Although spring training is just 33 days away, I imagine most Seattle sports fans are probably a bit more concerned with what's going to happen later this afternoon in just a few hours. (For those of you who don't go outside, read the newspaper, or use the internet to access anything other than Lookout Landing, the Seahawks are playing a game of football today at 12:05 PM PST.)
But before I let you go off and engage in your football watching parties, we're going to have a quick pop quiz. Are you ready? The question for today is... what do the following three dates have in common? (Hint: baseball)
- Sunday, August 15th, 2010
- Saturday, April 6th, 2013
- Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Not sure? Well then, what do these three players have in common? (Hint: Felix Hernandez)
- Shin-Soo Choo
- Hector Gimenez
- David Ortiz
Still perplexed? I'll tell you!
Those dates/players correspond to the only instances where Felix Hernandez has issued an intentional base on balls since the beginning of 2009. That's a span of six seasons. 199 games started. More than 2060 innings pitched. A total of 5614 batters faced. And Felix intentionally walked three people. When you stop and think about it, that's a little bit crazy, right?
The exact scenarios for each of these IBBs is described in the table below:
|Shin-Soo Choo was intentionally walked.
|was intentionally walked.
|David Ortiz was intentionally walked.
I suppose walking Ortiz and Gimenez in these situations doesn't not make sense, but I don't understand walking Choo with two outs. You've gotta trust Felix in that spot every time, yeah? Also, it should be pointed out that in each of these instances, the opposition ended up scoring at least once later in the inning, despite (or partially because of?) the IBB. Travis Hafner hit a grand slam immediately after Choo was walked, the White Sox managed to scrape across a run on a sac-fly later in the inning after Gimenez's walk, and right after Ortiz was walked Yoenis Cespedes hit a 3-run home run. I don't know know if issuing an intentional walk threw Felix off of his game in these situations (it's certainly not something he's used to), but I think I'd be liable to just trust Felix to get out of jams on his own in the future as opposed to messing around with more intentional base on balls...
For a bit more perspective, Felix's IBB% of 0.053% ranks as the third lowest among the 109 pitchers who have started at least 100 games since the beginning of the 2009 season. Jon Lester (0.039%) and Derek Holland (0.030%) are the only men who have issued IBBs at a lower rate than King Felix.
I would expect that particularly adept pitchers would be less likely to rack up IBBs because 1) they're less likely to get into sticky situations where an IBB might in any way become appealing and 2) if they do find themselves in those situations, their managers likely have a significant amount of trust that their aces will be able to escape a jam unscathed. To see if this hypothesis holds true, I put together the chart below which shows how IBBs scale with a pitcher's prowess (in terms of WAR/GS):
We can see that better pitchers do tend to issue IBBs less frequently, but the correlation isn't as strong as it could be (an R-squared value of 0.13). There are also some obvious exceptions to the rule. Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher in all of baseball over the last six seasons and he intentionally walked batters almost nine times as often as Felix did (0.44%).
Of course, the IBB is something that is somewhat outside of a player's control. If a pitcher's skipper either hates or loves the intentional base on balls, this can certainly impact their numbers. Case in point, the Dodgers lead the league in IBBs over the past six seasons. Their starters intentionally handed out free passes to more than 0.6% of the batters they faced, which is more than 70% higher than the league-average. This appears to explain Kershaw's seemingly inflated numbers.
|AL starting pitchers
|NL starting pitchers
|MLB starting pitchers
With the Mariners, Felix has pitched for four different managers over the last six years. Wakamatsu, Wedge, and Lloyd each had Felix issue one IBB. During that span, the Mariners were a touch below the AL average for their starting pitcher IBB rate (0.22% vs. 0.24%). With this in mind, it's pretty clear that Felix's lack of IBBs appears to rest predominately on his overwhelming skill and dominance. Felix has the trust of his manager. He's more than deserved it.
(Also, go 'hawks.)