good. It's also not the same as hearing it from yourself, because on any given night, you're liable to bounce between "I love baseball!" and "I'm going to go jump off something tall," which takes some of the meaning away from the negativity.
No, hearing that from someone completely random is what did it. For me, anyway. I sat there thinking, "Man, this girl's more honest about the Mariners than I am. They really suck, and they've really sucked for two years." It's rough when you come to the realization that something you love doesn't love you back, but better late than never, right?
I guess the next stage is self-blame, since the Mariners were a 90-win team before I started this blog. Sorry guys.
Biggest Contribution: Ramontiago, +12.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Felix Hernandez, -21.6%
Most Important Hit: Sexson double, +14.7%
Most Important Pitch: Barajas homer, -14.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -17.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -21.3%
Stop worrying. Yes, you. Felix is fine. Given the attrition rate of young pitchers in this organization, everyone's already more than a little concerned about his health, so the last thing we need is a bunch of Chicken Littles coming out of the woodwork to say that there's something physically wrong when he has a bad start. Which isn't to say we're not all thinking it - it would only be appropriate, right? - but rampant paranoia is never a good thing, and besides, it implies that Felix is some sort of superhuman pitcher who only struggles when there's something wrong with his arm. The truth is, he's 19 years old and has all of 64 innings pitched in the Majors. That said, he is an ace, and he is one of the best pitchers in the league. He's just not quite as flawless as his earlier performance would suggest.
Let's take a look at his numbers to date:
Batters faced: 219
Among pitchers with 50+ innings, Felix ranks 27th in FIP and 4th in xFIP. The issue? He's behind a bunch of relievers. So, among starters with 50+ innings, he ranks 9th in FIP and 1st in xFIP. The latter is more of an experimental stat than anything else at this point, but by correcting for home runs, it should theoretically become a better predictor of future ERA than FIP is. If you buy into the methodology, then Felix has actually been the best starting pitcher in baseball over his first nine games. Now don't you feel better?
Okay, so his control is starting to regress a little bit (11 walks in his last 25 innings, compared to five in his first 36), but that's something we all thought we'd see right off the bat after he was promoted from AAA. Felix faced a bunch of undisciplined hacker lineups early on, and as the offenses have gotten better, he's having a little more trouble. That's all it is. This isn't about a 19 year old getting overworked or having something wrong with his shoulder, it's about a 19 year old facing the best hitters in the world and occasionally losing the battle. It happens. Don't lose faith.
Speaking strictly in terms of last night's game, I have to wonder why Felix was throwing so many fastballs (or why Torrealba was calling for them). Just as it was with Freddy Garcia and the changeup, Felix's best pitch is his curveball. It's so good, in fact, that AAA hitters actually refused to swing at it. We've seen it look spectacular, freezing hitters left and right, and we've also seen Felix struggle to locate his fastball, just like he did in Tacoma. So why throw more of the latter at the expense of the former? A lot of guys use their fastball as their reliable pitch, something they can throw when they need a strike, but that's not the case with Felix. I know I'm not the only person to realize this, so here's hoping something's different the next time around.
In that Comeback Player of the Year Award fan voting commercial, with the scout holding the radar gun and repeatedly expressing his awe and wonder, watch the pitcher's mechanics. They're pretty bad, and his front shoulder flies open way too fast. No wonder he's trying to make a comeback. He's probably had at least two or three major surgeries.
Prediction: in his next (last?) start, Jaime Bubela lays down at least one bunt in an attempt to use his speed to pick up his first big league hit. Otherwise, it's just not gonna happen.
I'm going to give Dave Hansen the prestigious Lenny Harris Award for having the slowest bat in baseball. You can look through his season log - he's gone hitless against anyone who throws 95+. What good is a pinch-hitting weapon off the bench if he can't touch closers, since the majority of them come at you with hard fastballs? Maybe my expectations are just too high. After all, to rack up one of the highest numbers of pinch-hits in history, you have to have spent an awful lot of time not being good enough to start.
Joel Pineiro, Kenny Rogers, 5:05pm PDT.