Felix Hernandez pitches tonight! He's pitching against the Wei-Yin Chen, and you definitely don't know much about him. I could dedicate this space to talking about Chen and the Orioles, but Felix is the ' brightest star so I'd rather just talk about him instead. One should never waste any opportunity to talk about Felix Hernandez, and there aren't many better opportunities than Felix gamedays., and you probably don't know much about them, and he's pitching against
This is just a post containing information I noticed. I don't know if you'll find it interesting. I don't even know if I find it interesting - I've just spent enough time thinking about it that I can't remember not thinking about it. Take an apple. Stare at the apple, and hold it in your hands. Roll it around, poke it, caress it. Are you interested in the apple? You probably weren't, but now you might be, and it's hard to draw a distinction between what's interesting and what you're voluntarily allowing to take up your time.
I'll let you know now I don't know how meaningful any of this is. A lot of blog posts about baseball try to reach a conclusion, to come up with some answer. My only conclusion here is "hey these things are a little different, weird."
Let's begin with Felix Hernandez's release point, just because we were talking about Jason Vargas' release point yesterday. The changes with Vargas were a bit more dramatic, but Felix is a hell of a lot more interesting, so things balance out. Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, I'd like to show you Felix's release points this season up through May 16, when he made his ninth start:
Okay, great, that doesn't tell you anything on its own. Now I'd like to show you Felix's release points ever since then.
You're not going to notice a difference looking at two separate pictures like that. What I recommend is that you open the two pictures in tabs and alternate back and forth between them. It's subtle, but you can see a drop. The cluster of release points shifts in the more recent image. Here's one way of putting it: through Felix's ninth start, he released 64 percent of his pitches at least six feet off the ground. Since Felix's tenth start, he's released 26 percent of his pitches at least six feet off the ground. His arm slot has come down a little bit, and recently it's been more in line with where it was in 2011. This probably isn't something you'd notice on video unless you were looking for it, but it's evident in the data.
Now let's move beyond release point and look at pitch movement. I isolated just Felix's pitches that were at least 90 miles per hour to capture his fastballs. You might be familiar with the PITCHf/x measurements of horizontal and vertical movement. A more negative horizontal movement means more break in on a righty. A more negative (or less positive) vertical movement means more sink. Let's look at Felix's fastballs in 2011, his fastballs through his first nine starts in 2012, and his fastballs over his most recent seven starts in 2012:
There's a trend toward less "run" and more cutting action. Felix doesn't throw a cutter, and the pitch that PITCHf/x is now identifying as a cutter is a pitch that Felix has always thrown, but he's throwing more of it. That's a four-seam fastball, with interesting break. In addition to the change in horizontal movement, we observe a change in vertical movement - earlier in 2012, Felix wasn't generating as much sink. The sink is back now, and then some, although oddly it hasn't led to an increase in grounders. Felix's groundball rate through his first nine starts this year was 49 percent; over his most recent seven starts, it's been 40 percent. That's actually extremely low, for Felix.
What have we learned from this? Some stuff, although nothing that's going to change the way you think about Felix Hernandez on a regular basis. These are trends to monitor, but what's absolutely most important is that regardless of what's in the PITCHf/x data, Felix feels the best now that he has in 2012. His regular data, his results data, is fantastic, and his velocity and command are creeping back up. And while I've spent a lot of this time talking about Felix's fastballs, it's Felix's changeup that sets him apart. That's the pitch that could make him a war criminal. Of note: Felix's changeup has also had a little less tail to it this year. That's probably a good thing, so it can better mirror his fastball. I'm done with the numbers now!
I'll leave you with .gifs, because it's the only way I know to be. These are .gifs of Felix's most "extreme" fastballs in 2012, in terms of movement. Have a good rest of your Tuesday.
Everything here is dependent on PITCHf/x accuracy so in the event of weird PITCHf/x calibration, go to hell, PITCHf/x, you're worthless if you're not accurate.
No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I take it back, PITCHf/x. You're not worthless if you're not accurate. You're worth less if you're not accurate. The all-important space bar!