For what seems like an eternity now, Felix Hernandez has been the undisputed ace of the Mariners staff. Through the good(ish) seasons and the really bad ones, you could always count on King Felix being the one source of consistency on the Mariners roster.
My inner Mariners fan hates me for writing this, but the analyst in me knows that it’s time to come to terms with the inevitable. Although it’s fun to hope things can always end up being how they once were, its time to come to terms with reality. Felix is not the same Felix we remember. Now, that’s not to say that he is a terrible pitcher or a liability whenever he is on the mound. What it means is never again will we be able to consider Felix and ace. At the moment, James Paxton seems to be the heir to that throne.
Over the past two years, the decline in Hernandez’s game has been drastic. Not the casual drop in production over an extended period of time. It was actually quite sudden. After a dominant 2014 season in which Felix went 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA and 248 SO in 236 IP, he followed that up with an 18-9 record the following season. To the casual fan, 18-9 seems great and not at all worrisome. Look a bit closer and you’ll see the decline in his numbers was apparent. His 3.53 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 15.3% HR/FB and 1.03 HR/9 were some of the worst of his career all while only pitching 201.2 innings.
The second half of the season was when reality started to set in with Felix. His second half ERA of 4.48 was the worst of his career.
Fast forward to 2017 (I’m choosing to completly overlook his abysmal 2016 because it hurts my heart every time I think about it) and you’ll see that, despite his attempts to recreate his old self, Felix just doesn’t have it anymore. Through 5 starts, Felix has a 4.73 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 1.58 WHIP and a 27.3% HR/FB. Worst of all, he has a well above average LOB% (84.3) which means that he is actually still trending in the wrong direction.
The biggest issue at this point for Felix seems to be fatigue. He may only be 31, but after 10 years of 190+ innings the body can only do so much. His velocity is down across the board with his fastball only averaging a measly 90 MPH. Not only that, hitters are swinging at a career high 49.1% of Felix’s pitches and making contact on a career high 82.2% including 91.1% of the pitches in the zone. To put it simply, Felix no longer has the ability to be the elite strikeout pitcher he was in the past. People aren’t swinging and missing like he’s accustomed to. In an era where 95+ MPH fastballs are the norm, Felix’s fastball looks more like batting practice than an effective strikeout pitch.
What The King has become is the perfect #2 or #3 starter. Someone who can eat up innings and do just enough 60% of the time to ensure the team is in line for a win. He fits perfectly behind James Paxton and just ahead of Iwakuma (Though, expect Smyly to be the #3 when healthy).
Here’s the dilema though: After being the man for so long I’m just not sure Mariner fans can fully accept him being anything but an ace. It’s like, as Mariner fans, Felix has been our long time serious girlfriend. We dated for awhile but suddenly realized we made better friends than being together. So we figured we would do the whole best friend thing for awhile, only to realize it can never work. We keep reminiscing about how things used to be only to get disappointed when we realize they can never be that way again.
We love you, Felix, but this can’t work anymore.
After everything he has done for this organization only to be rewarded with no run support and zero playoff appearances, he needs to go to a contender. This needs to happen before fans start to grumble and before his trade value widdles away.
Teams like the Dodgers, Brewers and Yankees all could be excellent places for Felix to land. He’s almost guaranteed a playoff appearance right away, he can go in as the #2 or #3 starter comfortably and all three teams have loaded farm systems with plenty to offer in return for Felix.
I’m not here to tell you that Felix is bad. Hell, there’s an entire generation of kids that no nothing other than Felix is the man. What I’m saying is that eventually, all good things have to come to an end. Let’s end this one before it gets to the point of no return for both sides.