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Sunday, August 16, 2015

FANTASY BASEBALL CRISIS POINT: FELIX HERNANDEZ SP SEATTLE MARINERS

There was an epic beat down suffered on Saturday by one of the best starting pitchers of the modern era in the form of Seattle Mariners longtime ace Felix Hernandez to say the least.  The Boston Red Sox appeared to be taking a leisurely round of batting practice during Hernandez' outing in Fenway Park on Saturday, strafing him for an absurd 12 hits and 10 earned runs in only 2.1 innings before Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon mercifully put an end to the carnage.  As Hernandez walked off the mound, he found himself in uncharted territory for the first time in his career as his ERA blew up to 3.65 and his WHIP to 1.21.  With Hernandez coming off a 2014 campaign when he pitched to a 2.14 mark and who went into the outing again Boston with a career ERA of 3.08, the new ratios were a bit disturbing to see.  Which brings me back to a theme that I was put out here in typed form regarding Hernandez and how I thought trouble could be forthcoming before too long.  And after the trainwreck that was the Boston start, now is the perfect time to rehash that discussion. 

When it came to Hernandez coming into the 2015 season, I was still fully on board in terms of drafting him as a fantasy baseball staff ace.  I have spoken more than a few times in terms of the excellent ratios and K Rate being supplemented by extreme durability which made Hernandez quite possibly the safest ace investment in the game.  Of course no starting pitcher is ever a safe investment due to the very high incident of injury and falloff of performance but Hernandez also brought some other concerns which I touched on.  Primarily speaking, Hernandez made his debut with the Mariners back in 2005 at the age of 19.  That began a stretch of 9 straight seasons where Hernandez threw 190 innings or more and he has gone for as high totals of 230 or more in five of the last six seasons as well.  Yes Hernandez is still young at 29 but after Saturday's start, he is now already up to 2,213.2 career innings which his an incredibly high number for someone who is not even 30.  Thus my thinking that Hernandez could be answering to the innings gods soon enough as the arm only has so many bullets in it to throw.  We have seen concrete examples similar to Hernandez in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants in terms of young pitchers who immediately began to throw for very heavy innings totals out of the gate with no plan to manage those frames to ward against poor future health or a drop in performance.  Both Cain and Lincecum are barely holding onto rotation spots with the Giants and both have almost zero fantasy baseball value now despite still being relatively young.  While Hernandez has not had any injury issues thus far and has not had anywhere near the drop in performance like Cain and Lincecum have, there are some disturbing sings to be aware of.

Let's start with the drop in velocity.  Hernandez began leaking velocity early in 2014 and that has slowly continued on into 2015 as well.  We can see this showing up in Hernandez' K rate which over the last three seasons has gone from 9.51 to 9.46 to this year's 8.65.  The drop from 2014 to this season is almost one strikeout per nine which is quite a dip.  In addition, Hernandez has had more difficulty controlling his pitches more this season as his walks per nine has gone 2014's 1.75 to this years 2.53.  Another bad sign.  Finally the drop in the K rate has made Hernandez more susceptible to giving up the home run as his HR/9 has gone from 2014's 0.61 to this year's 0.94.  With the decrease in velocity, opposing batters are not having as much trouble catching up to his heater to drive it over the outfield wall.  Not good.

So as we sit here today, we are in sort of a crossroads when it comes to Hernandez and his future as an ace.  The ERA is not anywhere near ace level right now and Hernandez is going to have to figure out how to pitch with decreased velocity.  This is an adjustment that he has to make in order to hold onto his value and his future in fantasy baseball depends on it. 

 

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