Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is something not quite right with King Felix?

This post is supposed to show my skills in pitcher evaluation. I looked at Felix Hernandez' performance Saturday, August 13 against the Boston Red Sox.

What does it take to evaluate a pitcher? Don’t rely on Mariner broadcasters to give you too much insight into pitcher evaluation.

Recent statistical development shows a compelling ratio anytime Felix Hernandez takes the mound: +K/NQ measures pitcher strikeouts versus the amount a broadcaster speaks the phrase "no question." Felix inspires more "no question" statements per strikeout than the average American League pitcher.

Rizzs: “Swiiiiing and a miss! Strike three! When Felix has that slider working like that, Red, he’s the best pitcher in the American League.”
Fairly: “No question.”

Felix puts out +K/NQ ratios in each start that average about 3:8, often affected by whether Ron Fairly is calling the game. In a May 6th complete game win against the White Sox, Felix struck out 6, and Fairly dished out 16 “no question” response commentaries. Felix may be a league leader, but +K/NQ ratios are often skewed higher with Red Sox and Yankees pitchers.

Regardless of the +K/NQ statistical analysis in Felix' 2011 season, something that is in question is whether anything is "wrong" with Felix in 2011. Some measurements indicate not much has changed between this season and the last two. I like to look at seasonal trends on Fangraphs. Felix’ BABIP this season is a little higher but not outside of career ranges, so it doesn’t appear to be a bad luck/good luck issue. FIP, BB and K rates are all within range of previous years. But there's something not passing the eye test with Felix. We expect Felix not to not merely pitch well, but to dominate the opposition. The Cy Young in 2010 elevated expectations even higher, and there is also an underlying expectation that Felix can become even better. The establishment of the baseball bacchanalia that is The King’s Court capitalizes on that belief. Even though Felix has put up some great performances in 2011 (the recent 12 K performance in Anaheim), Saturday’s start against the Red Sox showed that something is just enough out of kilter to watch in the future. Granted, the Red Sox put out a formidable line-up, working counts and driving the ball all over the park. The Sawx send many pitchers away whimpering.

The Red Sox bats gave us an idea of where the trends may be going with Felix. In the 6th inning, the Sox hit the ball all over the park. With one screaming line drive of several that inning, Dustin Pedroia smoked a ball over the right center fence, a drive that I couldn't imagine on Felix in the last two seasons. The Line Drive % for Felix is the highest of his career, and his Ground Ball % is the lowest, according to Fangraphs. It's not as if Felix is getting shelled, but those rates bear watching. Felix was definitely watching in disbelief as well, as he stood with mouth agape after Pedroia’s shot.

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