By Shane Lantz- The BS Show
Felix Hernandez has not been a good pitcher for quite awhile now, and something needs to change. No matter your personal feelings toward the guy, the fact is that this season, he has been the Mariners worst starting pitcher, and it’s really not even close. His ERA is 5.18, highest among the starting staff. His FIP is is 5.15, fourth-worst on the team, only in front of names like Marc Rzepczynski and Taylor Motter (who pitched only once, but my god was it bad). His walks per nine are up, his left on base percentage is down, and his walk rate is the worst of his career. It’s been……rough. The days of vintage Felix, the swagger-laden King who threw a perfect game, dominated the AL West, and created a new kind of quality start, that Felix is gone, and he isn’t coming back.
But Felix isn’t un-savable. Though he will never be the dominating starter he once was, the Mariners could still get quality innings out of their 31-year old pitcher. There are several routes the Mariners could take, ranked from likely to whaaaaaaaat?
Ok, I could see that
- Do the twist.
This one is a simple mechanical change, that may or not not actually make a difference. But as detailed by Brett Miller in his Fangraphs piece “I alone can make Felix Hernandez great again”, the twist was vital to Felix’s most successful years. After the arrival of Erik Bedard, who had a pronounced twist in his delivery, Felix started to incorporate a full turn in his windup. From when he started twisting in 2009, to the disastrous muddy mound game in 2015, this Luis-Tiant style turn helped lead Felix to new heights, from a young pitcher with potential to a Cy Young candidate year after year. After the Muddy Mound game on June 1, 2015, where a roof malfunction made the mound sloppy, and Felix couldn’t consistently repeat his delivery, his numbers have been bad, and his command left him. His walk rate went up, and almost pointing to that exact start, Felix has not been the same pitcher. Read Brett’s article for the full numbers, but I will say that he has converted me to a Muddy Mound truther. Since that game, Felix’s twist in his delivery has been much less pronounced, and his numbers much worse. Bring back the twist, and maybe Felix can regain some of that mojo.
MMMMM, alright. But this is a bit weird
2. Go to a six-man rotation to reduce Felix’s workload.
This idea has been floated around baseball the past several years. The Angels have toyed with the idea in 2018, mostly to cut down on Shohei (GODDAMN) Ohtani’s innings in order to keep him fresh and healthy, along with the Rangers and Rays. For the Mariners, keeping down their pitchers’ innings totals is nothing if not a good idea. In 2015, Felix became the first pitcher in 21 years to reach 2000 innings pitched before his 29th birthday. 2000 innings. Carlos Zambrano didn’t pitch that many innings in his entire career. The man has a ton of mileage on his arm. Why not save the bullets he has left, and see if less of a dependence on their aging King gets the Mariners further?
Besides Felix, the M’s have James Paxton turning into one of the best pitchers in baseball, Marco Gonzalez finally blossoming into a top half of the rotation starter, and Wade LeBlanc opening eyes everywhere with a 1.72 ERA in the month of May. There is depth in the system, with Roenis Elias, and others, like Christian Bergman and an eventually healthy Erasmo Ramirez, who have had success in the big leagues. Going to a six man rotation would have other benefits as well. James Paxton is the undisputed ace of the rotation, but has never pitched more than 145.2 innings in a season. If the Mariners want to counteract the Verducci Effect, and keep Paxton healthy in the future, a six-man rotation would be a good first step.
I don’t like it, but it could work
- Kill the King’s Court.
And kill it soon. When the Mariners introduced the King’s Court in 2011, it was the toast of baseball, and imitations popped up around baseball. Fans sitting in those neck-craning seats out in the left field corner had a blast with their yellow shirts, K-Cards, and if they behaved themselves and looked particularly cute on camera, a bite from a massive turkey leg, sometime in the middle innings. But as the sun eventually sets on all beautiful days, so should the light fade on this hallowed Mariners tradition. When the Court first began, Felix was a strikeout pitcher, at 8.55 strikeouts per nine. But in the past several years, the King’s K’s have taken a tumble down the castle steps. From 2016-2018, Felix’s numbers have fallen further. His walks per nine are up to 3.80, and his groundball rate is at a career low. His strikeout rate is 7.46/9, second lowest of his career. He simply isn’t a strikeout dependent pitcher anymore, and pretending he is, for the sake of his pride, and a little bit of marketing, is only hurting him and the team. Asking him to pitch for strikeouts, instead of relying in his defense, is going against Felix’s strengths. His two-seamer doesn’t have the bite it used to, and his changeup no longer makes hitters corkscrew into the ground. It’s time to kill the King’s Court. It was fun, and provided a lot of really good memories in a period of Mariners baseball where they were few and far between.
- The Supreme Court, after Felix threw his perfect game.
- Night Court.
- The roaring ovation Felix received, as he was removed at the end of the 2014 season.
These are memories I will forever hold dear. But we can’t hold on forever. But there is new life. The Maple Grove, replete with Eh cards, a Maple tree, and a crew of passionate fans, is ready to bring the torch forward. The Maple Grove is the future, and they’ve found a new pitcher to worship, in Paxton. I’m sorry Felix. It’s time to move on from your Court. Become the pitcher you are now meant to be. Please use your defense to help you get outs.
Ok, now you are crazy
- Get an opener.
The Tampa Bay Rays recently implemented a pitching experiment that is rocking the baseball world. Based on an idea from MLB Tonight anchor Brian Kenny, the Rays have been using Sergio Romo as an “opener”, where a pitcher, typically a reliever type, will pitch the first inning of a game. In the second, a new pitcher, typically a starter, will come in in the second inning, and pitch until hopefully the sixth or seventh. It flies in the face of baseball tradition, so naturally, many hate the idea. For Felix, it would be a tough sell. But it is one the Mariners should consider. His ERA in the first inning is 12.00. Opposing hitters are hitting .346/.419/.673 off of him in the first inning. In the second, these numbers fall to .190/.242/.452. With the Mariners deep and potent lineup, it is possible that they will come back from any deficit, with just a few swings. But no team should go into the game with the thought that they pretty much HAVE to score at least five runs in order to win. In most Felix starts, the Mariners start in a hole.
The point of the opener is basic math. The best hitters in the lineup typically hit toward the top of the order, 1-5. That means that these best hitters are usually going to come to the plate in the first or second inning. And based on his first inning numbers this season, Felix has struggled against these good hitters. Let’s say that Ryan Cook is the opener, with Felix coming behind him. Cook would face the best hitters in the lineup only once. If Cook set the hitters down in order, then Felix would be coming in against the middle of the order, with no one one base, therefore minimizing any damage they could do against him. Felix would also have to face these top of the lineup hitters one less time, also a plus. If Felix begins to falter after five or six innings, as has been the case, the Mariners now have a stable of hard-throwing relievers to immediately take over and get the game into Edwin Diaz’ soft and supple arms. By pushing Felix back an inning, his third time through the lineup would most likely come in the seventh. If he were to be pulled at this point, it would be easy for the Mariners to bring in Juan Nicasio, Dan Altavilla, Nick Vincent (when he’s back),or recent acquisition (and very good closer) Jesus Colome, to give them an inning or two. An opener gets Felix a bit closer to the finish line. No need to bring in a crummy long reliever to slog through a few innings, before handing it off to a good pitcher. Felix would also not need to face the lineup a third time, where batting averages typically skyrocket. The game would already be in the hands of the firemen.
To sum up, letting Felix face the best hitters in the lineup as little as possible? Check. Felix faces the middle of the lineup without runners on base? Check. Bridging the gap between the exit of your starter, and your best relief pitchers? Check.
The only real hurdle to this plan would be baseball tradition, and Felix’s pride. That is something we should have some sympathy for. No matter how sad it is for us to watch Felix struggle out there, it is much more difficult for him. He is 31 years old, and bad at baseball for the first time in his life. He was THE dominant pitcher in the AL for many years, and now he is the fifth best pitcher on the team. He will need to hit rock bottom before agreeing to this idea, but if it gives the team a better chance to win, it needs to happen.