‘King’ Felix: An Atlanta Braves Long Shot
‘King’ Felix Hernandez made his Atlanta Braves debut today in their Grapefruit League opener. Atlanta defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 5-0. Hernandez looked good tossing a pair of hitless innings. He struck out two batters and only walked one.
This bodes well for the Braves as starter Cole Hamels expects to miss a decent chunk of time to start the season. Due to shoulder irritation, the Braves have decided to not rush Hamels back into the rotation.
Once a mighty arm, Felix Hernandez pitched many years for the Seattle Mariners. Simply put, he was their ace. A CY Young winner in 2010, he also had six All-Star appearances and two ERA (earned run average) titles. Winning 169 career games with the Mariners, Hernandez won a career-high 19 games in 2009. Furthermore, King Felix has a lifetime WAR (wins above replacement) of 50.1 and a career ERA of 3.42. He was truly a stud for most of his time with Seattle.
However, at age 30, Hernandez started to trend down. His ERA increased each season from 3.82 to 4.36 to 5.55. In addition, his fastball velocity dipped from mid 90’s to now only touching 90mph. Also, Hernandez went from averaging 206 innings pitched in his first 11 big league seasons, to an average of 104 innings pitched over his last three seasons. A complete break down of the rise and fall of Hernandez can be accessed at Overtime Heroics.
Fresh starts can be good for everyone. Hernandez spent his glory days with a franchise that only mustered five winning seasons. Also, the Mariners never earned a playoff birth during his tenure there.
However, Hernandez is only 34, and perhaps searching for a renaissance with the surging Atlanta Braves. It wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher resurrected their career playing with the Braves.
Just ask Anibal Sanchez. Atlanta doesn’t need Hernandez to compete for CY Youngs, they just need a potential fifth starter. Also, a mentor of sorts, someone who can impart wisdom on the young arms on the Braves’ staff. Although Hamels is also a wily veteran, the Braves have less invested in Hernandez, with only $1 million as opposed to $18 million (Hamels).
If the Braves get anything remotely to what ‘King’ Felix was during his Mariners years, it will be money well spent. Even if they only get the bare minimum on the field from Hernandez, but he is influential in making the young staff better at being professional baseball pitchers, well, then it is still money well spent.
So, the first chapter in the Felix Hernandez comeback is written today. So far, so good.
All he can do is build on the success from today. Yes, it was the Orioles, but they are still major leaguers. The new atmosphere and new beginning may lead to something big for the twilight of a potential Hall Of Famer, perhaps a fitting ending to a storied career.
As a Braves fan, I hope for a triumphant return to the throne for the King. As a baseball fan, I hope for one last glimpse of greatness from a player that has entertained fans for almost a decade and a half.
Perhaps the Braves and the ‘King’ can walk off with a title, something that is much more than ‘just a piece of metal’. Perhaps we can crown the King as a champion. Chop on!
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