On Thursday, August 2, the Blue Jays will begin a four-game series in their home-away-from-home, Seattle. The Mariners will send Felix Hernandez to the mound and the Blue Jays have not announced a starter.
Felix Hernandez was one of the most dominant pitchers in the major leagues during his peak. Dubbed King Felix, the righty held court every five days, dolling out punishments to opposing teams.
For five consecutive years, the right-hander was an American League all-star. As well, the right-handed hurler won the American League Cy Young award in the one year that he did not make the all-star team in a seven-year stretch.
When the Mariners starter won the AL Cy Young in 2010 it was quite the story for advanced statistics fans. After years of pitchers being defined by their win-loss record, major league baseball finally had a Cy Young winner with a poor record. At a 13-12 record, the M’s hurler was the first pitcher since 1977 to win less than 15 games and still win the Cy Young.
The aging cycle has not been kind to Hernandez. After years of the king climbing the hill and dominating, the righty has slowly lost steam. In 2017 he managed just 16 starts and pitched to a 4.36 ERA and 96 ERA+. Last season was the first year since 2006—when the pitcher was 20-years-old—that the right-hander did not post an ERA+ over 100.
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Watching a franchise icon wither away in the present is always a difficult prospect for a franchise. However, the M’s will have a chance to rid themselves of the pitcher in just one more season. After his past two years, it would be surprising if the right-hander made close to his current $26M salary in free agency. However, as CC Sabathia has shown, older pitchers can reinvent themselves and retain value.
This season has been no different for the right-handed hurler. He has posted a 5.58 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.407 WHIP, and 72 ERA+. Overall, he has been worth a very disappointing 0.6 fWAR this season for the Mariners.
King Felix has not changed his pitching repertoire much from his world-beating years. This season he has alternated between a sinker, curveball, change-up, four-seam fastball, and slider.
The 32-year-old has thrown his sinker 29.6% of the time this season. The sinking fastball is not that fast, maintaining an average velocity of 89.76 mph. The pitch has not fared well this season, walking 13 batters while striking out 11. Furthermore, the sinker has coughed up a horrible .340 BAA and .569 SLGA.
The former Cy Young winner has thrown curveballs 26.36% of the time this season. The hook is relatively quick, posting an average velocity of 79.53 mph—while holding decent drop. The big breaker has been quite good this season, allowing a great .204 BAA and .333 SLGA.
Hernandez has changed speeds on batters 25.72% of the time this season. The change is quite quick, compared to his fastball, producing an average velocity of 85.61 mph. The offspeed pitch has been good this year, giving up a decent .227 BAA with 36 strikeouts.
The six-time all-star has straightened batters up with a four-seam fastball 11.10% of the time this season. The four-seamer is not that fast, maintaining an average velocity of 90.31 mph. Much like the sinker, the heater has not done well this season, posting a .283 BAA and .500 SLGA. Also, the pitch has walked 12 batters while punching out just 13 opposing hitters.
The Mariners hurler has thrown his slider 6.56% of the time this season. The breaking ball has not produced much swing-and-miss—producing whiffs on just 15.69% of swings. As well, the pitch has been hit incredibly hard, allowing a .520 SLGA with two home runs.
One of the starkest differences between the right-hander’s peak years and his current production is the difference between his strikeout and walk numbers. While he has never been a big strikeout-pitcher, he kept a safe distance between BB-rate and K-rate. This season he has struck out batters to the tune of a 19% K-rate and 7.57 K/9. As well, he has walked batters at an 8% clip and 3.19 BB/9. As his strikeout numbers have dropped, his walk numbers have risen.
The Blue Jays have not had much success against the veteran in the past. Kendrys Morales is one of the sole Jays to do well against the starter, managing 15 hits—including four doubles and a home run—in 53 at-bats. However, Russell Martin has gone just 3-for-25 with no extra-base hits in his time against the Venezuela native.
The Blue Jays will look to snap a three-game losing streak on Thursday night. Felix Hernandez is simply not the same pitcher anymore, and the Blue Jays should take advantage. However, with no current announced starter, the Jays may need a heck-of-a-lot of offence to come out of this one on top.