Spring Starts and Things that Matter

So undervalued, you didn’t even know he was there.

I do realize that players with names other than “Felix Hernandez” play for the Mariners. Casper Wells, for instance, is leading the Cactus League in RBI. Does that matter? Not really, unless it gets him onto the roster where he belongs! But Felix just signed a mammoth extension, and Felix just came off another season where we saw his velocity drop, and Felix just made his first start of Spring Training on Thursday against the mighty Royals. So let’s talk some more about him. His start went something like this—at least, in terms of Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x.

 

Pitch Type

Avg Speed

Max Speed

Count

Whiffs

Four-seamer

91.53

91.8

4

0

Sinker

90.93

91

3

1

Changeup

89.29

91.3

20

1

Slider

83.7

83.7

1

0

Curveball

80.18

82.3

4

0

Total

x

91.8

32

2 (6.25%)


Because velocity stabilizes almost immediately—so long as we account for the fact that he only pitched two innings—we might actually be able finagle something out of these 32 pitches. Brooks tells us that he averaged 93.1mph on his four-seamer last season*, but that was an entire season and a regular season. To find anything useful here, it would be helpful to compare to some of his other spring training games, and Brooks comes through yet again with Felix’s first start of 2012’s spring, exactly 367 days ago, against the Reds.

Pitch Type

Avg Speed

Max Speed

Count

Whiffs

Four-seamer

91.75

91.9

2

0

Sinker

91.05

91.4

2

0

Changeup

88.5

90.7

22

4

Slider

83.2

84.7

3

1

Curveball

80.43

81.2

6

0

Total

x

91.9

35

5 (14.3%)

Not only was he throwing the exact same pitches with similar frequencies this past Thursday, he was throwing them just about as hard as he was one year ago against the Reds. It seems that either Felix likes to get his changeup going early on in the spring, or he simply confused PITCHf/x. In any case, there’s no reason to believe that he’s behind where he was during spring training last season.

But that brings us to last season—the regular season portion—when some were concerned that velocity loss was bringing him down. In reality, he was fine. In April, his four-seam velocity averaged 92.3mph. May and June followed with 92.1 and 93.1 averages, respectively. During each of those months, Felix sported a higher whiff rate on his four-seamer than his overall 2012 rate, and his overall strikeout rate was also a little better than during the rest of the season. In terms of results, Felix was the same old Felix in 2012, and everything about his first spring start this season says that he’s right where he was at this point last season.

*Why this is slightly different from Fangraphs’ data, I don’t know, but it does not change the argument.

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