Wasting Felix Hernandez, Ace Pitcher

Earlier this week, in my Mariners weekly recap, I mentioned something that I want to take a deeper look at today. Since the beginning of September, 2012, the Mariners have gone 2-9 in games started by Felix Hernandez. That statistic is pretty staggering so I wanted to look into it a bit more. What have Felix’s stats looked like during this period? How do they compare to other pitchers around the league during the same period? This is just a thought exercise, nothing that’s supposed to be definitive or predictive. I’m just curious about Felix and the way he’s pitched in recently and how the Mariners have played when he’s on the mound.

Before we look too deeply into the numbers, I want to talk about the stopper or ace theory. The theory goes that in a five man starting rotation, you need a stopper or an ace to make sure that long losing streaks aren’t prone to occur. If the team is sliding and starting to lose three or four in a row, your ace is supposed to come in and win, stopping the slide in its tracks. Felix Hernandez is the Mariner’s stopper. Yet over the last two months of games, the team hasn’t responded to his performances. Are the Mariners losing winnable games (the answer to this question is most certainly yes)? Lets head to the numbers!

Here are Felix’s lines during this eleven game period:

Date Opponent Result IP BF ER K BB HR
9/01/2012 Angels 2-5 Loss 7 1/3 32 4 7 2 0
9/07/2012 Athletics 1-6 Loss 4 2/3 25 5 4 1 1
9/13/2012 @ Blue Jays 3-8 Loss 4 23 7 4 1 2
9/19/2012 Orioles 1-3 Loss 8 31 1 8 1 0
9/26/2012 @ Angels 3-4 Loss 6 25 2 9 2 0
10/01/2012 Angels 4-8 Loss 5 1/3 29 7 7 3 0
4/01/2013 @ Athletics 2-0 Win 7 2/3 27 0 8 1 0
4/06/2013 @ White Sox 3-4 Loss 6 1/3 27 4 3 2 1
4/11/2013 Rangers 3-4 Loss 6 2/3 31 3 5 2 1
4/17/2013 Tigers 1-2 Loss 8 29 0 12 0 0
4/22/2013 @ Astros 7-1 Win 6 23 0 9 1 0

Not too shabby. Now here’s are his collective totals.

ERA FIP K% BB% HR%
4.24 2.54 25.2% 5.3% 8.9%

His ERA is a bit high, but that number is skewed by two bad outings against the Blue Jays on September 13 and the Angels on October 1. His FIP is outstanding and his peripherals are better than his career averages. His strikeout totals were awesome, he was exceptionally stingy in giving out free passes, and he kept the ball in the yard with aplomb. Despite the unusually high number of runs allowed, Felix actually pitched as advertised, like an ace. However, according to our stopper theory, we would expect a true ace to actually get positive results. In reality, a pitcher can only do so much. The offense still has to score enough runs to win.

The Mariners offense scored a grand total of thirty runs during these eleven games for a measly average of 2.7 runs a game. Its clear the offense did not carry their weight in this endeavor. There were five games lost by less than two runs that could have been wins with just a bit more offense. Now in hindsight, its easy to say, “if only this, if only that,” and I recognize that these results are in the past and can’t be changed. For the sake of this thought exercise, lets look at how a few other aces around the league faired during this same period.

Name Team Results IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR%
Felix Hernandez Mariners 2-9 70 4.24 2.54 25.2% 5.3% 8.9%
Justin Verlander Tigers 7-3 68 1/3 1.98 2.60 25.4% 6.5% 6.6%
David Price Rays 5-5 68 3.97 3.16 21.9% 5.7% 10.9%
R.A. Dickey Mets/Blue Jays 5-6 71 1/3 3.79 4.14 21.2% 7.9% 13.3%
Yu Darvish Rangers 7-2 63 1/3 2.13 1.58 32.8% 6.4% 2.3%
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 6-4 68 2/3 1.44 2.98 27.0% 10.5% 7.5%
Zack Greinke Angels/Dodgers 6-2 54 2.00 2.84 23.3% 4.9% 7.5%

When compared to his peers, Felix’s results are a mixed bag. He has the highest ERA but the second lowest FIP of the group. This tells me, Felix is getting the results he wants, but he’s allowing too many runs to score despite pitching like an ace. Obviously, this is an arbitrary sample and I don’t think we can say definitively that Felix gives up too many runs in general. It’s interesting to see the performances of aces like Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander stacked up against Felix. They were able to get the pitching results of an ace as well as prevent runs from scoring (Darvish in particular, this sample for him is insane!).

So what’s our take away from this thought exercise. I’m not sure. Felix is awesome, but he’s not always awesome. And the Mariners can’t buy a run. Seriously, only 30 runs scored over Felix’s last eleven starts (seven of them in his last start against the Astros). Happy non-Felix Day!

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