This morning, while clickin' around FanGraphs looking for something to write about, the following tweet showed up in my timeline on Twitter:
Revisiting active strikeout leaders who are in their 20's Felix 2,063 Kershaw 1,605 Gallardo 1,302 Price 1,262 Gonzalez 1,150 Cueto 1,106— Gary Hill (@GaryHillJr) July 10, 2015
I'd been aware of the fact that Felix Hernandez has been a strikeout monster throughout his career (duh) and that he has been steadily climbing the strikeout leaderboard this season. However, this tweet really reinforced the fact that King Felix has been absolutely bananas. Recall that Felix is the same age (29-years-old) as Gallardo, Price, Gonzalez, and Cueto. Kershaw is only 27-years-old this season and he could record more strikeouts than Felix before turning 30, but 1) he (like Felix) is a generational talent who 2) has the luxury of pitching in the National League and 3) likely has to record ~560 Ks over the next two and a half seasons to pass Felix (assuming Felix racks up ~100 more punchouts this season).
It's Friday and the Mariners won last night; let's continue to ride this good mood by taking a quick look at Felix and strikeouts and greatness.
Last night, Felix tossed seven brilliant shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He also recorded six Ks, bringing his career total of strikeouts up to 2,063. Since breaking into the league in 2005, he has by far the most strikeouts in baseball. The next closest pitcher is CC Sabathia, who has recorded 142 fewer Ks.
What's funny is that Felix has never actually led the league in strikeouts during any of the past 10 seasons. He finished second in the AL back in 2010 when he won his Cy Young award (with 232 SO, just one behind Jered Weaver) but has only cracked the top-three twice. That being said, Felix has finished in the top-seven in strikeouts in the AL in every season since 2008; Felix's majesty lies just as much in his consistency as it does in his outright domination.
Felix Hernandez in 2015
Although Felix's strikeout rate has dipped a little this season compared to the past few years (down from ~9.20 to only 8.59 K/9 - still good for 10th highest among AL starters), he's still managed to strikeout 112 men this year. Felix entered 2015 with 1,951 Ks, which ranked as 85th most by a pitcher in MLB history. Since then, he's leapfrogged a bunch of gentleman to claim the 67th spot on the all-time strikeout leaderboard. These are the people that he's passed so far this season:
This is a list that includes five Hall of Famers and many other damn fine pitchers. If Felix keeps pitching like he's been pitching this season, he should pass the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, Roy Halladay, and Dennis Martinez later in 2015.
Felix has also managed to record some pretty neat milestone strikeouts this season. Back on May 4th, Felix struck out Kole Calhoun looking with a fastball painted right on the outside corner. This was the 1,989th strikeout of Felix's career, which vaulted him past Johan Santana, making him the all-time strikeout leader among players born in Venezuela.
Also, just six days later, Felix struck out Sam Fuld to record his 2,000th career strikeout. He became the fourth youngest pitcher EVER to reach 2,000 strikeouts. King Felix is a pretty big deal, you guys.
Felix Hernandez moving forward
Felix remains under contract with the Seattle Mariners for the next four seasons. As a fun, dumb, silly exercise, I've gone ahead and done my best to predict EXACTLY how many strikeouts Felix will have at the end of the 2019 season. To do this, I went over to FanGraphs and read up a little bit on pitcher ageing curves. There's a lot of neat stuff over there and you can go read this if you're interested in learning more. To figure out how Felix's strikeout rate might change as he gets older, I used the following chart:
Using this data and Felix's peak K/9 rate of 9.51 that he established in 2013, we can put together a loose table depicting how the number of Felix's career strikeouts might increase over the remainder of his current contract. (I opted to use some fairly conservative innings pitched totals here because I don't wanna jinx anything.)
|Felix Career SO||2368||2560||2739||2899|
|Projected All-time SO rank||45||30||23||18|
2,899 strikeouts! Maybe this chart will come somewhat close to resembling reality... and maybe it'll be ridiculously far off. Only time will tell! However, Felix has clearly demonstrated that he is capable of changing and adapting his pitching technique as he's gotten older and lost velocity so there's reason to believe that he'll continue to be a successful pitcher as ages. Also, it's ridiculous to think that he'll be just 33-years-old when his current contract runs out; that's not even that old! (For reference, James Shields is 33 this season.)
Hopefully the 33-year-old version of Felix will still be thriving and pitching well and him and the Mariners can figure out another contract to keep him in Seattle for his entire career. Although it would be pretty much impossible for him to catch Nolan Ryan for the all-time king of Ks, if he stays healthy and continues to pitch into his late 30s he has a real shot at cracking the top-10 list and surpassing the likes of Pedro Martinez, Gaylord Perry, and Don Sutton. Do it, Felix.