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.
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.
Well it looks like we can relax a bit as the Mariners ended their 8 game losing streak today at Safeco field with an 8-1 victory behind the stellar pitching of Jason Vargas. In a nice present for all the Mothers down at the Safe today, our sailors stopped drifting and begin the upcoming road trip on a positive note. I mentioned hitting coach Alan Cockerell in my post a few days ago as someone to watch, well sure enough he was given his walking-papers before today’s game and Alonzo Powell from AAA Tacoma took over.
Speaking of AAA Tacoma, our recently called up players from the minors all proved they were hungry today and hopefully will push the regulars into taking another look at themselves. Josh Wilson led the group with a 3-run homer in the 4th and also had a single, walk, and triple. Michael “Condor” Saunders let everyone know he was legit as well with a solo HR and RBI single later in the game. Ryan Langerhans got on base with a couple of walks and picked up a steal as he gave Casey Kotchman the day off to regroup. Even Adam Moore who is on the bubble picked up an RBI single in the 8th.
I hope the Cockrell move today is not the last in Jack Z’s effort to shake things up. I’d like to see Josh Wilson in the lineup when Jack Wilson comes back Tuesday against Baltimore. Josh Wilson is hungry and I bet he could manage at second base while Chone Figgins gets a chance to work with the new Hitting Coach. This home stand has been trying on the nerves and for once I will be happy to see our guys get on a plane.
In other news around Baseball Oakland Pitcher Dallas Braden pitched a Perfect Game, only the 19th in Major League History. I saw a great video clip of him hugging his Grandma after the game on Mothers day, I thought of my Mom, Suzanne Marjorie Engels who always loved Baseball and was born in NYC when my Grandfather Gordon Rhodes pitched for the Yankees. Happy Mothers day Mom , Mrs Braden and all you Mothers out there. Baseball is a timeless game that connects families and generations like no other and thus is America’s Pastime.http://jeffsmariners.com