BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 09/02/2014

Felix needs to snap out of September trend

Felix Hernandez hasn’t won a game in September since 2011 and will pitch his first meaningful contest of the season’s final month Wednesday in Oakland.

Felix Hernandez is 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA over his last three starts and enters September with no momentum for the fourth consecutive year. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Between May 18-Aug. 11, Felix Hernandez created a remarkable entry in the major league record book: 16 consecutive starts in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs. Since no other pitcher in more than 100 years ever had a run of more than 13 such starts (Tom Seaver, 1971), it’s fair to describe Hernandez’s streak as astounding.

Dicing it up, over the 16, King Felix posted a 9-2 record and 1.41 ERA with 134 strikeouts and 20 walks, setting himself up as the overwhelming favorite to win the American League Cy Young award.

Since his last victory, 11-1 over Toronto at Safeco Field three weeks ago, Hernandez has not had a single “Happy Felix Day.” Gassed, he lasted five innings in a 92-pitch, 4-2 setback at Detroit Aug. 16, after which he offered a positive spin on the end of his record-breaking streak.

“I’ll just have to begin a new streak,” Hernandez said confidently post-game.

He has, but this one is trending south. At Boston Aug. 22, Hernandez labored through 5.2 innings, throwing 116 pitches in a no-decision. Friday, he lasted seven innings, but coughed up a career-high four home runs while striking out one. Never in his career had Hernandez pitched seven innings without recording more than one strikeout. Worse, he suffered an 8-3 loss to Washington after the Mariners scored twice in the first inning.

That marked the first time since Sept. 11, 2005 (his rookie year) against Baltimore that Hernandez had been staked to a lead of two or more runs in the first inning and couldn’t hold it. His record in such starts between Sept. 11, 2005 and Friday: 20-0.

So after his brilliant, 16-start streak from May 18-Aug. 11, Hernandez is 0-2 with one no decision and 13 earned runs allowed — as many as he yielded in 13 previous starts. His ERA: 5.09, dealing his Cy Young chances a severe hit.

If the trend – or drain swirl — doesn’t change in September, this will become the fourth consecutive year that Hernandez has experienced a late-season swoon.

In 2011, he ended the season with three consecutive defeats. In 2012, he had four losses and two no-decisions in his final six starts, costing him a chance at his second Cy Young. Last year, spanning the latter part of August and all of September, he had five losses without a victory. That, too, cost him a chance at the Cy.

Hernandez hasn’t won a game in the last month of a season since Sept. 6, 2011, when he defeated the Angels 2-1 at Anaheim, placing his career September splits in this condition:

Years GS W-L IP ER HR WHIP ERA OBP OPS OBA
2005-10 34 16-9 235.1 78 15 1.152 2.98 .293 .624 .232
2011-13 13 1-9 76.1 47 7 1.559 5.34 .358 .794 .313

Hernandez’s last three rank among the worst three consecutive Septembers ever posted by a Mariners starter. Opponents batted .313 against him in Septembers 2011, 2012 and 2013, the highest average yielded over such a span. Felix’s 5.54 ERA in those three Septembers is exceeded only by Rick Honeycutt’s 5.57 from 1977-79. And only Dave Fleming, with a 1.573, had a higher WHIP than Felix’s 1.559.

Question: Which Mariners starter was the easiest to hit over any three consecutive Septembers? We used a minimum of 12 starts and 70 innings pitched and sorted the results according to opponent batting average.

Years Pitcher GS W-L IP ER ERA WHIP OPS OBA
2011-13 Felix Hernandez 13 1-9 76.1 47 5.54 1.559 .794 .313
1991-93 Dave Fleming 18 6-7 95.1 54 5.10 1.573 .811 .306
1977-79 Glenn Abbott 12 3-8 73.1 44 5.40 1.500 .833 .302
1977-79 Rick Honeycutt 13 2-8 85.2 53 5.57 1.529 .832 .300
1982-84 Mike Moore 18 5-11 103.2 60 5.21 1.630 .812 .299
2003-05 Gil Meche 13 4-5 72.2 41 5.08 1.404 .804 .277
1984-86 Mark Langston 18 5-8 117 68 5.23 1.581 .800 .263

The .313 batting average against Hernandez during the last three Septembers is also tied for second worst in the majors over that span, his 5.54 ERA is second worst, and the .902 OPS against him is the worst by quite some.

Pitcher Team W-L IP ER WHIP ERA OPS OBA
Liam Hendricks 2 teams 4-1 77.1 55 1.668 6.40 .902 .323
Felix Hernandez Mariners 1-9 76.1 47 1.559 5.54 .794 .313
Tommy Milone 2 teams 5-1 70.0 28 1.414 3.60 .817 .313
Edwin Jackson 3 teams 4-6 89.0 51 1.562 5.16 .823 .304
Scott Diamond Twins 3-9 79.1 44 1.550 4.99 .822 .298

It could be that Hernandez has experienced fades because all September games for the Mariners from 2011-13 were meaningless and he failed to bring his usual focus to his starts with his team out of the race. But that doesn’t explain the meaningless September games Hernandez threw from 2005-10 with a cumulative 2.98 ERA.

Could it be that that Hernandez has, for whatever reason, hit an “innings pitched wall” the last three Septembers?

In 2012, Felix started going south after pitching 174 innings. Last year, he began to crash after reaching 175. When Hernandez completed his fabulous 16-start streak Aug. 11 by beating Toronto, he had thrown 180.1 innings. He’s 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA and only 11 strikeouts since.

Since 1980, three pitchers, Hernandez (2005-14), Fernando Valenzuela (1980-89) and Dwight Gooden (1984-93) reached 2,000 career innings pitched during an age-28 season. Felix turned 28 April 8 and passed 2,000 late last month.

Valenzuela spent eight more years in the majors after reaching 2,000 innings at age 28, but went 47-62 over that span and had only one winning year (13-8 in 1996). Gooden had 119 of his 194 career victories through age 28 and never made another All-Star team after reaching 2,000 innings.

Many pitchers have thrown more than 4,000 innings effectively, including the aforementioned Seaver. But is too much too early a good thing?

Don’t know, but the widespread assumption is that Mariners will be a dangerous playoff team – should they reach the postseason – because of the Hernandez-Hisashi Iwakuma-Chris Young trio that has registered some historically great numbers this season.

That assumes, first and foremost, that Hernandez is pitching at a level that has inspired thousands each season to pack the “King’s Court.” But based on his last three Septembers and his last three outings of August, we can’t even assume Hernandez is a “September pitcher,” much less a postseason one, until he re-establishes the fact.

His first chance comes Wednesday afternoon in Oakland in what will be the first meaningful September game Hernandez has pitched.


YourThoughts

  • Big

    Felix’s September Swoon aside the whole team is in an uncharted September. The team is playing for the post season and we will see how the team handles the pressure. Wanting it may not be enough for this team.

  • RadioGuy

    Interesting how the M’s will go through great pains to keep from overusing every other pitcher on the roster but the one they’re paying $175 million over seven years is still treated like a pack mule every five days even though it’s pretty apparent that he wears down at the end of the year. Go figure.

    • Trygvesture

      Genius GM– anything to put butts in the Court; never mind the impact to the baseball team. The Z Howie team is just so hubris-packed that they may not understand the old saw about killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
      Thanks, Steve, for numbers that tell an interesting and meaningful story.

      • steverudman

        And thank your for responding.

    • steverudman

      The Mariners have to be concerned that Felix has become a five-month pitcher.

  • notaboomer

    this september math is way too hard, steve. can i just have my bobblehead now?

    • steverudman

      Sure you can. Unfortunately, it’s a Horacio Ramirez Bobblehead.

  • notaboomer

    maybe felix felt vulnerable friday night because his manager, lloyd, ws away at a wedding during the hunt for october? any thoughts on the manager’s absence from sportspressnw? do you think lloyd and his daughter looked at wedding dates last year and said, “labor day weekend should be fine. after all, i’m managing the mariners. they’ll be out of it by july.”

  • jafabian

    More reason to pursue a solid, playoff tested staring pitcher in the offseason. One who can take over the ace role if needed or set least motivate Felix. Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett are among the ones who could be available. With no Cano-type of hitter available as a free agent better to use that Roots Sports money to fortify the rotation. If the bullpen can remain intact going into next season Felix should remain fresh thru the season if a solid SP can be added.