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Félix Hernández moved to the bullpen for first time in his MLB career

The King takes his crown to the relievers’ stable.

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Most players aren’t allowed a graceful exit from baseball. Félix Hernández wasn’t expected to pitch forever, but his graceful transition from a 100-mph teen to a 92-mph sinkerballer with a changeup unlike any in MLB history made it feel as though his aging curve had more roses than brambles lining its path. Instead, the King has tumbled headfirst into a thicket.

His ERA/FIP/DRA is 5.73/5.03/5.31. He’s been, by bWAR, the worst pitcher in baseball this year, at a staggering -1.4 WAR. Despite fleeting signs of hope like a strong Opening Day outing and his duel against David Price at home in June, there’s simply been no consistency, and no command. Last night an era came to an end after 398 games played and 398 games started for the Mariners.

The last time Félix pitched out of the bullpen was July 26th, 2005, as a member of the Tacoma Rainiers against the Iowa Cubs. He relieved Bobby Livingston in the 6th inning and threw 3.1 shutout innings, earning a hold before George Sherrill recorded the save. His catcher was Ryan Christianson. He faced a lineup including OF Corey Patterson and C Geovany Soto. His shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt.

His third baseman was Justin Leone.

Per Scott Servais, the move is not irreversible.

Anything that could spur positive change for Félix at this point would be a boon. Despite encouraging steps forward in rejiggering his pitch mix this season after early struggles, his command has rendered him unreliable. Mechanically, he’s been a mess. His pitch tunneling numbers are among the worst in the league, his pitches have been as liable to hit the opposite side of the zone as they are the target. It’s a tough thing to show in detail, and it’s important to know there are oh so many ways of throwing a baseball that can be healthy and successful, but there’s simply a dramatic difference mechanically between Félix now and Félix of yore:

Top: Tuesday vs. TEX, 2018. Bottom: Perfect Game vs. TBR, 2012
MLB / Tim Cantu

Whether health or age-induced, the King’s finish has become more upright. From ankle injuries to shoulder strains to stiff elbows and, this season, back troubles, Félix’s kinetic chain has looked more like a rusted rod. It’s all speculation in video and still-frames, but after years of declining velocity and pitches placed erratically across the zone, it’s tough not to see this as a major flaw.

For the present, the question is if a solution can be found in the bullpen. Perhaps a mechanical improvement can be made over a full offseason, but in a month and change, it seems a tall order. It seems likely his initial role will be one of long relief, but perhaps he’ll be deemed better suited for a single inning at a time. His velocity may tick up and the times through the order will tick down, but for Félix, it’s hard to say higher effort is the solution.

I hope I am wrong.