Felix Hernandez made headlines this off-season when he signed his much deserved seven-year $175 million contract extension with the Seattle Mariners, making him the highest paid pitcher in MLB history.
The finalization of this deal was slightly delayed due to a potential problem with Hernandez’s elbow, but everything eventually got resolved and a clause was added to the contract in case Hernandez does have an elbow problem.
This was a very smart move by Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik, as Hernandez has seen his average fastball velocity drop two MPH since his Cy Young award winning 2010 season. When people think of pitchers who have lost velocity, they immediately think of San Francisco Giants RHP Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young award winner, has lost close to four MPH on his fastball since his major league debut in 2009. This is a very drastic case and it is unlikely that Hernandez will experience that much drop.
Unlike Lincecum, Hernandez has become a smarter pitcher due to his loss in velocity. In 2012, Hernandez had career lows in walk rate at 2.17 per 9 innings and home run rate at only 0.54 per 9 innings.
Many believe that the fastball has been Hernandez’s best weapon, but his changeup has been his best pitch in the last three years, at over 45 runs above average, better than any other changeup in the MLB in that time period. Even better than Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, who many believe has the best changeup in baseball.
Hernandez also features both a curveball and a slider that are very effective, at a combined 24 runs above average in the last three seasons. Even though Hernandez has lost some of his fastball velocity, he still has the secondary stuff to be very effective.
Hernandez has pitched over 1600 innings in his eight year MLB career, but he is only 26 and has learned that he needs to pitch smarter and doesn’t necessarily need to throw the ball hard.
I don’t see this velocity drop as any kind of problem, Hernandez does not have any history of injury other than the small concern about his elbow. As long as he continues to effectively use his secondary pitches, Hernandez will continue to be one the best pitchers in the MLB.