I really didn’t want to write this, but I saw this one coming.
Last week, I started working on an article on Felix Hernandez‘s precipitous drop in velocity and how it was impacting his performance. Hernandez’s sinker, which serves as his fastball, has lived in the mid-80s all spring.
The signs of physical wear were evident. It’s been gradual over the years, but it’s in full effect now.
Hernandez left Tuesday’s spring training contest with the Tampa Bay Rays with right elbow discomfort, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko.
Not only did Hernandez’s departure wreck most of what I had written thus far, it’s adding further strain on an already underwhelming pitching staff with few good options to fill spots in the starting rotation.
Hernandez will be evaluated further in the coming days and we’ll learn more then. But signs tell that even when healthy, Hernandez is limited at 34 years old.
Per Statcast, Hernandez’ sinker averaged 94.2 mph in his Cy Young-winning 2010 season. Hernandez’s sinker last averaged in the 90s in 2017. If his sinker is still residing in the mid-80s when he returns to the mound it would be be his lowest sinker velocity in his career and would resemble his average slider velocity from 2010 (85.8 mph).
That’s not going to cut it. And as Hernandez’s velocity has fallen off, so has his production. Since his last All-Star appearance in 2015, Hernandez’s ERA has steadily increased, along with his fielding independent pitching (FIP) and WHIP.
Hernandez pitched more than 200 innings for eight straight seasons from 2008-2014, but hasn’t pitched more than 153 innings since.
When someone grows older and declines physically, the general saying is, “you’re losing a mile an hour or two on your fastball.” In Hernandez’s case, he has quite literally lost miles per hour. And now, his availability is a consistent worry.
Signing Hernandez and Matt Harvey to team-friendly contracts was a good risk — the Orioles took fliers on two former stars trying to claw their way back into a stable role in the big leagues. But these two signings were always a longshot. And as it turns out, one of them is already faltering before Opening Day.
There’s time for Hernandez to get his elbow right and pitch again in the Orange and Black. But Brandon Hyde cannot count on The King to assume the throne once again. If he does, Hyde will play the role of jester.