Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's hard to top a 2.27 ERA and a Cy Young Award, but Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez is going to try.
While Hernandez has some of the best stuff of any hurler in the big leagues, he appears to be at the top of his game as a pitcher this season, and that should be an unnerving thought for opposing batters.
Through seven starts, Hernandez has fired 50 2/3 innings and allowed 39 hits and nine earned runs while striking out 51.
Hernandez has walked 2.62 batters per nine innings in his career, a number he trimmed to a career-best 2.17 last year. He's gone even lower in 2013, walking seven batters for a 1.24 BB/9.
While Hernandez' fastball velocity has declined from an average of 96.3 mph as a rookie to 91.6 mph this year, the right-hander is using his other pitches more effectively than ever and has induced a career-high percentage of swinging strikes.
According to FanGraphs.com, his swinging-strike percentage of 12.4 ranks sixth in the majors this season. Hernandez' career mark is 9.8 percent.
Hernandez' biggest improvement has come against left-handed batters, who have posted a .249 average against Hernandez in his career, compared to .235 for righties. In 2013, he has held righties to a .213 average while limiting left- handers to a .211 mark.
Pitchfx shows us that Hernandez has used his changeup 37 percent of the time on two-strike counts against left-handed batters, up from 19 percent for his career.
Hernandez always has used his changeup heavily as an out pitch against right- handers, going to it 29 percent of the time with two strikes in his career and 33 percent this season.
Overall, he's getting a miss career-high 42.9 percent of the time this season when hitters swing at his changeup.
Hernandez also has posted career bests in chase rate (34.3 percent) and contact percentage (73.9 percent) while getting batters to swing at a higher percentage of his pitches overall (50.3 percent) than ever before.
During his dominant 2010 season in which he threw 249 2/3 innings and had a 2.27 ERA, Hernandez walked 2.52 batters per nine innings and induced swinging strikes at a rate of 9.9 percent. He had a chase rate of 62.6 percent, a contact percentage of 78.2 percent and a swing percentage of 46.9 percent.
He relied on his fastballs, both four-seam and two-seam, much more often back then, throwing them on a combined 63 percent of his pitches. In 2013, he has thrown his fastballs 55 percent and his changeup 18 percent, while mixing in a slider (11 percent), curveball (13 percent) and splitter (three percent).
The 27-year-old has benefited from a .273 batting average of balls in play (BABIP), which is below league average, but it's not a number we can expect to dramatically regress like say, Matt Moore's .179 BABIP. Hernandez' fielding- independent pitching (FIP) is just 2.17, sixth-best in the majors.
Hernandez has been a dominant ace for a long time, but based on his numbers, both on the surface and beneath it, we could be witnessing the best season of his big league career.
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