The future of the starting rotation in Seattle looks pretty bright between the dominance of King Felix and the future of the big three, but there are still many conversations to be had on the subject.
First of all, Felix Hernandez should not be traded. The Mariners have a 26 year old Cy Young winner in their grasp, why would they trade him? With the possible exceptions of Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, there is not a better player to build a team around than King Felix, in my opinion. If Seattle is trying to build a winning team, there isn’t a better guy to start with than Hernandez.
Jason Vargas is an interesting case because he is a pitcher who has really benefited from playing in Safeco Field. Take a look at these splits from last year.
Vargas at Home
Vargas on the Road
As you can see, Vargas is not a great pitcher when he isn’t in the friendly confines of Safeco Field. With the fences moving in this year, Vargas’ value has diminished even more than before. The deep dimensions of left field and left center have had a direct correlation to Vargas’ success.
Outside of Seattle, he is probably a decent bottom of the rotation starter, but he has become a number two starter with the Mariners because of the stadium. Once the fences are brought in, we may see an instantaneous dip in the lefty’s numbers in the upcoming year, and for this reason, I am hesitant to pencil in Vargas as a starter of the future. He certainly won’t be a top of the rotation guy like he is right now.
Hisashi Iwakuma is another interesting pitcher in Seattle right now. He was brought here last offseason on a one year contract. After spring training, he was put in the bullpen before being promoted to the rotation mid-season where he shined. However, he too had more success in Safeco Field than in other ballparks, although the correlation was not as dramatic as in Vargas’ case. Now that he has a more substantial two-year contract, it appears that the 31 year old will be here for a bit longer. He could be a good middle of the rotation man down the road if he continues to post solid numbers as long as he remains affordable.
Last season, we had two young arms at the bottom of the rotation who struggled in Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi. These two guys had an xFIP of 5.01 and 5.08 respectively. They also posted a .288 and .266 BABIP respectively, so essentially, these guys posted horrible stats even when luck was on their side. What is going to happen when they aren’t getting lucky? Unless extreme strides are made in the coming seasons, I don’t see either of these pitchers being anything more than place holders in the bottom of the rotation until guys from the farm system are developed.
One of the young arms that is commonly overlooked is Erasmo Ramirez. The 22 year old rookie got limited time last year, but he put up better numbers than anyone realizes. As a starter, his 7.85 K/9 was better than any Mariner starter besides Felix. His 1.53 BB/9 was better than any starter besides Beavan, and Ramirez’ FIP and xFIP were both second among Seattle starters behind just King Felix. Let me reiterate that these numbers excluded Ramirez’ relief appearances, so they were only his stats as a starter. I think that Ramirez has earned a spot in the starting rotation next season, and I would much rather see him as the fourth starter over Beavan or Noesi.
There may be a few other starting pitching options currently at the major league level as well. Charlie Furbush has started games during his minor and major league careers and is capable of switching back to the rotation after spending 2012 in the bullpen. Historically, he hasn’t had much success starting games, but don’t rule him out as a possibility in the starting rotation next year.
Although improbable, Tom Wilhelmsen is another name that you may see penciled into the rotation. Many people forget that he was a starter in the minor leagues before moving to the Seattle bullpen. His power style of pitching fits better in the bullpen, but thanks to the diabolical curveball that he developed and the changeup that he refined into a reliable pitch last year, his stuff is beginning to look quite suitable for the rotation. There are a lot of good young arms in the bullpen such as Pryor, Capps, and Luetge, so the organization may feel comfortable enough with the pen to try to reestablish Wilhelmsen as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t bet on this move, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
The big 3, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton, are all exciting prospects in the Mariner organization and are currently the number 4, 8, and 74 prospects in all of baseball respectively according to MLB.com. I won’t call Danny Hultzen a “sure thing,” but it seems that Hultzen has already been penciled into the starting rotation of the future. The question becomes just how good the second overall pick will be. He has a very high floor as a prospect, so he should be at least a four or five starter down the road. Hopefully, he will become a top of the rotation arm, and he appears to have the stuff to fit there.
Taijuan Walker is a very different prospect from Hultzen. He is a high risk high reward player. His potential is incredible, but he not nearly as certain to realize his potential as his counterpart. I might compare Walker to Blue Jay starter, Ricky Romero. Like Romero, there is no doubt that Walker has the raw stuff to be a dominant major league pitcher, but it becomes a matter of putting all the pieces together and being successful.
There is a pretty good chance that one of these three guys will be traded at some point for a good bat. If the Mariners are successful in trading for Billy Butler this offseason, it seems almost certainly that one of these prospects will be moved.
Apart from the big 3, there are a few other good pitching prospects in Seattle’s organization. Among these are Brandon Maurer, Jordan Shipers, Tyler Pike, Andrew Carraway, Mauricio Robles, and 17 year old Victor Sanchez.
Considering Seattle has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and one of the deepest minor league pitching staffs in baseball, it appears that the Mariners will have a very strong starting rotation in the future.
We’ve obsessed ourselves with league-wide MVPs, Cy Youngs and Rookie of the Years for long enough now. Don’t worry, you won’t find any of those, or Silver Sluggers, Roberto Clemente awards or any of that crap here. I instead present you with the Mariner Awards of Irrelevance.
Let’s get things started off with the Bored Fans Relief Award.* This player made sure to keep the game moving while additionally providing action that a bored fan would enjoy (or enjoy yelling at). Our winner swung at 54.4% of all pitches and 44.2% of pitches outside the strike zone, leading the team in both categories. Not surprisingly he averaged just 3.62 pitches per plate appearance, good for second on the team. He also managed homeruns in a whopping 3.7% of his plate appearances en route to appeasing all fans tired of long, monotonous batter-pitcher matchups with a remedy of quick plate appearances full of swings, strikeouts and homeruns. His catching was always an adventure in and of itself, and without further ado, I present to you Miguel Olivo.
The Manly-Man Award* was a difficult one to choose, and so I really had to split it between two tough, manly men. Each took a team-leading five pitches off his body without so much as a grimace, and promptly responded every time with, “thank you, sir, may I have another.”** Each played one of the most physically demanding positions on the diamond—shortstop and catcher, respectively—while sporting the manliest and ruggedest of facial hair. I present to you, Brendan Ryan and John Jaso.
The offensive Most Well-Traveled Award goes to the guy that covered more ground than anyone. Thanks to a team-best 9.6% extra base hit percentage, our winner covered 219 total bases with his hits, and tacked on a team-leading 21 bases through thievery and deception. Playing center field put him over the top for this award, so let’s give it up for Michael Saunders.
The pitchers deserve some of this credit, too, of course. We begin with the MVP—Mean and Volatile Pitcher Award. This hardly gentle man led the team with 12 hit batsmen, and before you start pointing at garbage like innings pitched, those twelve poor souls represent four times the number that teammate, Jason Vargas, hit in 217 innings. His 13 wild pitches represented 41% of all Mariners starters’ wild pitches, and were more than twice the next highest count. Additionally, our winner led the Mariners in something called WAR—quite the surly, temperamental sort, to be sure. I thus present this award to Felix Hernandez.
The Best Friend Award goes to Lucas Luetge, who allowed just 8 of his 50 inherited baserunners to score (16%), leaving the ERAs of many teammates intact. Additionally, he pitched 17 of his 63 outing on zero days rest, the top percentage on the team. I mean, who didn’t like Lucas Leutge? On the flip side, the Worst Friend Award goes to Stephen Pryor for allowing 10 of 17 inherited baserunners to score (59%). Side note: he also drew the most glares from his starters.**
The last award—the Pitching Efficiency Award—goes not necessarily to the pitcher that most efficiently recorded outs, but rather the pitcher that most quickly recorded outs. We fans have other crap to do, right?! This pitcher threw nearly 15% of the entire team’s innings, or about one-seventh, and did so with a team-quickest 20.0 seconds between pitches. His 5-minute, 9-second innings were the shortest on the team, and for that, we are thankful for Jason Vargas.
*Players required at least 300 PA
**Source not found
For all intents and purposes it’s time to stop analyzing the 2012 Seattle Mariners team and start looking ahead to 2013. What does GM Jack Zduriencik have up his sleeve this off season?
The Mariners have spent some time hovering near the .500 mark this season and had youngsters get considerable playing time in 2012. But what Mariners fans really want to know, is if 2013 can be a turning point in the decade long rebuilding the M’s fans have endured?
This season was supposed to provide more answers than question marks for the Seattle Mariners. However, the 2012 roster has left fans with too many “if’s” going forward.
Two main questions revolve around players who figured to be cornerstones for the franchise, second baseman Dustin Ackley and first baseman Justin Smoak.
The latter is facing a bust label if he’s unable to rebound in 2013. Many fans already consider Smoak, the center piece of the Cliff Lee trade to be a bust. Smoak, got off to a solid start in 2011, before falling off in the second half of ’11 due to injuries and the death of his father.
Ackley on the other hand, has played well defensively this year, but he was drafted for his bat, which has seen a decline over his 2011 numbers. They both need to turn things around, especially with Brendan Ryan penciled in as a short term solution at shortstop until management determines that Nick Franklin is ready for the big club. The M’s can’t afford another year with one-third of their lineup hovering around the Mendoza line.
The outfield is faced with question marks as well.
Michael Saunders, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero and others, have gotten prolonged looks with the Mariners this season. Franklin Gutierrez is a liability due to injuries and many fans wonder if he can be counted on.
None have truly impressed, although Saunders has improved over last year when he nearly played himself out of the organization. This outfield is still young and to be better in 2013 a couple players out of the fore-mentioned group needs to breakout.
Who will catch?
With Jesus Montero, John Jaso and Miguel Olivo currently behind the dish, questions revolve around who will be the Mariners backstop in 2013. Montero figures to continue to be plugged in at DH and first, while barring a trade/free agent signing or a breakout spring by first round pick Mike Zunino, Jaso figures to get the bulk of the time next year at catcher. The Seattle press and other Mariners bloggers have questioned whether or not Jaso has the durability to catch 150 plus games per year.
Filling out the rotation behind King Felix
Behind ace Felix Hernandez there remains to be some question marks. Jason Vargas has looked like a solid number two starter this season. Vargas, whose name was thrown around in a lot of trade rumors before the July 31 deadline, may be used in a trade package to further improve the team.
Although not disastrous, Blake Beaven’s season leaves some more to desire and will need to improve. The quickest and easiest way to shore up the rotation would be re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma.
Oliver Perez has been pretty good out of the ‘pen for Seattle this season and may warrant a look in spring training if he is still on the roster.
Many fans will be hoping for at least one of the “Big Three”–Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker–to make the major league roster.
My take is to leave the arms on the farm for some seasoning.
Where to improve an already solid bullpen?
This is one of the Mariners strengths. The M’s have some good young, power arms in the bullpen. Tom Wilhelmsen has been solid as the closer, converting 27 of 31 opportunities, to go along with a 2.32 ERA, limiting hitters to a .196 average, 1.09 WHIP and 79 K’s in 73.2 IP.
I always want to see something done to improve. But if the bullpen arms look the same in 2013 as they do now, I’ll be happy.
I want to know your thoughts. What should Jack Zduriencik do to improve the team for next year? What moves should be made? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.
After tonight’s 3-2 win over the struggling Toronto Blue Jays with our Ace Felix Hernandez taking the ball tomorrow, the question once again arises as to whether or not the Mariners can manage to finish the 2012 campaign at or above .500? With a record of 69-74 the M’s have already surpassed last year’s win total by two which of course is only a slight improvement but I’ll take it.
This season is winding down rapidly and with Texas and Baltimore up next on the schedule this could be the last time when we get to pat ourselves on the back for improving in 2012 and kick around the finishing at .500 concept, only time will tell. It is apparent that we have good starting pitching, great defense, and a solid bullpen going into 2013 but as usual the big question is the offense. Now don’t get me wrong we have improved slightly in the offensive arena, especially my guy Kyle Seager who went 3-5 again tonight and leads the club in both the home run and RBI category with 18 and 81 respectively. In fact Seager played only 8 games to many last year and had 52 to many AB’s or he would be eligible for discussion in the rookie of the year debate though it would be hard to imagine anyone beating out Mike Trout this year who also played last year but did not reach the 45 game or 130 AB’s threshold.
Overall this year has been easier to watch than the last two, though I’m thinking we still need to bring in the infamous “Big Bat” that we routinely howl for here in the Seattle during the winter months but usually end up without this elusive offensive piece we need to compete. I am hopeful that with the 18 million dollar salary of Ichiro’s off the books we may be able afford at least a mid-range veteran that could hit .280 and 25 homers next year to give Eric Wedge the ammo he needs to put a winning team on the field for us fans.
I want to mention that I will be in New York this weekend taking a bit of a holiday before heading to Casablanca for a Maritime conference and thus I am heading to Yankee stadium Sunday for the Yankees-Rays game. This should be quite a setting and for me it will be my first time at the new Yankee stadium. I will try to take a couple of photos and post them here or via my twitter account fo those of you who like myself want to experience a pennant race even vicariously!
I”m going to go out on a limb and say we somehow finish right at .500 this season and not making it till the very last game against the Angels on Oct. 3rd which I plan to attend…..What do you think? Go M’s http://jeffsmariners.com
The August waiver period had now come and gone, and with it, the chance to upgrade a team’s playoff roster. Players can still pass through waivers and be traded, but said players will not be eligible to for playoff competition.
The only information that the Mariners have let slip from what has become an airtight fortress of secrecy and covert operations, is that they placed the pitchers on waivers. Perhaps more, but we don’t have any information to suggest that they have. We only know for a fact that Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, and Kevin Millwood were the three elected.
What can we derive from this?
The Mariners aren’t trading Felix Hernandez
This isn’t really news, but it is a constant reassurance when another trade deadline passes with Felix still sporting Mariners blue. Jack Zduriencik has to be getting annoying with everyone. The poor man was just trying to pass Felix through waivers only to have some team –who had no chance of acquiring him–interrupt his transaction. Between other GM’s and reporters the man has to be going crazy. He isn’t trading Felix, and he is running out of new and interesting ways to say it. I’m not sure why the Mariners were attempting to pass Felix through waivers, but I’m sure he had his reasons. To see him get claimed and pulled back in, it really is a reassuring feeling.
Jason Vargas is a part of the Mariners future
Jason Vargas entered the season as the Mariners number one trading chip outside of King Felix himself. It was a near guarantee the Jason Vargas would be tossing baseballs for another team deep in the playoff hunt come August. The Mariners did make Vargas available, however, they asked for the moon and the sky; demanding premium talent for their over exceeding middle of the rotation arm. Other teams couldn’t (or wouldn’t) meet the Mariners demands, and Zduriencik opted to keep Vargas, instead of caving in on his steep demands. Vargas is going to earn a substantial pay raise this offseason, but even so he isn’t going to cost the team a fortune. Seattle may once again attempt to trade Vargas this winter, but don’t be surprised if he remains an intricate part of the Mariners 2013 plans.
Kevin Millwood was not heavily desired
Kevin Millwood passed through waivers…unclaimed. Like Vargas, the price tag on Millwood wasn’t appealing to most organizations. The Mariners insisted that his decent performance and affordable salary for the rest of the season, spiked his apparent value. No one took the bait. Seattle shot themselves in the foot on this one. Kevein Millwood is a disposable pitcher designed as gap insurance until the emergence of Danny Hultzen. The very reason he was brought in was to eat up a few innings until the trade deadline and then milk a few interesting prospects out of him. Our very own Bobby ask the perfect question, why is Millwood still pitching, let alone still here.
This season, the Mariners started slowly, but all of the sudden, they have fought their way back into the playoff picture. Seattle has erupted since the Ichiro trade, and Felix threw his perfect game which invigorated the Seattle fanbase. Hernandez’ historical outing was just the second of eight consecutive wins for the Mariners; a streak that continues currently.
All of the sudden, Mariner fans have reason to hope. They are 12 games out of the division lead, 7 back in the wild card race, and are the hottest team in baseball. Despite the reason for excitement, Mariner fans, myself included, seem to be pessimistic. Like most Mariner fans, I have dreaded putting my confidence in a team. For eleven years we have constantly been disappointed by the Mariners. Few things have gone right for us, and the last decade of frustration has turned us all into pessimists. This year I have been content with not being last, with winning a few games, with seeing a few guys improve a little, with being average.
However, something changed for me yesterday. It was a tied game in the eighth inning and Kyle Seager was at the plate with one out. Seager hit a ground ball into right-center that would have normally been a base hit, but instead, he hustled out of the box and dove into second head first to avoid a tag for a hustle double. A few batters later John Jaso walked. With a runner on first and second with two outs, Eric Thames doubled down the line and Jaso, who is not a very swift guy and had caught several games during the week, hustled all the way around from first to score and to give Seattle the two run lead. Wilhelmson came in for the save and delivered the eighth straight victory.
When I saw Seager go all-out to get into scoring position and then Jaso hustle all the way from first, it occurred to me that these guys aren’t trying to “not be last.” Trayvon Robinson hasn’t put his body on the line to make phenomenal catches in the pursuit of “being average.” These guys haven’t strung together late inning rallies hoping to “improve a little.” This team isn’t playing hard for another mediocre season, they are playing for a playoff spot.
As the fans, it’s our job to believe in these guys. This team has played great baseball since the Ichiro trade, taken series from playoff caliber teams, won fifteen out of the last sixteen home games, and won eight straight games; they deserve our support.
I’ll admit that the playoffs are a long shot. In all honesty, this is not a great baseball team. We don’t have any real run
producers, much of the batting order has seen time in AAA this year, and the back-end of the pitching staff has had rough patches, but somehow they have won. Somehow we took two of three on the road against the Angels, somehow we threw the team’s first perfect game against a playoff caliber team, somehow we won eight straight, somehow we have come through in the clutch night after night, and somehow we actually got 40,000 fans into Safeco Field on a Tuesday night in August.
There is magic in the air. I have tried to ignore it, but I can’t anymore. I’m telling you that this team has a legitimate chance at the playoffs. We are 12 games out of the division lead right now, and we were 11.5 back at this time in 1995. This team isn’t anything remotely similar to the 1995 team, but it’s just another reason to believe.
The schedule is going to get pretty rough down the stretch however. We have quite a few games against the Rangers, A’s. The pessimistic me looked at that schedule and said, “There is no way we will survive those games,” but the newfound optimism inside of me says, “That schedule will give us a chance to pick up ground in the wild card race even faster.” It’s true, we have a challenging schedule, but if this team stays hot, they will have the chance to pass the A’s and Angels if they can win a couple of series.
Who knows, this could be a lucky winning streak, and we could get swept by the White Sox this week and be out of the race again, or we could fade down the stretch and end up ninth in wild card standings. Maybe this playoff run isn’t in the stars. If that is the case, then what’s the worst that can happen? We will simply be disappointed for the twelfth straight year. If we survived the Bavasi era, we can survive a disappointing finish to 2012, right?
Regardless of whether we have a miracle comeback, take the wild card, and go to the playoffs or whether we go back to playing unimpressive baseball, I urge all of you pessimistic Mariner fans to have some fun and believe in these guys! Don’t dread yet another letdown; enjoy this run for however long it lasts! Believe Bigger!!!
It’s taking the world by storm, well at least the baseball world… okay, maybe just Seattle. It’s Felixing and everyone is in on it.
Regardless of this by and large being a Seattle trend, there are out of state fans, and this writer happens to be one. In celebration of Felix Hernandez‘s… er… celebration, the baseball world has begun imitating. We here at Sodo Mojo are not immune to the Felixing bug, and we are happily joining the growing trend. In case you missed it, Joel’s version can be found here, MLB.com’s version here, and with out further ado, here is my own take on Felixing!
Today will be Felix Hernandez‘s first start since his permanent enshrinement in Mariners history. As of today the Mariners have the best record in baseball since the All-Star Break. And as of today Michael Saunders is hot again. As if all that wasn’t enough, we have news that our very own Felix has issued the city of Seattle a promise.
This isn’t the first time we have heard something like this. Back in the 2009 finale, as the post game celebration cycled its way around Safeco field, a tear stained Felix proclaimed to the FSN interview crew that he wanted to spend the rest of his career with the Seattle Mariners. Again today, we been have been reassured.
I am not going to go in depth about what this promise means to us as fans, and whether or not it truly means anything. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I can do it any better than Jeff Sullivan over at Lookout Landing has already done. This isn’t an unknown promise in the baseball world; many players have expressed a desire to stay with their teams before being tempted by larger than life contracts during the free agent process. Alex Rodriguez for example, is a scenario far to close to home for the Northwest fan base.
Now that I have even remotely compared the two I am disgusted with myself. All the more reason for the Mariners to give Felix an extension before he ever reaches the free agent market. I’m not saying it has to be this offseason, but it does need to come before the next. We as fans love to judge players for the blatant money grab, but most of us would be hard pressed to deny the figures that these clubs offer to baseball’s star players. If the Mariners had to get into a bidding war with say, the New York Yankees, the home town discount would only go so far. Seattle cannot allow Felix to be introduced to temptation; historically it hasn’t worked out too well for the home town club.
If you are looking for a gut feeling out of this author, then I have one to supply. I have to agree with Jeff, I feel the Mariners and Felix have already started laying the groundwork for a future extension. Publicly, both sides have been far too in line, far too similar to suggest otherwise. Felix doesn’t want to leave, and Z vehemently denies trade rumors… The evidence doesn’t suggest anything definitive; it leaves plenty of room for hope.
Regardless of proof, Felix has offered fans a reason to dream, in a time when feelings are already running so high. I’m no soothsayer, I don’t know what the future holds and if recent history is any indication it will be wrought with disappointment and despair. But tonight, I don’t care about trends, bad history, or the logical. Felix Hernandez just promised fans he’d be a Mariner for life, and I’ll be damned if I am going to accuse a King of lying.
If you are a Mariner fan, and I’m guessing that you are since you are reading a Seattle Mariner blog, this is my plea to you to attend the Mariner game tonight.
For those of you who don’t know, the Mariners are honoring Felix’ accomplishment tonight by expand the King’s Court
into the entire stadium. The first 34,000 thousand fans, which is about 75% of total capacity, will receive yellow Felix shirts. Between the sea of yellow in the stands, the six game winning streak the Mariners are currently riding, and the electricity of any Felix start, tonight’s game should have an atmosphere that Safeco Field has not seen in over a decade.
For tonight, Seattle will be a baseball town once again, and it is important for each and every Mariner fan to be a part of it.
The next reason that all of us should go to the game tonight is to thank King Felix. Our king brought the city of Seattle a thrill and an experience unlike anything we have witnessed in a long time. Our city, community, and fanbase really needed this jump-start, and Felix delivered. Hernandez has also stated several times how happy he was that he could throw his perfect game at home in front of the crowd. Our city means a lot to Felix, and he means a lot to us. This is our chance to demonstrate the magnitude of what Felix has done for Seattle and for the fans.
Just in case you needed another reason to attend the game tonight, tickets are ridiculously cheap. Upper deck tickets have dipped from $18 down to $10, and lower bowl seats have dropped from up to $80 to just $30. This really is a great deal. If you have been avoiding going to games because of the cost, now is your night to finally see the Mariners play.
I already have my tickets behind home plate on the 300 level, but there aren’t too many left, so I encourage you to grab your tickets quickly from Mariners.com. Get off work, grab your wife/husband/son/daughter/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/enemy/neighbor/ roommate/etc., head out to the game, get a shirt, cheer on Felix, and take part in something really special to the city. This opportunity and this atmosphere probably will never take place again.
Felix’s masterpiece the other night was well-documented by many, including our own Joel Condreay. Over at Fangraphs, Bradley Woodrum wrote a good read about how John Jaso and Felix Hernandez reacted to the Rays aggressive approach and seemingly audibled the gameplan. As noted in the article, the King generated 5 swinging strikes in the first 61 pitches, and 19 whiffs over the final 53 pitches, likely due pitching outside the zone more often later in the game.
This got me thinking. Do most teams adjust their approach when facing Felix? Is that a league-wide strategy? Or were the Rays trying something new? Some things to consider are the general aggressiveness of Felix’s opponent and how often Felix worked in the zone during the start.
Woodrum notes that the Rays are “a typically patient team—almost to a fault.” I might not go that far, but Tampa Bay is indeed on the more-patient side of most stats. The Rays are 1st in walk rate, and they have the 8th lowest swing rate while seeing a league-average number of pitches in the zone—so more patient than average, but not saint-like.
Here’s how I’m going to do this. I’m going to look at each team’s swing rates in and out of the zone to control for how often Felix is pitching strikes. A team that wants to be more aggressive against Felix should be swinging more often, especially at balls outside the zone.
Here’s the King’s gamelog with opponent, opponent’s season swing rates, opponent’s game swing rates, and then Felix’s zone percentage and number of pitches. Outside-the-zone (O-Swing) and zone (Z-Swing) swing rates are highlighted to show which teams were the most aggressive. Red is the most aggressive, followed by yellow, then green is neutral, and the blue colors show that the team was less aggressive that usual against Felix.
You’ll notice that the only team that was significantly more aggressive (red) than usual outside the zone was the Rays, and they got perfecto-ed. Overall, teams swung at pitches outside the zone 2% more often than their season averages, but they swung at pitches inside the zone about 2.5% less often. Though it’s impossible to determine causation, I think the oppositions’ swing patterns have more to do with Felix being able to induce swings on bad pitches, and freeze batters on deceptively curvy pitches, rather than a specific league-wide gameplan. 2-3% in either swing category implies just a one-or-two swing difference.
It’s probably not a league-wide plan, and it seems the Rays were trying something new. I would say decidedly that it did not work.
A day has passed and the reality is starting to sink in, a perfect game. 27 up and 27 down. Not just a perfect game, but a perfect game crafted by the face of this franchise, the symbol of hope that we have come to love and embrace: Felix Hernandez. The Seattle Mariners now have something that some others teams do not, and while they had things like this before (116 win season, Ichiro breaking the single season hits record, etc) this feels so special, so different.
It’s hard to write a better story than how this actually played out. The organization’s best pitching prospect in its short history comes through and seals his chapter in Seattle Mariners lore. Explaining what Felix means to this organization and to this fan base is near impossible. It’s hard to explain how invested the fans were in Felix, even before he ever hurled his first major league pitch. It was the Bill Bavasi era and for the first time in a decade, the Mariners were in entrenched in dark times. It seemed our one ray of hope was a Venezuelan pitching prospect dubbed King Felix.
In late 2005, the Mariners finally succumbed, they opted to promote Felix from the Tacoma Rainiers. It was immediate pandemonium. Felix belonged to the Mariners and no other team would have him, he was finally ours.
His initial call up revealed everything we hoped we were getting. Felix lit up the radar gun and showed absolutely dominating breaking pitches. A pitcher roughly 10 years younger than the majority of his competition, had no problem showing the league why he had already been dubbed the king.
The road was not always paved in gold and rubies for the king however. We saw him struggle to let go of his fastball and learn out to pitch, instead of just throw. But we never lost faith, we never gave up on our king, and we have been duly rewarded. Rewarded with an overpowering 2009 season, rewarded with a 2010 Cy Young award, and now rewarded with the first perfect game in Seattle Mariners history.
As I said before, it’s impossible to write a better saga than the one that has been occurring before our very eyes. Our Felix, our King has sealed his place in the history books, and he did it for the Seattle Mariners. May this be the first of many, many more Felix Hernandez memories.
Did you know that Felix Hernandez once struck out the side on 9 straight pitches?
Did you know that Felix Hernandez leads all Mariners starting pitchers in ERA?
Did you know that Felix Hernandez hit a Grand Slam of Johan Santana?
Did you know that King Felix has 21 complete games, 7 shutouts, 4 2-hitters, and 1 1-hitter?
Did you know that in 34 years no pitcher dawning the Seattle Mariners uniform had ever crafted a perfect game… that is until today.
Euphoria: a feeling of happiness, confidence, or well-being sometimes exaggerated in pathological states as mania.
I can find no other definition that truly captures the events that took place in Seattle Washington this afternoon. To my great disappointment I was unable to watch this game live. I– like most of you– have a job and unfortunately many of the Seattle fan base missed this game as it unfolded. The Mariners never could have known this, but this turned out to be one terribly misplaced matinee. I recieved a text as the game came to a close that simply stated “The King just reached perfection”. I rush of thoughts, visions, and confusion flooded my mind until finally, the words truly sunk in. Then, just like a fan boy who was unable to go to the midnight showing of his favorite movie series, I avoiding anything that could possibly connect me to the world. I hid from phones, computers, and the overly talkative mouths of people. Anything that would ruin the specifics of this magnificent pitching performance. I was going to watch this game in its entirety, even if I had to stay up all night to do so.
I will never regret spending my evening witnessing history.
From a pure visual standpoint, with no math, charts, or graphics to aid the argument, it didn’t appear as thought Felix brought his best stuff through the first 3 innings. He wasn’t necessarily overpowering anyone and he certainly didn’t have the strikeout pitch working. From the 5th inning on however, we saw a different man. Suddenly a more filthy, nasty Felix emerged and there wasn’t a soul tuning in that didn’t realize it. Twenty one thousand fans were going to watch history go down right before there very eyes and they all knew it. He was in control, striking out the side twice, and completely carving through the Rays like a hot blade through butter. He was dominating in every sense of the word. While not all no-hitters and perfect games are alike, most include some sort of extraordinary defensive play that saves the game; a play that keeps the gem intact. But not today, no such play occurred. This game belonged to Felix, and he wasn’t going to allow his defenders to be put in that situation.
As the Felix trotted out to the hill for the ninth inning I felt a knot swell up in my stomach. I knew the outcome of the game, I knew what was about to happen. But I still felt the excitement, the anticipation. It was exhilarating, an adrenaline injection. I can’t imagine what Desmond Jennings could have been thinking as he scooted anxiously into the batters box to kick off the ninth. Confidence is one thing, but being asked to face one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball with a perfect game on the line… that’s one hellishly tough task. Like those who battled before him, he succumbed to defeat against the advanced weaponry that is Felix and his off speed pitches. Keppinger’s mental fortitude was also destined to suffer a blow as he was asked to break up the perfect game. As he rolled the pitch over to Ryan, fans held their breath on possibly one of the most routine plays a short stop can make. The last pitch summed up the game perfectly, no pun intended. Sean Rodriquez froze on a knee high changeup, which beautifully cementing the Jaso/Felix game plan from inning number one; Dominate without the relying on the fastball. It was over; the pinnacle of the pitching dream. Felix admited that he thinks about it every time he assumes the mound, he wanted this no only for himself, but for his fans. Having this masterpiece unfold in the presence of his court, may just be the second best thing to actually having his family there.
The celebration was beyond endearing and perhaps my favorite moment of the night. As Felix realized the umpire was signaling strike three he whirled around throwing his hands in the air, bellowing a Felix-like roar. It was something many of us have imagined since the day the Mariners promoted him from AAA Tacoma back in 2004. The game was of course a thing of beauty, but these reactions give us a glimpse into who these players really are. Which players are close, who is the most excitable, who can jump the highest, etc. Tonight we saw Felix Hernandez and John Jaso grow a little bit closer, and perhaps the entire team was unified under this performance.
Today we witnessed a transformation. The pitchers mound was the King’s throne, SafeCo Field was his castle, and the fans were his royal court. The Tampa Bay Rays could only be described as a King’s feast. We’ve seen him come close before, we’ve had our hearts broken by J.D Drew and we’ve wondered if this day would ever come. It came and we didn’t miss it. When we look back on the 2012 season, it will be clearly highlighted by one performance.
All hail the King.
I was 18 years old and would be headed to the University of Washington come autumn. I had a job working retail at the mall, but my concerns rarely lent themselves to selling shoes or folding t-shirts. I’d rather hang out, watch baseball, listen to music, go to movies, impress the opposite sex, or work out — all of this according to my AOL Instant Messenger profile, of course.
I was still very much a kid back then, one who had never really emerged from the cocoon that seems to envelop the Greater Seattle suburbs. I was naive, goofy, quiet, innocent, and all the things you tend to be before you settle into adulthood.
In that final summer before college commenced, I just wanted to hang out with all the other kids that I’d grown up with. Kids who would move on to different schools in different towns. Kids I might never see again. Kids that I enjoyed being around. I think we knew back then that life would never really be the same for any of us. And for the final few months of our adolescence, it was important that we embrace the memories we had in our past, as well as those we would create over the following weeks.
So it was that on a warm evening in late June, my friend Danny and I found ourselves in the stands at Everett Memorial Stadium, watching as the Mariners’ Single-A affiliate played before a modest crowd of onlookers.
We had no intentions for the evening, other than to watch baseball, enjoy the weather, and kick back for a few hours. Danny and I had been buddies since fourth grade. We’d been to elementary school, middle school, and high school together. His friends were my friends and vice-versa. Our parents knew each other. We’d been in one another’s company for nearly half of our respective lives, but in one month Danny would be headed to USC. It was that inkling we had, knowing things would be changing very shortly, that took us to Everett that night. And so we sat along the third base line and, very simply, watched.
I won’t ever forget what we paid witness to that night. It wasn’t an event, per se, but another kid. He was tall, lanky, had a dark tan, and wore long sleeves in spite of the mild conditions. The program told me he was only 17 years of age — “He’s younger than us!” I recall remarking — and a native of Venezuela.
But it wasn’t who he was, so much as what he was doing, that really caught our attention.
Perched along the stadium’s outfield wall was a rather inconspicuous speed pitch display, free of advertisements, gaudy lighting, or anything you’d find in a big league ballpark. And with each fastball this 17-year-old kid blew past opposing batters, the incandescent display on that electronic board flashed numbers like 95, 94, and 96.
He didn’t pitch more than a few innings, this kid. In his brief appearance, however, he wowed us.
We left the ballpark that night in awe of what we’d seen: a Mariners prospect the same age as most high school juniors mowing down the opposition with relative ease. His name wasn’t important at the time — how often do you consider the names of low-A-ball prospects, anyway? — but his actions were memorable. Only later on would we realize that this teenage phenom we had the fortune of witnessing was, in fact, the esteemed Felix Hernandez.
Nine summers have passed since I first watched Felix throw a baseball. He’s a king now, or so they say. He’s evolved from a skinny, teenaged prodigy into a polished, 26-year-old All-Star. He’s enjoyed the equivalent of seven full seasons in the major leagues. He’s gone from an über-prospect, to a pudgy mainstay, to an American League Cy Young Award winner.
He has only earned paychecks from one organization throughout his entire professional career. And to date, it has been more than a decade — he signed his first pro contract on July 4, 2002 — since Felix became a Mariner.
The Seattle fan base has embraced Felix Hernandez like few other athletes before him. No other ballplayer in this city’s history has absolved himself of criticism the way Felix has. Wrong? Felix can do none of it. We’re known for running our heroes out of town around here. So far, Felix has proven to be the exception to that rule.
As Felix has grown up, so have his supporters.
Looking back on that summer evening I spent gawking at Felix’s youthful greatness-in-the-making, I realize that all my suspicions about life and the mercurial horizon awaiting me were spot-on. Weeks after that get-together, Danny would take off for Southern California and it’d be a few years before we reconnected. Like so many friends bound for distant colleges, we began to head our separate ways. To this day, though, we stay in touch. And not one month ago, when we met up for the first time in two summers (in Las Vegas, of all places), the conversation turned to sports, baseball, the Mariners, and yes, even Felix.
When you’re a diehard sports fan, you tend to recall your past in conjunction with great seasons, great plays, and other feats of athletic glory. For example, I can tell you all about everything that happened to me in 1995, when I was 10, thanks in large part to the memories I’ve held onto from one miracle playoff run. So it should really come as no surprise that the summer of 2003 is still synonymous with that moment I first watched a young Felix Hernandez baffle hapless hitters.
Since then, however, few moments of notoriety have emerged for your typical Seattle sports fan to cling to. While I’m acutely aware that most of this drought is the product of a decade’s worth of losing, part of me wonders if the sobering reality of my own adulthood has jettisoned prospective memories from claiming real estate in my mind.
You see, when you’re a kid, you tend to attach even the most meaningless events to the coattails of the meaningful. One impactful occurrence can trigger a slew of nostalgia for the remainder of your existence.
When you grow up — or age, at least, since I’m fairly convinced I’ll never grow up — those moments become fewer and farther between. You tend to forget what it’s like to joyously celebrate even the most seemingly inconsequential circumstances. Adulthood has its perks, sure. That carefree manifesto you unwittingly lived by when you were younger, though? It’s long since decomposed.
But then there are days like Wednesday, August 15th, 2012. Days that serve as reminders of foolish, unadulterated bliss. That interrupt the trials and tribulations of the everyday to cathartically grant you a lasting reverie that will attach itself to this very point in your life and never let go.
Felix Hernandez was 17 years old the last time he bestowed upon me a lasting reverie. He’s 26 now. I’m 27. We have never met each other, not once, yet have grown up together in the same city, in completely different environments.
I’ve lived in and around Seattle my whole life. By comparison, Felix may as well be a world traveler. In all my years residing here, there are only a handful of times that the Mariners — Felix’s Mariners — have made me tremendously happy. In 1995, it happened. In 2001, it happened. And on Wednesday, it happened once again.
Felix Hernandez went out and threw a perfect game. It was the 23rd perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball. It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest pitching performances the world has ever seen.
More importantly, for me, for you, for us, it was a memory that can never be taken away. Regardless of our ages, our places in this world, our pasts, our presents, or our futures, this is something we will never forget.
With each pitch, we held our breath. With each out, our hearts leapt. And when that final strike zoomed across the zone, as home plate umpire Rob Drake made the decisive call on a game that would go down in history, as Felix Hernandez looked to the sky and let out every ounce of emotion he’d contained for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and as every man clothed in the Mariners’ home whites made a beeline for the pitcher’s mound, we smiled. Or cheered. Or laughed. Or cried. Or shrieked, screamed, yelled, gasped, squealed, you name it.
We rejoiced. Because on this particular day, Felix Hernandez gave us a reason to.
We will never forget this.
I will never forget this.
From an eternal Seattle sports fan, to an eternal Seattle sports icon, thank you. Thank you, Felix. You did great.
*Image courtesy The Everett Herald. For more rare Felix images, go here.
Filed under: Mariners, Uncategorized
In today’s game, the Rays sent 27 batters to the plate, and King Felix sent each of them back to the dugout disappointed. Indeed, Felix Hernandez clinched his place in history today by becoming the 23rd man in baseball history to throw a perfect game.
Safeco Field, the city of Seattle, and the world of Twitter all erupted at the news of Felix’ accomplishment. Obviously, Felix had some ridiculous stuff on the mound today, but there were a few other factors that contributed to the win.
The first of thing you can credit the success to was Felix’ ability to control the count. Felix got 16 first pitch strikes. He consistently got ahead in the count and usually stayed ahead. The count also only got to three balls three times. The total pitch count for the game was 117 pitches which came out to an average of 4.33 pitches per batter. That number is ridiculous considering that King Felix also struck out 12 batters. In plate appearances that did not result in strikeouts, Hernandez threw an average of just three pitches per at bat.
Another factor in Felix’ perfect game was his trust in his offspeed pitches. Whether he was ahead or behind in the count,
Felix continually went to his breaking pitches. In the last inning, just two of the fifteen pitches thrown by Hernandez were fastballs. He didn’t throw a single fastball in the eighth inning. Because of his dependence on offspeed pitches, Felix was able to keep velocity on his fastball late into the game, proved by the fact that his last four-seamer clocked in a 95 mph.
John Jaso played a major role in Felix’ outing as well. Jaso and his pitcher remained on the same page all game long, and the trust that Hernandez showed in his catcher was a testament to how well Jaso called the game. Despite the fact that Jaso isn’t normally recognized as a good defensive catcher, his effect on the perfect game is undeniable.
My finishing thought is that I am so glad that we didn’t trade Hernandez at the deadline. King Felix belongs to us.
Something that has been lost in the excitement of the perfecto is the fact that Seattle has now won two straight series. The Mariners are essentially out of playoff race, but it’s still nice to win games against teams that are competing for spots in October.
In case you missed the perfect game, the game will be replayed on the radio in the Seattle area on AM 710 ESPN at 6:00 PM.
You are 17.5 games out of first place.
To build a team capable of taking the AL West, skip ahead three years.
To abandon all hope of seeing .500, skip ahead to the end of this series.
If only the Mariners were more like a choose-your-own adventure book. We could fast forward the nasty parts, the paths that lead to oblivion, the rebuilding strategies that fall through, and the months of record low attendance. We could jettison players who will never pan out, gloss over lopsided trades, and head straight towards that inevitable World Series championship run.
Unfortunately, the only options we’re presented with right now are the fluctuating philosophies of manager Eric Wedge; that is, methods of coping with the fourth-losingest team in MLB. Most days, especially those following a blown save or failed rally, Wedge exhibits the perfect measure of indignation and resolve. When he says, “We’re not going to keep watching people do the same thing over and over again and live with it,” we believe him, at least until he trots out an identical lineup the following day, usually one with Olivo batting above the 8-spot or Ichiro leading off at DH.
As fans, it’s easy to connect with the fire-and-brimstone Wedge. We’re frustrated, too. We’re the ones paying anywhere from $15 to $60 to watch Jesus Montero ground out on the first pitch and Albert Pujols take Felix deep in the heart of unhittable Safeco Field.
However, fire-and-brimstone Wedge vanished somewhere between Prince Fielder claiming the Home Run Derby title and the collective National League shutting out the collective American League. By the time the All-Star break drew to a close, Wedge was preaching a radically different message to his team. Instead of the improve or pack your bags approach, he advocated a mantra of love, tolerance, and relaxation. Per Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, Wedge said, “One thing we have to do is get them in a better position where they can come out and perform. Relaxing and being confident is part of it.”
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with a little TLC toward a team that battled through a 36-51 split in the first half. Managing a major league ballclub, especially one as raw as the Mariners, cannot be easy, and I applaud Wedge for doing what he can with the players he’s been entrusted.
Still, it’s clear that everyone, from the front office to the blogging community, is at the end of their rope with the way this season has been handled. Moving in the fences doesn’t seem to be the answer; nor does moving players back to Triple-A. Trading for key pieces is almost impossible, as any Mariner of worth to another club is under lock and key.
What we need from Wedge at this point is just what he’s asked from his own players: production and consistency. I can accept that The Plan is more likely to span ten years than two, that Montero will not be the superstar catcher/DH in 2012 that we anticipated, that Chone Figgins will be warming the bench for a lot longer than he should. What I cannot accept are these shifting moods from the manager responsible for creating game-winning lineups.
Make a choice, Eric Wedge. You can be the good cop—the one who nurtures the team, who encourages them to try harder after each brutal loss, who draws from a never-ending supply of patience with struggling rookies and veterans alike. Or, you can be the bad cop—the one whose fiery words will inspire players to pick up their game and ship them off to figure things out in the farm system if they don’t.
Whatever you do, don’t threaten to demote under-performing players, then tell us that we need to put more trust in The Plan to iron out the kinks with this crop of Mariners. You may be on the path to building a stronger team, but you are not doing anything to strengthen the hearts of Mariners fans.