Felix = 4181 – 10 x 3.0 + GB
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 24, 2006
I remember a few years ago when baseball saw a breakthrough at the closer position, thanks in large part to a few former starters making job changes and a couple of youngsters poking their heads through the role hole.
John Smoltz flipped his Cy Young career as an ace starter and staff leader into near-legendary status as a slam-the-door closer after having elbow surgery in 2001. Smoltz saved 144 games in 157 chances from 2002 through 2004.
Francisco Rodriguez was so dominant in September and October for Anaheim’s eventual World Series Championship team in 2002, that he’s taken over the closer’s role and posted 45 saves last season.
The list of relievers that have made names for themselves as ninth-inning aces over the past four seasons is as endless as Santa’s naughty list for the city of Las Vegas.
Francisco and Chad Cordero, Joe Nathan, Danys Baez, Brad Lidge, B.J. Ryan, Huston Street… this could take days.
The best of the lot is Eric Gagne. The Dodgers’ right-hander started 48 games in the big leagues before taking on the task as a relief pitcher.
The flamethrower found his control and put together the best three-year stretch of any relief pitcher in baseball history. Gagne converted 152 of 158 save opportunities between 2002 and 2004, including a saves streak that may never be matched.
Rodriguez, both Corderos, Nathan, Baez and Lidge all have 40-save seasons under their belts. Gagne and Smoltz each have two 50-save campaigns to their credit.
But saves isn’t what we’re after here, right? Trust me, it’s not.
At the root of all those saves are peripheral statistics that could make Walter Johnson himself jealous. Gagne, Smoltz and Rodriguez have K/9 marks that resemble an ACT test more than a baseball statistic, and none of the trio has a career BAA over .220.
K-ROD: 11.93 K/9 — .175 BAA
Gagne: 13.09 — .171
Smoltz: 9.77 — .219
The three combined for a 2.19 ERA from 2002 through 2004.
Why is this stuff important at all? Well, it’s really not, until you look up and realize that the gaudy stats put up by the top closers around the league can’t be duplicated by any starter in the game today.
Not even Johan Santana or Jake Peavy, the game’s two best starters in 2005, can claim numbers that equal what the best few closers of the past half-dozen seasons have been doing annually. Rate stats are an impossible conquer for the game’s top pitchers.
Starters have so much more to handle and have to roll through the lineup three or four times to get their job done, while relievers face as few as three batters and, bada-bing, bada-boom! Game!
Pedro Martinez is no longer the perennial Cy Young candidate he was five or six years ago, nor is Randy Johnson. Both are Hall of Fame bound, which is the type of talent and unbridled desire it would take for a starter to consistently match the data in which we’re speaking.
In the search to find a true comp for one Felix Hernandez, one can peel through the baseball registers from start to finish without success. There just isn’t one, or even two starting pitchers – in history – that mold together the youth, stuff, command, poise and pitch efficiency of the M’s soon-to-be 20-year-old ace.
So instead of morphing together some Double-A 20-year-old for the youth, Curt Schilling in his prime for the command of a power arsenal, Pedro Martinez for pure stuff and Josh Beckett, circa 2003 for poise, I chose to look at things differently.
Forget the age, because Hernandez is just a freak of nature and attempting to find an age/talent comp for a teenager that is already one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball is a lot like FSN’s fruitless search for a worse color analyst to team up with Kevin Calabro. (Craig “Eggs” Ehlo? Yikes.) It’s a useless effort.
Eric Gagne possesses three of the remaining four attributes – stuff, command and poise. The pitch efficiency is what separates Felix from every other power pitcher that the brain can manage to fathom, so pardon Gagne for only posting a moderate G/F ratio of 1.33 as a closer.
The conclusion I have come to is that Felix Hernandez is too good for a comp of Carlos Zambrano+Mark Prior+Pedro Martinez.
His fresh, 2006 comp is: 4181 – 10 x 3.0 + GB.
That’s Eric Gagne (ESPN Player ID), minus 10 years (Gagne is 30), times 3.0 (for innings totals and overall value), plus severe ground ball abilities.
That’s what Felix Hernandez is – already.
Toss up a 10.5 K/9 mark, with a 2.5 or better K/BB rate, near 3.0 G/F ratio and and ascending level of endless ability and what you have is the Seattle Mariners own Felix Hernadez.
Or, in other words, the best pitcher in baseball.