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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.

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10 Responses to “Felix = 4181 – 10 x 3.0 + GB”

  1. Let’s just put a little more perspective on that Gagne at Age 20 as a Starter with even Better GB tendancies.

    Eric Gagne at Baseball Prospectus

    The key is to note that Gagne was only a closer from 2002 to the present day.  When you total up his HR as a closer and convert to HR/9 you get .54.

    Felix at Hardball Times

    The numbers that differ for Felix in 2005 were GB/FB 3.55, Line Drive % 13.8 and HR/9 of .58

    That much higher GB to FB with better LD% (Gagne’s is historically around 20%) mean that Felix will give up LESS hits than Gagne and roughly the same walk rate.  4181 minus 10 years times 2.53(IP qualifier) and twice the groundballs with the same HR rate.  Those Home Runs will have much less meaning when the guy giving them up will have a WHIP of about half his best comparable player.

    Those are the reasons that when you look at Felix over a full season you clearly see that he will be one of the five best pitchers in the game in either league at the age of 20.

    Quoting Cameron in “Five Questions” (link given in upper right corner of PI) concerning Seattle’s ability to have a huge Wins improvement

    “And, if I’m totally wrong and the team stinks, it’s okay, because we still have King Felix and you don’t.”

  2. Andren said

    While I agree with your every effort here statistically, it appears strikingly evident that until he performs at this high level for a given period of time (2-3 years) Felix is not the best pitcher in baseball. Sample size says a lot here.

    Felix has a lot of territory to wade through here. Beginning with his age/maturity level. We have no idea what impact this will have. How does he handle the media attention? Money? Team-mates? Groupies? Some of these things have a residual effect on performance.

    He also will be better researched and scouted this season. Batters familiarity with his stuff will increase and thus the chances that some, dare I say, might figure him out.

    There is also the question of his form, which is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the blog-o-sphere of late. I don’t know enough here to comment but will defer to Lookoutlanding.com for his take on Felix’s delivery being off-kilter and obviously violent on the wing.

    Even if that is the case we still have a lot of great things to look forward to from a pitcher with his skillset and God-given poise at such a young age.

  3. Willmore said

    Right, to bring some reason to this. You guys do realize that comparing a reliever to a starter is pointless, no matter how good the statistical comparisons seem to be. Relievers don’t have to conserve anything when they pitch, they rear back and give it all they have. When Gagne was a starter, he did that, to get through the 6+ innings a start is required to be effective. Now, Gagne just deals everything he has in 10-20 pitches, and he’s done for the day.

    Felix is incomparable, period. Let’s just stop, he’s like the first Homo Sapiens among a sea of Neanderthals.

  4. Geez, guys relax.

    This isn’t about who’s PROVEN what.

  5. Willmore, Felix isn’t rearing back like relievers and he is putting up better numbers than those guys.

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