Let's face it; all anyone really wants to hear about this game is how Felix did. So with that in mind...
It would be easy to glance at Felix's final line and think "okay, so he was mediocre." Four runs and four walks in six laborious innings isn't anything special, and certainly not cause for celebration. A decent start, but still a step back from his recent stretch of unparalleled awesomeness.
However, dig a little deeper and you'll find that, all things considered, he actually had a heck of a game. For one thing, the temperature at first pitch was hovering right around 100 degrees. I don't know if you've ever exerted yourself in triple-digit heat, but it's not very comfortable, and you can wear yourself out in a right proper hurry. That Felix made it all the way to 112 pitches - hitting 96 in his final at bat - is nothing short of incredible.
For another thing, the Ranger starting lineup featured six left-handed hitters, and added a seventh in Frank Catalanotto after Michael Young jammed his finger. Felix is awesome and all, but being a righty with an inconsistent changeup and occasionally spotty fastball command, lefties have always given him trouble, and they require a little more effort to retire on his part than your typical righty. So right off the bat this matchup didn't really play into his hands. The Rangers have a bitchin' offense, and given that it's predominantly opposite-handed, it can make righties want to crawl into a hole and die. Felix knew from the get-go that he'd be fighting an enemy entrenched in an elevated position.
On top of that, Arlington's a bandbox, especially when the weather's so warm. We saw a bunch of fly balls carry like a motherfucker tonight, including LaHair's home run, and Beltre's first. I don't know if those fly balls leave any other ballpark, but tonight, in Texas, in 100-degree heat, they took off. So you can understand if Felix was a little extra wary pitching around the zone.
And finally, even with all of those built-in excuses, Felix's performance just wasn't as mediocre as his pitching line would suggest. More telling than the four walks is that he threw 63% strikes - above-average - and had another eight pitches in the strike zone called balls by HP umpire Tom Hallion. He generated 12 swinging strikes, all against left-handed hitters, and whiffed six of the 29 batters he faced. And of the 19 balls the Rangers put in play, 11 were grounders and two were infield pop-ups. So the BIP distribution was right where you'd like it to be. Really, aside from a missed location here and there, it's hard to find too many things about which to complain.
Felix threw the ball well tonight. He threw 38 pitches at or above 96mph, he missed bats, he stayed around the zone, and he kept the ball on ground, and he did all of this despite having to deal with sizzling conditions in an active launchpad. I don't see any reason to be anything less than thoroughly satisfied with his performance. Thumbs up, Felix. Good to see you improve on your start against Boston. You weren't perfect, but considering the lineup and environment made for as tough a game as you'll see all season, you did a hell of a job, and I applaud you for it.
A shame about the W, though. But by now I guess you're probably used to that.
Biggest Contribution: King Awesome, +37.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Jeremy Reed, -20.2%
Most Important AB: Beltre homer, +23.0%
Most Important Pitch: Murphy DP, +18.1% (Johjima pick-off: +27.8%)
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +4.6%
Total Contribution by Lineup: +45.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)
- In Win Expectancy terms, Kenji's snap-throw down to third base to nab Ramon Vazquez was the single most important play of the game, and that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that the man at the plate was Josh flipping Hamilton. Kenji's been one of our heaviest anchors all season long, but tonight he hit three line drives and made a spectacular throw, so it's nice to see some signs of life, however fleeting. I can't make sense of how quickly he's fallen off, and so I like to take games like this as an indication that maybe - just maybe - he might still have a little something left in the tank.
- And we all better freaking hope he does because oh my god three more years
- Brandon Morrow's finally going through the strike rate regression that we all probably knew was coming when he started out on such a tear. After throwing 67% strikes over his first 30 appearances, he's dropped to 56% over his last nine, and while I don't by any means think it's a sign of significant trouble, it does serve as a valuable reminder that he's still a work in progress, and that he'll only ever be as good as his control allows him to be. Turning him into a starter won't be as easy as simply dropping him into a game and not taking him out until he's thrown 100 pitches. He needs to improve his offspeed stuff to combat tough lefties, and he needs to refine his command so that he can actually get through five and six innings on a consistent basis. I know it'll be hard, considering some of the overpowering strikeouts we all have etched in our memories, but in the event that the team ever does finally try to stretch him out, be patient. The transition won't happen overnight.
- It would be easy to call Beltre's first inning home run a bit of a joke, but considering all the bad luck he's been experiencing for the past four months, he earned those four bases, God dammit. I know this isn't how regression works, but you talk about a guy who deserves like nine or ten consecutive bloop base hits.
- Bryan LaHair's home run was a joke (he hasn't earned it). That was just a product of the ballpark. However, that said, between the homer, the single, and the walk, LaHair just had the night of his life, and I hope he's taking every opportunity to savor it. Because ten years from now, the memories of tonight will be all he has left when he reminisces about how he never got enough respect over drinks with Rico Brogna. Bryan, I'd love for you to prove me wrong about your projection. I just don't think you're capable.
- Jeremy Reed is almost out of chances. This guy just refuses to seize any opportunity to carve out a Major League career. Melky Cabrera sure would look good right about now.