It’s no secret that Felix Hernandez hasn’t been the ace of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff that he was back in 2010. In order to revitalize his arm, the Mariners should move him to the bullpen.
Felix Hernandez‘s case is as striking as it is familiar. Over the past 10 seasons, Hernandez has lost nearly seven miles-per-hour of velocity on his fastball. In 2010, he held opponents to a .190 bating average against his fastball, which averaged a 95 MPH velocity. Last season, opponents hit .242 against the pitch, which he threw at just over 90 MPH.
Another concerning statistic is the dramatic decrease in strikeouts recorded by Hernandez between 2014 and 2016. In 2014, Hernandez had an excellent season, making 34 starts and recording a 2.14 ERA and 0.915 WHIP with 248 strikeouts. By 2016, these numbers dropped to 25 starts and 122 strikeouts while his ERA ballooned to 3.82. Hernandez also allowed a career-high 1.1 HR/9 in 2016, suggesting that the King Felix of old was nearly completely lost.
A familiar case
Watching Hernandez’s struggles reminds me of when the Atlanta Braves gave Hall of Fame starter John Smoltz a full-time closer role in 2002. It rejuvenated his already decorated career following his injury-ridden 2000 season and lackluster 2001 performance. In 1999, his last season as a starter, Smoltz recorded his lowest K/9 (7.53) since 1991, and an 11-8 record in 29 starts. Smoltz was also losing velocity on his fastball at the time of the move, which was quite concerning for a team in the midst of a consecutive pennant-winning streak.
During his time as a closer, Smoltz recorded 44+ saves in consecutive seasons, with 55 in his inaugural season. His average fastball velocity increased from 92 MPH to 96, and his effectiveness dramatically increased. His ground ball rate increased year by year, and his K/9 increased from 7.53 in 1999 to 10.21 in 2003.
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The road ahead
The Seattle Mariners haven’t performed to the expectations their fan base hoped after signing big names like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. The franchise’s pitching staff is sailing in the same boat. With an aging roster, 2017 should be the season for the Mariners to develop their farm club talent at the big league level.
The Mariners have two great pitching replacements should Hernandez depart the rotation for the bullpen. Both Max Povse and Andrew Moore are highly rated prospects in the Mariners system who would greatly benefit from big league exposure.
Povse posted a 9-6 record with a 3.36 ERA for their Double-A affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers. He struck out 133 batters in 158 innings, with a 1.133 WHIP. He has an above average changeup according to scouts, and uses his towering presence on the mount to add extra life to his low-90s fastball.
Moore went 12-4 with a 2.65 ERA last season for the Travelers as well. He did give up 11 home runs and 31 walks, which are concerning for a starting pitcher. However, his 133 strikeouts and 1.098 WHIP suggest these numbers are more related to control than overall stuff. Moore also features a curveball and slider which give him the makings of a perennial No. 4 starter in the big leagues.
So far in 2017, the Mariners are 3.5 games back in the AL West and have split their last 10 games. The franchise has finished second in the division the past two seasons after not finishing above third since 2007. To make the playoffs, which they haven’t done since 2001, it seems a major shake-up is needed.