Desperate times call for desperate measures! King Félix Hernández is, to some, supposed to be relegated to the ‘pen because of his poor performance over the last three seasons (especially the last month or so).
I believe otherwise. A pitcher with his acumen and experience provides tremendous value to a starting rotation that is very young. Felix has 10 double-digit win seasons and an endless compilation of highlights to refer to you if you want to see the full range of his legacy. He will undoubtedly be in Cooperstown one day.
But I digress...the present is our focus. We need to fix this and now! I feel pretty confident that I have one more method to implement that might bring some rewards. Let’s chop it up and hopefully we can see it in action if there can be tangible rewards derived from it.
Brooks Baseball (shout out to Dan Brooks!) is a great site that I feel lays out where we need to start. Let’s look at his year by year repertoire and batting average against. To be most relevant, we need to observe the years where his velocity was most like what we see now.
With this in mind, let’s look at his BAA in the 2013-2018 seasons. This gives us a basic look at how he is being hit. We can make some simple observations about “damage” by looking at the SLG but more importantly, we just want to see how easy or difficult it is to hit his various pitch types.
We notice a few things upon this review.
His sinker has and always will be his highest BAA hit pitch. The slugging percentage off his sinker has increased every season since 2013 and this is due to a velocity decrease as guys are hitting mediocre velocity better. But another reason for this increase is also the lack of feel that has coincided with his post 2014 season. As he even stated he doesn’t know where his fastball command went.
In a speech I had at SaberSeminar 2018 last weekend (shoutout to Dan Brooks and Chuck Korb, again), I discussed the need for greater emphasis on fastball work during side sessions.
Fastball reps of up to 60%+ of side session pitches should be fastballs. In addition, he needs to utilize this same percentage in game to develop the correct muscle memory, mental conditioning reps, and “feel” for his pitch.
Now, one thing to keep in mind is he must limit his attention to one fastball type. This is imperative to master his command. In order for him to do this, he will need to decide if he want to go sinker (I recommend) or four seam. The tandemed secondary pitch will depends on the fastball type. If sinker, go change. If four seam, go slider. I derived this by doing a linear regression study on correlations between pitch types. I prefer the sinker/change combination as his change has a track record for whiff and there are similar low spin pitches with the greatest velocity differential.
Side note: His slider usage should be at 8% for his best outcomes.
Less is More
Essentially, I am recommending sinker, slider, and change. Having to command so many pitches places a mental strain on mastering release points and pitch movements. When things are not going well, this is the last thing you want to do. There is a ton of tweaking done in this regard and this can lead to a paralysis to analysis. This is where I believe Felix is. I also believe his velocity could very well up tick with less pitch types in his pitching repertoire (and some quality time at Driveline Baseball).
My honest belief is that with greater commitment to a refined side work approach and less pitch variance, he can develop the command that seems to be eluding him now.
Another Angle Into The Struggle
Let’s take a look at his line drives and ground balls per BIP produced against this combination over the last 5 years.
First, is a look at his sinker and its ability to generate line drives and ground balls. Keep in mind, we want a high percentage of ground balls and low percentage of line drives.
Now for his changeup...
What you will notice is line drives and ground ball per BIP were at optimal levels in the 2013 season. Following that was an increase in velocity, followed by a velocity drop, that didn’t coincide with the recommended uptick in fastball usage that has led to this outcome we see today.
A peek at his usage rates of pitch types further emphasizes my point:
Here you can see when his fastball usage rate was 53% range in 2013, (which I recommend in my study), his command was at its best. “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is my fastball philosophy. Also like I stated before, that slider usage when 8% or above is golden. Essentially this means, back off the curve some. Guys are recognizing the spin and that also allowing it to hang longer.
Ultimately, his command—as it always is for any pitcher—will be his foundational point. The root of his problem is one that can be fixed with a combination of greater simplicity and old-fashioned hard work.