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June 16, 2007 at 1:44 PM

More on Felix

Had a very interesting chat with Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves about the whole Felix Hernandez pitch selection vs. pitch location argument. I did this because a lot of people whose opinions I respect are saying this is a pitch selection problem for Hernandez. I told Chaves about the very lively internet debate going on and he seemed interested. Told me he respects the opinions that people are stating and that he knows the topic of Hernandez is generating plenty of interest.
But for Chaves “it’s more a question of pitch location.”
In other words, command.
And by command, he isn’t saying merely command of the strike zone.
“It also means expanding the strike zone,” Chaves said. “It means throwing a pitch outside the strike zone where a hitter can’t hit it. When you fall behind in the count you have to come into the zone with a strike. But when a pitcher gets ahead, he can expand the zone a little. He doesn’t have to come in.”
That’s what happened on the 0-2 slider that Mike Lamb hit for the two-run homer that ultimately put last night’s game away. Hernandez didn’t execute the pitch, hanging it like a welcome sign. And he didn’t locate the pitch where he wanted, catching too much plate.
Executing the bigger pitches is something Chaves wants to work with Hernandez on. He notes that had Hernandez been able to execute two or three more pitches in key situations, the results of the game would have been far better.
Don’t think that Chaves is happy with the six innings, four runs allowed by Hernandez. He was far less charitable about that than I was on the blog this morning. “That’s not what we want from him,” Chaves said. “That’s not what we want if he’s going to make it to that next level.”
Chaves is far less concerned about the sequence of pitches Hernandez throws. He counted about five consecutive fastballs thrown in the first at-bat of the first inning, to Craig Biggio. The result was a multi-hopped infield single. So, while it goes down as a hit, Biggio didn’t exactly crush the ball. And that, Chaves notes, is all he cares about.
Most times, that ball results in an out. And the results, Chaves said, are what he wants to see. Despite what I wrote this morning, that Hernandez has been told to establish his fastball and work off it, he isn’t actually being put under much of a constraint by the team.
He’s actually free to do what he wants. If he wants to throw more sliders and change-ups, he can. What the team wants is for him to get a feel for what works best for him on the mound. Chaves insists that he can throw as many fastballs as he wants as long as he gets dribblers like Biggio hit as a result. No, not all of last night’s pitches went well. Some of the fastballs were hit and hit hard, as was the misplaced slider.
But that’s a command issue. Chaves feels that with improved command, the results will be different. Take away that Lamb homer and its maybe a six-plus inning stint of two earned runs allowed. No, we can’t go about scoring Hernandez that way because the game isn’t that simple. He did give up the four runs in only six innings and the team wasn’t happy about it.
But for now, his command is what will keep getting the attention. And while Hernandez isn’t always perfect in the pitches he chooses to throw, the Mariners for now can live with it as long as he puts the ball where he wants it to go. I find this a very intersesting debate to be having.
As for “Bob” in the previous post, I appreciate your contributions, but I disagree that Dave over at USS Mariner is “dumb” for suggesting the pitch selsection theory and backing it up with volumes of stats. I’ve read a lot of Dave and Derek over at that site and “dumb” they are not. They may be wrong on this one issue. Or, they may ultimately be proved right. Or maybe, just maybe, Hernandez starts pitching well again and we never know the full answer.
But for now, this is how the team is handling it.
As I wrote last night, Jose Lopez is at third tonight, Jose Vidro at second. This should be fun.
Woody Williams goes for the Astros. Here’s a Woody story from my first year covering baseball in 1998. Williams was in his early 30s, a part-timer-turned mainstay in the Blue Jays rotation that year, highly popular with fans. But in a year-end piece, I wrote that the team likely wouldn’t bring him back anywhere but as a fifth-starter in the rotation at best in 1999. Don’t forget, that was a staff that planned to have Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar in it the following season. Not bad, huh? Four Cy Young Award winners so far. You get the picture.
So, last day of the season comes, Williams motions me over to his locker as he packs his bags.
“I saw what you wrote about me,” he said.
Uh-oh, the little voice in my head goes. This could be bad. It actually wasn’t. Williams is a class act. He very politely told me that he agreed that the perception the organization had of him was as a middling, journeyman fifth starter. But he looked me in the eyes, told me to listen to what he was about to say, and — I’ll never forget this — promised me that he knew how good he was and that anyone giving up on him was going to be proven wrong. And he promised that this wasn’t just talk from an ego-driven athlete. He promised that he was not a back-end rotation guy and would show it starting in 1999.
The Jays traded him to San Diego that winter, along with Carlos Almanzar, for pitcher Joey Hamilton in one of the worst deals in Toronto history. Williams, since leaving Toronto, has had two 15-win seasons and one 18-win season and pitched in a World Series for St. Louis in 2004. He’s posted double-digit win totals seven times. He made the all-star team in 2003, leading the league with 18 wins.
Which goes to show you that you just never know when pitchers are going to blossom. Don’t give up on Hernandez just yet.
And Williams, as we can see, is still pitching at age 40. Makes me feel really good just thinking about it so I thought I’d share.
The lineups:
2B Craig Biggio
CF Hunter Pence
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
SS Mark Loretta
RF Luke Scott
3B Mike Lamb
C Brad Ausmus
P Woody Williams
CF Ichiro
2B Jose Vidro
RF Jose Guillen
LF Raul Ibanez
1B Richie Sexson
C Kenjo Johjima
3B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
RHP Cha Seung Baek



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