"Once upon a time there was this guy who watched a lot of baseball. He was a big fan of one pitcher in particular, but his expectations were so high that he inadvertently created a lose/lose scenario for himself in which only complete and utter domination by the pitcher could make him satisfied. Anything less left him feeling distraught and anxious that something must be horribly wrong. Before too long, he found his life spiraling out of control, living out an intoxicated, solitary existence because he could no longer trust anyone he thought he knew. Soon thereafter he would die quietly and unnoticed, a broken shell of the man he used to be. 25 years later, the pitcher was voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot."
(You see what I did there? It's all about symbolism.)
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +13.7%
Biggest Suckfest: Felix Hernandez, -19.4%
Most Important Hit: Beltre double, +9.0%
Most Important Pitch: Thome homer, -13.8%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -14.9%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -36.0%
It certainly didn't take long to figure out how this one was going to go. Three batters into the bottom of the first, the Mariners were down 3-0, with Contreras looking okay and Felix looking like crap. It was one of those starts that made you want to just forget about the game and crawl back into bed, because the tone had been set pretty quickly, and the only thing more unpleasant than watching the M's lose for three hours while getting harassed by Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson ("Did you know that I used to play baseball? I used to play baseball! Ask me about what it was like when I played baseball") is doing the same thing while Felix scuffles on the mound. Seeing him struggle conjures up a range of emotions different from those which you experience during Gil Meche's weekly abortions - it's a deeper, more personal kind of hurt, like the way God must've felt when Jesus lost the elementary school spelling bee. You don't know if you should sympathize with Felix, or be mad at him, or be mad at yourself for never seeing this coming because you expected so much, and the end result is that you just sit there with a blank stare on your face for a little while trying to figure out a more appropriate way to react. I think Mariner fans everywhere are still a little stunned. I know I am. This whole "Felix is human" thing kind of snowballed on all of us.
I could sit here and tell you that Felix's indicators still look good, that he's still getting groundballs, he's still missing bats, and he's a real good bet to look a hell of a lot better from here on out, but the fact of the matter is that he's a different pitcher than the one we saw blaze through lineups for two months last summer. What's more frustrating than that is that I have absolutely no idea why, which makes it a difficult problem to address. I wouldn't be nearly as concerned if I could just forget about those two months and pretend like this is his first exposure to the Majors, but it's both stupid and bad form to ignore that kind of successful adjustment to the highest level of competition. Felix pitched very well in AAA, but he posted a pretty high walk rate. Then he got promoted and started throwing strike after strike, keeping all the positive attributes while eliminating all the bad ones. Now it's 2006 and he's back to the command problems again (with a little gopheritis thrown in for good measure).
I have no idea what happened, but theories abound. He's not ready for the Majors. He's too immature. He's hurt. He's fat. He's not as good as we thought. The league is getting used to him the second time around. It's the catchers' fault. It's Hargrove's fault. It's God's fault. And on and on and on. Everyone's got their own idea, and everyone's got a suggestion for how to go about fixing what's wrong. What I think it'll come down to in the end, though, is how badly Felix wants to succeed. He gets visibly irritated on the mound when he gets hit or allows a walk; it's on him to figure out how to minimize the frequency with which he gets thusly irritated. It sort of touches on Bavasi's whole opinion that young players should be pushed instead of coddled so that they experience adversity early in their careers rather than getting surprised the first time they encounter it later on. The bad times are when you really get to see how committed a player is to becoming as good as possible. Now it's Felix's turn. If he works hard enough and gets back to last year's level of dominance, then that's a huge stepping stone in his career, and we should be thankful that he was able to learn from his mistakes and develop into a better player instead of pretending like he was invulnerable. And if he doesn't, and it remains a struggle for the long-term, then...then, well, I guess that's what we deserve for setting the bar so high. Right now, we can't say which is more likely. All we can do is watch and hope.
There was a bit of a scare in the second inning today, when the trainer had to come out and visit Felix on the mound, but it turned out to be nothing. If you go back to the archived MLB.tv feed and watch Felix's delivery immediately prior to the trainer's visit, you can see his right cleat momentarily getting caught in the groove in front of the rubber instead of coming up and around like usual. When the rest of your body is rapidly moving forward, that's enough to make anyone lose their balance, which is precisely what happened to Felix. He had to swing his leg around real quickly and land on it pretty hard just to keep from falling, and that can hurt for a little while. No big deal there. What's really troubling about this afternoon's game is that, for as long as I was paying attention, Felix never exceeded 92-93mph with his fastball, where he's normally able to get into the high-90s. I'm not going to jump the gun and declare a disaster scenario just yet, as this is the kind of thing that needs to repeat itself a few times before you should really start worrying that something's wrong, but Felix's delivery puts a lot of stress on his throwing shoulder, and there's no better indicator of shoulder problems than a dip in velocity, so you do the math. Keep a close eye on the radar gun going forward. If he hits 97 in the first inning the next time he pitches, then we won't have to think about this stuff, at least not yet. Let's try not to think about what we'll do if he doesn't.
In terms of handedness, velocity, and delivery, Bobby Livingston is pretty much Felix's polar opposite. I haven't seen him pitch nearly enough to decide whether or not I think he'll have success in the Majors, but what I can say is that his mechanics look pretty solid from an injury-avoidance point of view. The only thing I'd try to clean up in that respect is the way his lead glove pulls off to the third base side before release, but that's not really a big issue, as he doesn't follow it up by throwing across his body too much. Apparently it's not affecting his command, either, since all he ever does is throw strikes. Just watching his follow-through today, I could tell that he was trying to overthrow a few pitches, but this was only the second appearance of his Major League career, so I'll cut him some slack. Mechanics: good. Stuff: we'll see.
According to some research done by Nate Silver for the book Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, Matt Lawton ranks as baseball's fifth-most clutch hitter since 1972. According to other research detailed in a 2005 issue of Psychological Science, smart people are more likely to choke under pressure. I guess Lawton's pop out with the bases loaded and two down in the sixth inning today is evidence that he's been reading a few too many encyclopedias this year. Eddie Guardado must be a friggin' genius. This team needs dumber players. Remember when Kaz Sasaki hurt himself carrying luggage that one time? That's the kind of flagrant idiocy that wins big ballgames.
Seattle - Top of 9th
Neal Cotts pitching for Chicago.
W Bloomquist hit for R Petagine.
B Jenks relieved N Cotts.
W Bloomquist fouled out to right.
Back home to face the Indians tomorrow, as Jamie Moyer goes up against Jake Westbrook. I'll be in Boston all weekend, therefore presumably unable to post game recaps, but I'll be watching in spirit. Which is too bad. For my spirit.