Felix Hernandez and Solo Home Run Situations
The Solo Home Run situations study has featured pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery or have missed time due to injury. This week, the focus is a pitcher who’s avoided the knife and thrown more Major League innings than all of the previous subjects combined: Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is having his best statistical campaign, already accumulating 5.4 WAR in his age-28 season. Still, Hernandez has been a reliable workhorse since entering the league in 2005. How do King Felix’s Solo Home Run ratios stack up against the young guns felled by elbow issues?
Since breaking into the league as a 19-year old, Felix Hernandez has thrown 1976 innings. Already over 150 innings, he’s on track for his 7th consecutive 200-inning season. Felix has been, well, King Felix since 2009 and contributed 33.7 WAR over the past six seasons. Though other pitchers have produced more wins, more strikeouts, and better overall seasons, Hernandez has been pitching at ace level for longer than many of the injured pitchers from previous Solo Home Run studies have been in the league.
So far, the Solo Home Run situations have been used as a proxy to discuss the impact of physical and psychological stress on pitchers. No doubt, pitchers are expected to keep their teams in contention and cannot anticipate pitching with three-run leads every time out. But Solo Home Run situations, when pitchers throw ahead or behind by one run, or tied, gave way to other discussions, like a pitcher needing his best pitch for nearly every pitch and excessive breaking ball usage due to strikeout situations. With Hernandez, we can look at those considerations against the backdrop of a sustained career.
Here are Hernandez’s career numbers to date:
Season Age Innings Pitched Solo HR IP Solo HR % Total --- 1976 1243.2 62.9% 2014 28 151.1 98.1 65.0% 2013 27 204.1 126 61.7% 2012 26 232 165.1 71.3% 2011 25 233.2 158.1 67.8% 2010 24 249.2 156.1 62.6% 2009 23 238.2 150.1 63.0% 2008 22 200.2 135.1 67.4% 2007 21 190.1 92.1 48.5% 2006 20 191 107.2 56.4% 2005 19 84.1 53.2 63.6%
Felix Hernandez has thrown 62.9% of his career innings in Solo Home Run situations, or 1243.2 out of 1976 innings. With so many things to explore with Hernandez, this installment will focus on age.
With almost nine and a half seasons to his name, Felix Hernandez has made one trip to the Major League disabled list with arm-related maladies. In 2007, the Mariners exercised great caution with their prodigy, removing a then 21-year old Hernandez from a start against Minnesota due to elbow tightness. Diagnosed with a strained muscle in his forearm, Hernandez was on the shelf for about a month before returning to Seattle’s rotation. Though he was on a limited pitch count initially, he threw 190.1 innings in 2007 and hasn’t looked back.
At the point of the DL trip in 2007, Felix Hernandez had thrown 292.2 innings in his big league career with a 58.6% Solo Home Run rate. For some context, 292.2 innings is just a handful of starts more than when UCL injuries were sustained by Jose Fernandez (68.5% Solo Home Run rate) and Matt Harvey (66.3% Solo Home Run rate), both of whom were used in more stressful situations at the beginnings of their careers. Given many Tommy John surgeries are preceded by forearm strains, I can speak from experience of the city of Seattle’s collective groan, having also been a Mariners employee at the time. Is it possible the Mariners’ handling of Felix’s injury in 2007 set him up for his current run?
The Solo Home Run situations study has featured seven pitchers to either sustain UCL tears or other arm issues. The ages at which these pitchers sustained their injuries are as follows:
Pitcher Age at Injury Jose Fernandez 21 Michael Wacha 22 Gerrit Cole 23 Martin Perez 23 Patrick Corbin 24 Matt Harvey 24 Masahiro Tanaka 25
Some great work from Will Carroll and Nate Silver showed pitchers have a higher likelihood of sustaining elbow or shoulder injuries under the age of 24. Conversations with Mike Newman, a former college catcher, back up their findings in a qualitative sense, as Mike’s experience also points to college and minor league pitchers as still growing and developing. The conclusion for both is pitchers reach physical maturity in their mid-twenties. Felix Hernandez’s forearm strain at age-21 healed completely. Now 28-years old, Hernandez is considerably less likely to sustain an elbow or shoulder injury going forward.
Felix Hernandez and Solo Home Run Situations
King Felix’s Solo Home Run situations have been trending up since his DL trip in 2007. More tellingly, three of his highest Solo Home Run rate seasons have been since he turned 24 years old. There will be further discussion of Hernandez’s ability to sustain both success and health over ten seasons, notably the Mariners’ offensive struggles, his pitch usage, and becoming a pitcher versus a thrower. But at this moment, it’s time to recognize the Mariners who, by simply getting their prized arm past 24 years old without considerable injury, have treated us to nearly a decade of ace level pitching from Felix Hernandez.
21 Jul 2014 / Ben Flajole / 2
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