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May 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm ET
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Is It Time to Be Worried about King Felix?

Normally, you wouldn’t worry about a pitcher with an ERA+ of 124 and a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) figure of 2.48. He’s getting work done!

Except if that pitcher is Felix Hernandez, and you look at the trajectory of his last few starts.

The Mariners are a surprising 20-21 (I say surprising because their offense teeters between heinous and non-existent on a daily basis) and despite push-button managing from Lloyd McClendon and a lack of production from their shortstops and outfielders (save Dustin Ackley!), and an abject refusal to get on base on a daily basis (last in OBP in the AL), they seem to be an improved club.

On the surface, Felix is a big part of it. But below the surface, there’s concern. Now, it’s not quite fear and loathing, yet. We’re not scheduling surgery yet. Yet consider, if you will…

The first four starts of the season: 28 1/3 innings, 7 runs,  18 hits, 3 walks, 39K’s. That’s dominance.

The last FIVE starts: 31 innings, 20 runs,  36 hits, 9 walks, 21 K’s. That’s a #4 or #5 starter.

(Don’t say that only 14 of those 20 runs were earned. Did they count on the scoreboard? Is it Felix’s job to prevent runs from scoring? Yes and yes. QED.)

His last start was confounding. He threw the most pitches of the season (111) and was dominant for a while. But then he tired out and gave up eight hits and four runs in 6 2/3. Sure he had words with the PCL ump who was behind home plate. Yet he didn’t walk anyone, and hits and runs count the same no matter how bad the ump show is.

What’s more telling is that his line drive percentage is 31% over his last five starts. They’re hitting him hard when they make outs.

It’s been documented that his fastball has lost oomph. Yet he still can be dominant and overpowering because of how he uses his pitches and keeps the batter off kilter.

Each pitcher has a stretch we’re he’s merely ordinary or worse. Justin Verlander has stretches of mortality, and then snaps out of it. So perhaps this is just part of the normal ebb and flow.

The Mariners need to be concerned though. Their whole plan was for Felix and Iwakuma to steady the staff until their aresenal of young arms can assert themselves, and use a dominant pitching staff to get into contention in 2015. That staff was going to be led by King Felix.

That plan doesn’t work if he puts up Chris Young numbers, though.

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