We mentioned that he’s 33, which is younger than Justin Verlander (36) and Max Scherzer. Felix has, however, logged many a mile. He was in the majors at 19. He worked 191 big-league innings at 20. From 2008-15, he never pitched fewer than 200 innings. His total over those eight seasons was 1,987, tying him with James Shields for the most IP.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the Braves hoped Julio Teheran would become — a guy with four “out” pitches, a guy who’d take the ball every fifth day, a true ace — King Felix was. His starts in Seattle were local events: Fans would brandish their gold K cards, the K topped by a crown. He was a great pitcher who was huge fun to watch, not that folks southeast of Puget Sound saw much of him. He made two career starts against the Braves, neither in Atlanta.
We missed him by a game in 2014. The Mariners had a midweek two-game set in early June at Turner Field. (Hey, remember Turner Field?) We were treated to Erasmo Ramirez working against the Braves’ Gavin Floyd — seriously, does anybody remember Gavin Floyd? — and then Iwakuma against Mike Minor, which was a fine game. (The visitors won 2-0.) We’d gotten to see the Mariners’ No. 2 starter, but we didn’t get Felix. He’d worked in the Bronx the previous Sunday, beating the Yankees.
Now he's a Brave, though for how long remains open to question. Four rotational spots figure to be taken by Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and the newly imported Cole Hamels, who's three years older than Felix. Hamels cost $18 million. The Braves will owe Felix $1 million if he makes the big-league club. There's no great risk involved. If he has nothing left, it's no big deal. If he does, it's a big bargain.
So: Does he? Not off last year’s numbers. Of the 146 starters who worked 70-plus innings in 2019, King Felix was, again by fWAR, the sixth-worst. If we go by FIP (fielding independent pitching), he was fifth-worst. If we go by ERA, his having been 6.40, he 10th-worst. Shoulder issues limited him to 15 starts. His WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) of 1.53 was a career worst. His percentage of hard-hit balls (40.5) was a career worst.
Over his career, Felix has thrown 37,816 pitches. That’s an average of 90.5 over 419 appearances, all but one being starts. Five years ago, his name would have been included on any list of baseball’s best pitchers. Today it’s unclear whether he can shade Sean Newcomb to be the No. 5 starter on the 2020 Braves. Even if he outperforms modest expectations, we won’t see King Felix at his royal best, and that’s a shame. At his best, he was something to behold.