While almost everyone in the baseball community feels as though Felix Hernandex will one day become one of the premier pitchers in the game, we here at The Saberoticians feel as though he will be that pitcher in 2007. Despite an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 8.69 in 12-team expert leagues (researched by Fantasy Gameday), King Felix checks in at #4 on our Starting Pitcher Rankings.
The most obvious stat we are attracted to is his 8.29 K/9. Anybody who can strikeout nearly a batter per inning has a head start on becoming an excellent pitcher. When 1/3 of your outs come without the batter putting the ball in play, it leaves much less opportunity for you to get unlucky. His 2.83 BB/9 is also quite appealing. The less runners you freely put on base, the less of them can score. While his 2.93 K/BB is not premium, it is still very good. We expect it to climb above 3 this year.
And the best part is that Felix Hernandez is still just 21 years old. While strikeout and walk rates tend to be consistent from year to year, they are much more likely to improve among younger players. An added bonus is that Felix is entering his third season in the majors, a prime breakout year for pitchers. We expect a K/9 rating somewhere between 8.5 and 9.0 and a BB/9 rating in the mid 2s.
While his Ks and BBs are appealing, they are not the primary reason we think Felix Hernandez will become the best pitcher (behind Francisco Liriano, who we will analyze not too far in the future) in the American League by 2009. His groundball percentage is incredible! Without going too deep into it, the basic idea is that the more balls you force the batters to hit on the ground, the less will go over the fence for home runs. Groundballs are fielded for outs 72% of the time, as shown by the research of The Hardball Times. They also have the added bonus of turning into double plays.
Felix Hernandez had groundball percentage of 57.7% (also displayed by the The Hardball Times) in 2006. In contrast, Johan Santana had a 40.6% groundball rating. By keeping the ball on the ground as often as he does, Felix should keep the ball in the park more often than any other pitcher with his K/9.
And therein lies the reason we are so high on Felix Hernandez. The combination of a high K/9, low BB/9, and high Groundball percentage makes Felix one of the most lethal pitchers in baseball and should provide you with one of the top fantasy seasons among starting pitchers.