A Tale of Two Pitchers

By Blaidd Drwg

I am convinced that there is something wrong (an injury perhaps) with both Felix Hernandez and Tom Wilhelmsen. One of the benefits of having seats behind home plate is that you get a good look at a pitcher’s delivery, and in both cases, the delivery looks off.

Felix Hernandez – He got pounded by the Angels again on the 20th and has not looked all that dominating his last few starts. Felix started off the season yielding just 11 earned runs in his first 64.2 innings (ERA of 1.53) with 64 strike outs and 10 walks. Then came the game in New York on May 14th where Felix tweaked his back (that was the last game in the 64.2 inning stretch). Since then, Felix has posted a mortal 24 ER in 45 innings (a 4.80 ERA) with 10 walks and 48 strikeouts. His strike out rate is up, but he has been getting hit with much more frequency.

I looked at fangraphs.com to see what kind of pitches Felix has been throwing and it seems he is throwing more fastballs, which indicates to me that something is not right – in the 9 games before the injury, he threw the fastball roughly 53% of the time and only exceeded that rate twice in a game – against the Angels on 4/27 and the White Sox on 4/6. Since that time he is throwing it about 57% of the time, but has thrown it over 60% of the time in the last 3 games. When your back hurts, you don’t have the flexibility to throw a breaking pitch as easily or as effectively and that means you rely on your fastball more. When hitters realize this they sit on your fastball. No matter how good the pitcher, hitters have an advantage when they know the fastball is coming and it doesn’t move like Mariano Rivera’s pitches. My observations on Felix have been the same – he is not getting the breaking stuff over the plate like he used to and it is exposing the declining velocity on his fastball.

My guess – Felix makes one or two more starts before ending up on the DL and effectively sinking the rest of the season for the Mariners.

Tom Wilhelmsen – He has been terrible for the month of June (11 ER in 7 innings) after being borderline unhittable in April and May (2 ER in 24 innings). It to judge what is going on with a relief pitcher based on pitch breakdown because the sample size is smaller and subject to randomness, but my observation has been that Wilhelmsen hasn’t been getting the breaking ball over the plate and once again, teams are sitting on his fastball. This has led to more fly balls and more walks. I can’t think of a specific point where he seems to have gotten hurt, so it might just be that his mechanics are messed up and it is all in his head, but whatever it is, he needs to get it squared away soon – the M’s bullpen does not have many effective weapons in their arsenal these days.