Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez throws during a spring practice on Feb. 16, 2019, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez throws during a spring practice on Feb. 16, 2019, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Mariners want Felix to utilize curveball more

According to advanced stats, the cruveball was Felix Hernandez’s best pitch last season.

By Ryan Divish / The Seattle Times

PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez said something somewhat unexpected in the media session after his three-inning start Thursday.

Asked about his pitch usage, particularly starting hitters off with his curveball, Hernandez replied: “Supposedly, with the numbers, that’s my best pitch.”

Hmm.

Hernandez has rarely made such an acknowledgment during his time with the Seattle Mariners, particularly about data. While he looks at game plans and tendencies, he often goes by feel and what is working best that day. He’s also been steadfast in his belief his changeup is his best pitch, which it has been for many years.

But in this spring’s individual pitcher meetings, manager Scott Servais and pitching coach Paul Davis showed Hernandez his success rate with the curveball versus his other pitches.

Per Brooks Baseball and its data based on Pitchf/x readings from last season, hitters have batted .205 with a .359 slugging percentage against his curveball, which he used 27.55 percent of the time, while posting a .327 batting average and .574 slugging percentage against his sinker, which was thrown 33.01 percent of the time. His changeup generated a .227 batting average and .357 slugging percentage in 24.07 percent usage. The curveball usage is the highest of his career, and it could increase this season. In terms of swings and misses, Hernandez generated 14.75 percent on his changeup, 11.05 percent on his curveball and around 5 percent or lower on his four-seam fastball and sinker.

Hernandez was presented these numbers and a possible shift in thinking.

“Felix is open to it,” Servais said. “It’s putting it in a form that is able to relate to players. Some players can digest more than others, or want to digest more than others. But the fact is, he’s open to it. We had a meeting. We talked a little about it. We didn’t go in to the shape of his curveball or any of those mechanical things with his curveball, it was ‘Hey, why don’t we use this a little more. It’s one of your better weapons and that’s what the numbers spit out to us that it is.’ He’s always had a good curveball, just use it a little more.”

Hernandez knows in his final season before free agency and coming off the worst season of his career, a bounce-back year is needed if he hopes to continue pitching at the MLB level. So embracing something new is logical. It’s a matter of whether he sticks with the concept even when results aren’t exactly to his liking, or will he revert to his old way of pitching.

“I’m listening,” he said. “We’ll see if it works or not.”

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