King Felix Hernandez
King Felix Hernandez celebrates another victory
Felix Hernandez as king?
There are very very few 'kings' in baseball. Everyone knows Nolan Ryan as the strikeout king and the no-hitter king. Barry Bonds is the disputed home run king, even though Hank Aaron says Barry is the home run king. Pete Rose is the hits king, and that can't be disputed even though Pete is banned from the Hall of Fame, and baseball itself without prior approval from MLB headquarters. Ricky Henderson is the stolen bases and runs scored king. How the heck did Felix Hernandez get to be called king of anything?
The auspicious title of king was bestowed upon Felix Hernandez way too early in his career for it to have meant anything then at all. The truth of reality in baseball is more often than not that guy with the great arm and all the potential in the world winds up as yet another baseball pitching bust. The moniker came from one of two bloggers dedicated to the Seattle Mariners team, so the term wasn't ever meant to be a jinx, but it seemed to have more jinxing potential than anything else. It was discouraged and kept quite, until it wasn't any more.
Nicknames in baseball come and they go. Few of them ever really stick. Felix Hernandez got his nickname before he ever earned it. Maybe the nickname inspired him towards a greatness he'd otherwise have never achieved?
Freddy Garcia with the Seattle Mariners.
Felix Hernandez was scouted and signed early in life, his potential notable at a young age
Born in the town of Valencia in Venezuela in 1986, Felix was already being scouted by the Seattle Mariners at the age of fourteen years. Young Felix at that early teen age could already hit ninety miles per hour on the scout's radar gun. Following the rules of Major League Baseball, Felix wasn't approached with an offer to become a professional in Seattle's minor league system until he was sixteen years old.
Seattle wasn't the only team after Felix Hernandez, and they weren't the team offering the most money either. Felix signed with the Mariners because the Mariners had his chosen role model already, Freddy Garcia. Garcia was an apt role model for Felix, both were Venezuelan and both were of comparable size. Garcia would go on to have a nice long career with some very impressive seasons for a few different teams before retiring in 2013.
Seattle ace, Felix Hernandez
King Felix Hernandez, from thrower to pitcher
In Major League Baseball the scouts look for pitchers who can throw with great velocity, and they look at the pitcher's build. The body size and build of the body are used as a metric because throwing a baseball over and over and over again is a really violent sort of thing. Humans didn't evolve over millions of years to throw baseballs one hundred miles per hour, and so the men with the big frames that appear to be capable of sustaining themselves while throwing a ball violently again and again are the prospects most highly sought after. Felix Hernandez fit the bill. Tall and broad shouldered at six foot and three inches, Felix Hernandez grew into that rare sort of man who could throw a baseball from a pitching mound at around one hundred miles per hour.
One hundred miles per hour fastballs are neat tricks, they elicit all sorts of awe from crowds and television or radio analysts, but the truth of the matter is a Major League Baseball hitter is a person who, after seeing that pitch a few times, can often time it, and if the pitch has no wrinkles on it, hit it very hard. Felix Hernandez realized early on that airing out the fastball at top speed wasn't going to turn him into the next Nolan Ryan. Felix learned that an out is an out, and if you can get an out with less exertion on your arm, then it is a better out for you and for your team.
Felix proved himself a quick study. He realized his arm got him to the Major Leagues, but it wasn't going to keep him there unless he learned to pitch, and not throw. King Felix is now one of Major League Baseball's master craftsmen of pitching, and he owns a wide array of pitches he can place with great accuracy and cunning just about anywhere he so chooses.
King Felix Hernandez with thousands of adoring admirers in the background
King Felix Hernandez and the perfect game
For the most part, the barbarity of the Roman era gladiatorial games died with the Roman empire. We're more civilized now, at least a little. We've still got our modern gladiators though, and how else can you describe an icon such as King Felix on a hill facing down his opponent from sixty feet and six inches away in single combat, except as a modern gladiator of sorts? His fans adore him, and rightly so. They feed their energy into him, and he feeds it towards the batter in the form of a wide variety of wickedly thrown and dancing balls, darting and diving in various and sundry directions.
When a pitcher faces down twenty seven straight batters with none at all reaching first base, this is called a perfect game. It is a very rare feat, a no-hitter with no runners at all either. There have been over 200 thousand games played in Major League Baseball, and there have only ever been twenty three perfect games. King Felix owns one of those twenty three. It was a blistering hot day in August in 2012. Felix, as always, was wearing one of those long sleeved shirts under his jersey. Felix does this to prevent sweat from running down his arm and interfering with his grip on the baseball. Somehow or another, he knew early in the second inning a perfect masterpiece was possible on that day, and he then delivered it. Felix recorded the twenty third perfect game in MLB history. There is always a possibility it is the last one to be thrown.
Felix Hernandez delivers a pitch
Felix Hernandez is an innings eating pitching workhorse
Felix Hernandez is a workhorse of a pitcher in the modern sense of the term. These days are the days of the highly specialized bullpens. Long ago pitchers were expected to finish the games they started, but these days are different. There is a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, and a closer in today's Major League bullpen. Two hundred innings pitched in a year makes you a workhorse starter now. We may or may not ever see a three hundred inning season again.
Going into the 2016 season, Felix will turn 30 just as the season begins, but probably after his first start. There is little doubt Felix will start opening day for Seattle. He has already recorded eight full major league seasons at over two hundred innings. Two other seasons Felix just missed the mark, and surely not by his choice, at around one hundred and ninety innings pitched. In ten years of Major League Baseball, Felix the king has recorded two thousand two hundred and sixty two, and one third innings. He has thrown twenty five complete games, and eleven of those were shutouts. There is little doubt Felix could have done more, but again, in this day and age the starters aren't even hardly considered for complete games. There is often a lot of money invested into not just the starting pitchers, but the arms in the bullpen too.
An intimidating presence on the pitching mound, Felix has much more going on than just power pitches
What kind of stuff does the king throw?
Some big league scouts think that were the game in question the must win game, as in a deciding World Series game, that Felix Hernandez would be the person most desirable to have starting that game. He's known to be a big game pitcher, a clutch player who performs at his very best when it matters the most. Felix is an alpha male competitor who lives to pitch and pitches to win.
Felix got to the big leagues as a flame thrower. He can still bring some heat, but nowadays thinks about what is best for the team instead of dazzling folks who watch the radar guns. There are still plenty of fans out there with the 'K' signs to rack up and count the strikeouts though. Felix Hernandez is actually more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout pitcher. He can't throw a pitch that goes straight, everything he throws dances around or dives somewhere. His four seam fastball is averaging between 91 to 93 miles per hour. The two seam fastball is a couple miles per hour slower, and helps the game move quickly by inducing ground balls to the infield. This also helps Felix and his Mariners by keeping the infielders engaged in the game, and very active.
If there is a drawback to former Cy Young winner king Felix's style, it is only that there are so few fly balls hit. His three Mariner team-mates in the outfield could possibly get a little bored out there. The fans, however, love to see those double plays and those strikeouts. While he's not on the same power pitching plane as Clayton Kershaw, insofar as strikeouts go; Felix Hernandez is more comparable to Cole Hamels. How is Felix anything at all like Cole Hamels? The change-up. Felix gets most of his strikeouts not from his curve ball or his slider, oh sure, he throws those pitches, and he throws them well. Regardless, Felix is a change-up and sinker ball specialist. It is a toss up with the scouts as to whether Cole Hamels, or Felix Hernandez has the best change-up among American League starters.
What stands out the most in Felix Hernandez, even above his superlative pitching, is his pure and true love of the game of Baseball. Baseball is better for people like Felix Hernandez being a part of it. Thank God or the god of your own choosing, or the gods of Major League Baseball for making our national game an international one now too. We expect to see more greatness from Felix the king in 2016. Thanks for reading.