Felix’s pitch usage isn’t actually that different, so far

Much has been made of the mix of pitches Felix Hernandez has used in the early going of 2018; especially since the Mariners made it public that they would like the King to focus less on blowing batters away and more on inducing soft contact and easy outs. The main way to induce weak contact is for Hernandez to rely on his off speed pitches and less on his fastball.

This narrative exist because Felix has lost nearly five miles an hour since he won the 2010 Cy Young award; in 2018, the fastball has been averaging 90.2 MPH thus far. His fastball still has plenty of movement, but hitters aren’t whiffing like they used to on pitches inside the strike zone. As a result, he’s seeing a higher contact rate on pitches inside the zone (93.3%) which is leading to more medium contact. But the good news is that Hernandez’s off speed stuff is still fooling hitters and the thought process is that if he uses the fastball less he’ll be able to get more outs and do good things on the bump.

The problem with this narrative is that Hernandez began to reduce his reliance on his fastball since 2014 — back when Lloyd McClendon was his manager.

Year Fastball% ERA/FIP/xFIP
2010 60.7% 2.27/3.04/3.14
2011 53.6% 3.47/3.13/3.15
2012 55.9% 3.06/2.84/3.20
2013 53.5% 3.04/2.61/2.66
2014 43.4% 2.14/2.56/2.51
2015 43.8% 3.53/3.72/3.33
2016 46.3% 3.82/4.63/4.45
2017 44.4% 4.36/5.02/4.03
2018* 48.6% 5.06/5.54/4.76

*Denotes season still in progress

Arguably Hernandez’s best season occurred the first season he used his fastball less than 50% of the time (2014). It’s surprising to see that Felix had already begun to reduce his fastball usage before age caught up to him, but the veteran starter has still struggled to fight off the effects of aging.

Felix’s command is the biggest concern for me this season, just like it was last year. The good news is that Hernandez has been finding the strike zone more in 2018…he’s just leaving pitches in the middle of it.

Felix April 2018 heatmap

If he’s going to be relying on his off speed stuff, he needs to be living on the edges of the zone…he can’t be leaving breaking balls in the middle of the plate. The offense’s in the AL West — really, the rest of baseball — are going to be just too good for him to get away with that for very long.

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5 replies »

  1. He’s also slowing his fastball down to 88 mph to purposely make it harder to distinguish from his changeup. I’d imagine the two pitches have a slightly different vertical rise that makes their mix effective. Though the fastball is still being used just as much, he might be using it differently than before.