King Felix Reaches New Heights by Staying Low
Felix Hernandez froze Sean Rodriguez with a hard changeup at the knees for a called strike three, raised his arms skyward and got mobbed by his fellow M's Wednesday afternoon, throwing the 23rd perfect game in MLB history. That Felix clinched his perfecto with a well-located low pitch was fitting -- he tortured Tampa's lineup all day by keeping the ball down.
Hernandez threw 57 of his 113 pitches (50.4%) down in the zone. Those low offerings generated 11 of his 12 strikeouts. Evan Longoria fanned twice on low curveballs, while Elliot Johnson and B.J. Upton each did so once. Matt Joyce, Jose Lobaton, Johnson, Ben Zobrist and Rodriguez were rung up on changeups. Rodriguez also whiffed on a slider, as did Desmond Jennings on an inside fastball:
Location of King Felix's Ks, 8/15/2012
Of the 26 swings and misses King Felix had yesterday, 21 of them came on low pitches:
Location of King Felix's swings and misses, 8/15/2012
Felix is usually dominant when he keeps the ball low -- he ranks fifth among qualified starting pitchers in slugging percentage on low pitches (.221) and has the 12th-best miss rate (39.3%) -- but he and the M's might have also known that the Rays struggle when pitchers pound them at the knees. Tampa is slugging a collective .270 on low pitches this season, which is 65 points below the MLB average, and has a 39.2% miss rate (31.5% average).
Even among perfect games, King Felix's was special: According to Baseball-Reference, his 99 Game Score during his perfect game trails just Matt Cain (101 Game Score in June), Sandy Koufax (101 in 1965) and Randy Johnson (100 in 2004) among those thrown since 1918. Strangely enough, the Rays have been on the wrong end of perfect games in three of the past four seasons (Mark Buehrle in 2009, Dallas Braden in 2010 and Hernandez) and now have more perfect games thrown against them than any other franchise in MLB history, despite only being around since 1998.