After spending 15 years donning a Seattle Mariners uniform, the Atlanta Braves signed Felix Hernandez to a 1 year non-guaranteed deal. Here’s the skinny from DOB:
Atlanta Braves Signed Felix Hernandez in 2013…Almost
I don’t want to do this to y’all but here it goes anyway…Felix Hernandez reached free agency after the 2012 season and made it known that he’d like to be a Mariner for life. However, Frank Wren wanted to alter that plan and was very hot and heavy on King Felix until he realized that Felix was out of the Braves price range. This caused Wren to pivot quickly to B.J. Upton. *Sigh* Inevitably, Felix stayed with the Mariners on a 7 year/175 million dollar deal, a record-breaking deal for a pitcher at the time.
Unlike Upton’s, the deal started out great as Felix was still the king those first 2 years putting up 6.1 and 5.6 fWAR seasons (and boy that would’ve looked good in a Braves uni in 2013). In 2015, Felix showed the same prowess to take the ball every 5th game and gobble up 200+ innings, but the ERA increased a bit. Still, he posted a 2.7 fWAR and most likely chalked it up to happenstance and the sample size of an individual year. Unfortunately for the King and the Mariners, it wasn’t happenstance, rather was the start of fast and hard decline that ended in negative value in 2019. Over the course of the contract, his worth was $121.4 million with 90% of the worth coming in the first 3 years.
Identifying Felix’s Problem
So what went wrong for Felix in his last 4 years with the Mariners? The number one ailment was the dip in velocity in his 2 and 4 seam fastballs. When Felix was King, his fastball sat mid-to-upper 90s. In 2016 it averaged 91 and gradually dipped to below 90 by 2019. Early in his career, the 2 and 4 seamer made up nearly ⅔ of his arsenal, but by the end of 2019, the 4-seamer was thrown less than 10% of the time while the sinker was thrown 30% of the time. The reason? Well…they sucked.
While Felix will always be a fan favorite in Seattle, there are many loyal Mariner’s fans that were perplexed with the lack of adaptation in these last few years of lost velocity. There’s also been numerous published pieces about this oddity over the years and many contributed it to the blessing and curse that has been the lifelong stubbornness of a pitcher not willing to change. The sinker especially has been an absolute mess for 5 straight years, yet it’s the pitch that comes out of his hand 3 out of every 10 times.
There’s Still Good in the Arsenal
However, not all of Felix’s pitches have taken a dip in effectiveness as his slider and curve have measured well for him, accounting for 44% of his pitches thrown. His changeup lacked effectiveness in 2019, but not as extreme as the fastballs and could very well be just a case of a small sample. The change made up 16% of his arsenal. Simple addition shows us that 60% of his arsenal isn’t a problem. Ok…now let’s look at the other 40.
Aniballing the King
Prior to the 2018 season, the Braves, to the chagrin of the fans, signed Anibal Sanchez to a 1 year deal during Spring Training. Little did we know that Anibal had been working hard to develop a new toy that would revamp his career. Chipper Jones once called the cutter his arch nemesis. Anibal would likely say it’s his saving grace. A few years back, it was stated that Felix was developing a cutter and that it looked good, but it rarely made its way into the games. Brooks Baseball had this to say about the pitch:
“His cutter (take this with a grain of salt because he’s only thrown 5 of them in 2019) has heavy sink, generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ cutters, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers’ cutters and has slightly below average velo.”Brooks Baseball
Felix is known for his change-up being his outpitch, but from the data shown, it looks like he needs to use the pitch, like many do, to keep hitters off balance. If the cutter, which has been used sparingly these past 2 seasons, is truly a swing and miss pitch, it could be the missing component in the re-crowning of the new King Felix Hernandez. Luckily, we have Mike Fast, the spindoctor, who’s more than capable of helping Felix develop the pitch.
Thanks for reading about new pitcher for the Atlanta Braves Felix Hernandez! If you liked this piece, check out the rest of our pieces on the 2019-20 Atlanta Braves Offseason Analysis here!