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A Quick Note On Felix Hernandez And Velocity

Felix's ear, hair, and eyebrow
Felix's ear, hair, and eyebrow

So in case you're unaware and have been unaware this whole time, Felix Hernandez's fastball velocity is down. It was down in the spring, and it's been down so far in the season. We've talked about it. We've been kind of worried about it, and then we mostly stopped being worried about it. Through six starts, Felix has 12 walks, 42 strikeouts, and a 2.23 ERA. Felix has been awesome enough that we don't have to wonder if he's broken.

I'm writing this post mainly because I don't remember if I wrote this post a year ago. Earlier this morning, I was writing something up about David Robertson, and I referenced this article from April 2011 which says that Robertson might get more forward extension than any other pitcher in baseball. Robertson releases his average fastball seven feet in front of the rubber. The average pitcher measured released the average fastball five feet and ten inches in front of the rubber. Robertson gains an extra 14 inches, or to put it another way, he chops off 14 inches from the distance his fastball has to fly. That makes his fastball appear faster than it is, which leads to "effective velocity" or "perceived velocity". It's perceived velocity that matters more than actual velocity.

But this isn't a post about David Robertson because unfortunately David Robertson does not play for the Mariners. This is a post to point out that, on the forward-extension leaderboard in the article, Felix ranks seventh. I don't know how many different pitchers were measured, but probably a lot of them. According to the data, Felix releases his average fastball six feet and eight inches in front of the rubber. He gets four inches less extension than Robertson, but ten inches more extension than the average.

So Felix's reported pitch velocities undershoot his perceived velocities. Batters see him throwing harder than he actually throws, by a small but significant margin, and though I can't prove it I'm going to go ahead and assume that this works to Felix's benefit. His stuff is already wicked. He also releases it closer to home plate than most pitchers do.

This shouldn't be something that fluctuates much over time. It has to do with pitcher deliveries, and pitcher deliveries seldom change. Long story short, while Felix's fastball velocity is down this year, it looks slower to us than it does to the hitters. He might be sitting at 90-93, but he might look like 91-94, or 92-95. With the movement. You know, the obscene sink and run movement that Felix is able to generate. Felix's fastball is still a very good fastball. And the other pitches are all very good too. Hooray Felix! This is how every post on this website should conclude. Hooray Felix!