A GRIP ON SPORTS
I'm sorry but I don't believe Felix Hernandez's nickname is sufficient anymore. There has to be some leader who is above the king, right? Emperor Felix, maybe. Or Supreme Commander Felix? Read on.
• OK, I get it. "King Felix" just sort of runs off the tongue, smoothly and efficiently. Just the way Hernandez pitches. So it's appropriate. But the way he's pitching right now, King Felix just doesn't seem gaudy enough. A king only rules over one country, right? The way Felix is pitching these days, he may just rule over baseball history. No one in the modern era of baseball – and for pitchers, that's about all you can compare, because the old timers threw so often and so well their numbers don't seem real anymore – has dominated the way Hernandez is right now. It's not just the numbers, though they are impressive. After last night's 4-2 win over the Braves, Felix has strung together 15 starts in which he's pitched seven or more innings and yielded two or fewer earned runs. That's a record. He's 12-3 this season with a 1.97 earned run average. He's giving up about six hits per nine innings and his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is a dominating .877. Felix's season compares favorable with the gold standard of the past 50 years, Bob Gibson's 1968 season. You remember 1968, don't you? It was the year Denny McLain won 31 games and Yaz won the American League batting title hitting .301 and the final year baseball's pitching mounds look like the Alps. After everyone, including journeymen like McLain, dominated, major league baseball lowered the mounds, giving a helping hand to the hitters. And, lest we forget, baseball expanded the next year and introduced the designated hitter, all of which helped hitting stats.
• No one was better in 1968 than Gibson (pictured), who won 22 games, had 13 shutouts, pitched 28 complete games and posted a hard-to-fathom 1.12 ERA. But, as we said, baseball has changed considerably since then and we're not just talking about PEDs. Gibson was paid $85,000 for his 1968 season, a not-paltry sum for the time but nothing like the $22.9 million Felix will pull down this year. And, if Felix is injured, the M's will still owe him about another $130 million. If Gibson's arm had given out after 1968? The Cardinals would have owed him zip, nada, nothing. So who really cared if he threw 304 innings? (By the way, McLain threw 336 innings that season, 325 the next and was basically finished as a pitcher.) Today, Gibson would throw seven or eight innings, would complain when the manager came to take him out and would be soothed because he would be making $25 million a year. And his numbers would probably be remarkably similar to Felix's. After all, they are neck-and-neck right now in all but one category. In 1968, Gibson struck out a league-leading 268. This year, Felix will probably get to about 220 or 230. Though hitters strike out at a rate unheard of in the past, starting pitchers don't try for them as they did in Gibson's era. It's just not worth it. When you know you only have 100 pitches to work with, why waste six or seven trying to strike out a guy when you can induce a ground out with three or four? Fewer pitches, longer outings. Sure, when there is a guy on third with one out, then watch Felix overpower a hitter in search of the key K. Otherwise, strike outs are not all that important to him. Drop Felix into 1968 and watch him throw 300 innings, strike out 290 guys and post a 1.25 ERA. Or do even better. He's that good right now.
• WSU: It's time to get down to it. Full pads will be on this afternoon for practice, which means a little more hitting should be on display. Not that there hasn't been a lot already, as Jacob Thorpe's blog post after yesterday's practice described. ... Jacob also has a story in today's paper on a freshman who is turning heads, if only to keep up with his speed. And Jacob also adds a morning post with links. ... Sad news is often accompanied by more sad news.
• Gonzaga: Ronny Turiaf isn't just playing hoops in the offseason. He's laying a foundation for his future. No surprise there. Turiaf was always about more than just basketball.
• EWU: Depth is important at every position in football, but no more so than running back. And, as Jim Allen's story this morning shows, the Eagles have depth at running back. A lot of depth.
• Indians: It's the middle of August and everyone knows by the middle of August, the pitching is always well ahead of the hitting. At least it was last night in the Northwest League's All-Star Game. The game, in Eugene, ended after 10 innings with a tie score. That score? In England, they would say nil-nil. In the U.S., we just prefer to call it a scoreless tie and move on.
• Shock: Spokane's most explosive defensive lineman is going to get a shot in the NFL.
• Seahawks: What is the main goal of preseason camp? Get everyone ready for the regular season, right? The secondary goals are many, including giving guys you have never heard of a chance to show how they've improved over the offseason. And that goal compliments the main one, as stars and reserves alike don't want to be on the field too long and elevate the risk of injury. So it's always news when a couple of key players move closer to competing full time. ... Another given at camp is roster churn. There was more yesterday for the Hawks.
• Mariners: If not for a key error, today's column might have been about how Felix never gets any support. But Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella dropped a two-out popup (pictured), leading to three unearned runs. And that was enough for Felix. ... Hernandez will get an extra day's rest before his next start as the M's have juggled their rotation again to keep him fresh.
• Sounders: There's little doubt Bayern Munich will be a big headache for the MLS All-Stars in Portland tonight. ... The league likes its format that pits an international team in training against an all-star group that is thrown together for a couple days.
• One of my chores today is to find the heating pad. Tweaked my back last night getting out of bed. Now Tiger Woods and I have something in common. We both will be struggling this week to hit a golf ball (and to write coherent sentences). I bet he's got more help getting him healthy than I do though. Until later ...