Jeff Sullivan enjoys his semi-retirement with some thoughtful musings on the maturation of Prince Felix into King Felix:
There are throwers, and there are pitchers. Felix has been amazing as both of them.
This is all to set up just a few factoids. The following, courtesy of Baseball Info Solutions, won’t take you by surprise:
2005: 96mph average fastball
2013: 91mph average fastball
Every so often Felix used to rush it up there in or near the triple digits. Somewhat alarmingly, now I feel good when I see him hit 93. I say “somewhat alarmingly,” because while velocity loss is cause for alarm, it’s hard to panic when the results look like Felix’s results. He’s clearly not broken, and now for another comparison, updated to include today’s eight-inning gem:
2005: 2.67 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 2.77 xFIP
2013: 1.53 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 2.66 xFIP
Felix is all the way back to his incredible rookie results with a fraction — albeit a big fraction — of the stuff. More generally, this year stands as continuing evidence that Felix has evolved as he’s needed to as the years have gone on. No longer capable of doing what he did, Felix is doing what he did, in another way. In a more polished, intelligent way.
With less of a fastball, Felix worked on his patterns. With less of a fastball, Felix worked on his location. With less of a fastball, Felix mastered the changeup, then he mastered that mastered changeup. We aren’t to the point yet where we can say that Felix is thriving as a finesse pitcher, but what’s crazy is that such an idea isn’t wild or unrealistic. Ten years from now, that could be Felix. He’s lost five ticks off his heater — what would be five more? He’s slowed down without slowing down. [...]
[W]hat needs to be appreciated is that this is what it looks like when a prospect reaches his ceiling. Prospects are always being evaluated on their ceilings by idiots, and those people are idiots because prospects don’t actually reach their ceilings. Ceilings are virtually unreachable, but here’s Felix, who got there and who then figured it out. His stuff was unbelievable, and it all still moves like pitches shouldn’t. Felix has demonstrated maturity and dedication, and there’s no questioning his loyalty, and while I remember Felix getting blasted by Will Carroll for having violent mechanics, Felix to this point has stayed almost perfectly healthy. When Felix got to the majors, he was great. When he struggled in the majors, he actually made all the adjustments that he needed to make. It took him a few years, but Felix was 23 when he was the Cy Young runner-up. He was 24 when he actually won it. At just about every fork in the road, Felix has followed the right path. There’s no question he’s unusually blessed, but Felix put his work in. He actually learned to pitch, when he found out what’s what he needed to do.