Thoughts on a Monday afternoon on which I lack focus:

  • Now that the hype about Zack Greinke has faded a bit-even as he continues to be one of the best pitchers in the AL-let’s turn to a pitcher who knows from hype. Felix Hernandez, after Saturday night’s dominance of the Dodgers, has moved to fourth in the AL in Support-Neutral Value, fourth in ERA, and seventh among pitchers in VORP. Since getting knocked around in May, Hernandez-King Felix to his supplicants-has pitched like a man intent on earning the crown that was given to him so long ago.

    In his last seven starts, Hernandez has allowed just 10 runs in 53 innings pitched, with a 51/14 K/BB. The dip in his ERA is even more impressive because five of the runs he’s allowed have been unearned. At that, he’s been a dominant force on the mound in his fourth full season. It’s something to remember: Hernandez is just 23 years old, and if it feels like we’ve been waiting on him for a long time, well, we have. Even through his development, though, he’s been an effective pitcher: a 3.80 ERA in 104 starts with a 13.2 WARP3 through the end of last season.

    Let’s not forget that the Mariners sent him out to the mound without all his royal armaments. He wasn’t allowed to throw his slider in 2006, his first full season at the age of 20. In 2007, he added it back to his repertoire a little too much, throwing it nearly 20 percent of the time. It may have been both learning the pitch and learning how to use it, because in 2008 and 2009 he’s settled in to a consistent pattern: fastballs about 65 percent of the time, and a balance among his other pitches. This is someone who is learning the range of his talents, and how best to use them.

    Now, it’s fair to say that Hernandez has been somewhat fortunate, as both his BABIP and HR/FB rate are low. Even noting that, however, it’s hard to not get excited about what he’s doing right now. For all the worry over how the Mariners would handle their phenom back when he was called up at the end of 2005, consider this: Felix Hernandez has never thrown more than 120 pitches in a game. He’s been handled beautifully, and he’s going to win a lot of hardware over the next decade.

  • There seem to be a lot of people very unhappy with Manny Ramirez‘s rehab assignments, as he prepares to return from a 50-game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. Other than the usual content-free moralizing from a category of writers making a living off of same, I don’t get the objection.

    This player has been idle for nearly two months. You can forbid him from playing at all until the suspension ends, at which point he’ll need a few games, maybe a week, of rehab work. This would effectively make a 50-game suspension a 56-game excusal. That’s not fair to the player, his team, or the fans of both. If the player, and step back from Ramirez for a second to consider other cases, elects to skip a rehab assignment starting at the end of his suspension because he’s eager to help his team, there’s the risk of an injury, as well as one of poor performance. Nefarious villains they may be, but I don’t think anyone believes that the aftermath of a suspension should be a season- or career-altering injury due to the idleness caused by the suspension. Simply from a worker-health standpoint, you have to let the player play his way back to game shape.

    For some people, especially those so heavily invested in this storyline, 50 games, or 56 games, or a year of door-to-door apologizing, wouldn’t be enough. Instead of railing against a rational approach to the problem of how to best let a player return from his sentence, perhaps the subset of sportswriters ignoring all reason and logic in bashing Ramirez and the rules that allow him to do his job could turn their attention to the next story, to finding out what in 2019 will be to today what steroids were in 1999, the thing everyone saw and no one had the balls to write about until it became acceptable to do so.

    My breath is bated.

  • If you drafted Chien-Ming Wang in your fantasy league, congratulations! He tied David Robertson last night by getting credited with his first win in his third straight just-shy-of-quality-start outing. Since re-entering the Yankee rotation June 4, Wang has been something less than mediocre, with a 6.35 ERA and a 19/10 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. That’s less than five innings an outing. He does seem to have his velocity back, which adds to the evidence that the problems that haunted him in the first weeks of the season were related to an injury.

    Wang seems to be established again in the Yankees rotation, with Philip Hughes pitching well out of the bullpen and Wang putting up just enough innings to keep his job. Now, his season is ruined-he still has an ERA north of 10, and it will take a lot of good pitching just to get that down to even a bad number, like 6.50 or something. However, if you separate out the historically bad start to the year from what came after, which the Yankees should do in evaluating him going forward, you find that he’s a struggling pitcher performing in line with many fifth starters. Wang is on a path that will return him to the pitcher he was in 2007 and 2008, when his heavy fastball generated enormous numbers of ground balls and enabled him to win with a low strikeout rate.

  • In relief of Wang, Mariano Rivera was credited with the 500th save of his career, pitching out of a jam in the eighth and mixing in his first career RBI, on a bases-loaded walk, to boot. (Ah, interleague action.) The tributes that came forth were a bit strange given that it’s about 15 minutes since Rivera was a story in New York, with some people asking questions about whether he was coming to the end of his effective career.

    Rivera has struck out 39 batters and walked just two unintentionally this year. That alone is remarkable, and the numbers at the time of the stories were just as impressive. The difference between Rivera this year and in other seasons is that a handful of guys have run into some balls. He’s given up five homers, which just by looking at him seems more like a fluke than the loss of some skill that will lead to more homers, a la Trevor Hoffman. He’s still chewing up lefties (.215/.239/.338), and he’s allowed just two doubles and a triple, so the home runs are more a fly ball-related fluke than a trend toward his allowing people to hit for more power against him.

    Eventually, Rivera will walk away, and it’s probably going to be more because he wants to do something else than because the hitters force him to do so. I think that when Rivera leaves the game, he’ll do so completely; he’ll go build churches and preach and never really miss baseball at all. He’ll come back, six summers after his last one, and give a speech that should be as anticipated as Rickey Henderson‘s, but for different reasons. Rivera has shown so little of himself over the years, and spent his time deflecting the spotlight rather than embracing it; I look forward to what he’ll say when all eyes are upon him. Honestly, I envy the man, because as someone who has almost never been at peace with himself, I wish I had Mo’s total command of more than just his cutter.