Felix Hernandez is the American League’s best pitcher.
Conventional baseball thinkers might disagree, citing Hernandez’s mundane 13-12 record. They might argue that CC Sabathia (21-7), David Price (19-6), Jon Lester (19-9), Clay Buchholz (17-7), Trevor Cahill (18-8) or even Justin Verlander (18-9) are more deserving of the prestigious Cy Young Award.
However, it would be a crime if the voting committee elects any of the aforementioned ‘big winners’ over King Felix.
First of all, the ‘win’ is a meaningless individual pitching statistic.
A mediocre pitcher ‘ think Carl Pavano (17 wins), Matt Garza (15 wins) or John Lackey (14 wins) ‘ can win games simply by having the support of a potent lineup, while a dominant pitcher, like Hernandez, can be cheated out of wins by his team’s anemic offense.
Hernandez had a start where he threw seven or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs ‘ let’s call this a ‘high-quality start’ ‘ 24 times this season. In 12 of those starts, he received either a no decision or a loss.
Now, take a look at the other Cy Young candidates’ records in high-quality starts. Sabathia went 12-1 in 15 starts; Price went 8-1 in 11 starts; Lester went 13-0 in 13 starts; Buchholz went 9-0 in 11 starts; Cahill went 11-2 in 13 starts and Verlander went 10-0 in 11 starts.
In 80 percent of Sabathia’s high-quality starts, the Yankees provided enough runs for their ace to record a win. The other candidates won at an even better rate.
Hernandez only won 50 percent of his high-quality outings, of which he had nine more than Sabathia, the runner-up in most high-quality starts.
In addition to its pathetic performance in Hernandez’s high-quality starts, Seattle scored a ludicrous 14 runs in its ace’s 12 losses.
Let that settle ‘ 14 runs in 12 losses. The offense practically surrendered Hernandez’s chance of winning.
A pitcher’s win total should not be a criterion for determining the Cy Young winner because wins don’t accurately determine a pitcher’s dominance.
On the other hand, statistics like innings pitched, earned run average (ERA), strikeouts, walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) and batting average against (BAA) convey the talent of a pitcher.
A pitcher who can mow down the opposition deep into games ‘ a task that few can consistently accomplish nowadays ‘ improves his team’s chance of winning and provides rest to the bullpen, while ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and BAA all portray a pitcher’s dominance.
Leading the AL in innings (249.2), ERA (2.27) and BAA (.212), Hernandez also placed a close second in strikeouts (232) and WHIP (1.06).
Sabathia (237.2) and Verlander (224.1) finished second and third, respectively, in innings pitched while Price (208.2) and Lester (208) also placed in the top 16. Cahill (196.2) and Buchholz (173.2) did not exceed 200 innings, seriously weakening their causes.
While Lester (225) and Verlander (219) fanned about the same number of batters as Hernandez did, none of the other candidates surpassed the 200-strikeout mark. The Angels’ Jered Weaver, who had an impressive campaign but doesn’t quite rank among the Cy Young candidates, led the league with 233 strikeouts.
Only Cliff Lee (1.00), whose time on the disabled-list and struggles in August eliminated him from Cy Young contention, had a better WHIP than Hernandez. Cahill’s WHIP of 1.11 is near Hernandez’s, while the other candidates’ all surround 1.20.
Opposing batters severely struggled against Hernandez, failing to record a hit almost 79 percent of the time. With the exception of Sabathia, whose moderately high .239 BAA proves his ‘stuff’ wasn’t nearly as unhittable as King Felix’s, the other candidates’ BAAs hovered around the .220s.
Even when runners reached base against Hernandez, they struggled to cross home. Hernandez’s league-leading ERA, by definition, proves that no other pitcher was as effective at preventing the opposition from scoring. Only Buchholz, who posted an impressive 2.33 ERA, finished in close proximity to Hernandez.
Hernandez clearly bests all the other candidates based on the pitching statistics that actually determine a pitcher’s true talent. In addition, he’s consistently at the top of the statistical rankings while each of the other pitchers are not ‘ look at Sabathia’s BAA and ERA, Verlander’s and Lester’s ERAs and Cahill’s and Buchholz’s innings pitched and strikeouts.
As convincing as these stats are, some will still argue against Hernandez. Many often point to the weakness of his AL West opponents in comparison to the AL East offenses that Sabathia, Price, Lester and Buchholz face more frequently.
However, in seven starts against AL East teams ‘ three times against New York, twice against Baltimore and once against Toronto and Boston ‘ Hernandez flustered opposing hitters even more than usual. He threw 57.1 innings, surrendered four earned runs ‘ that calculates to a 0.63 ERA, by the way ‘ and whiffed 58 batters. Against the Yankees, the most productive offensive team in baseball, Hernandez tossed two complete games and frugally allowed one earned run in 26 innings.
The critics will say, ‘Seven starts is too small of a sample size.’ However, his dominance over the division’s best offensive team in about the average number of starts a pitcher makes against a division opponent should be sufficient in quelling this argument.
If it’s not, take a look at how Cahill, who pitches for another AL West club, the Oakland Athletics, fared against the AL East: seven starts, 4-3, 43 innings, 25 earned runs (5.23 ERA), 25 strikeouts.
Whereas Hernandez resembled Henry Rowengartner from the movie ‘Rookie of the Year’ against better competition, Cahill morphed into an A.J. Burnett wanna-be. Maybe Cahill is only in contention because he plays in the AL West, but Hernandez? Think again.
Still, there is one more argument against Hernandez ‘ that he played for a team whose season became futile in May. Those who espouse this claim generally say, ‘Hernandez is good, but he couldn’t take his team to the playoffs. Therefore, he shouldn’t receive the Cy Young.’
For some reason, these people confuse the MVP with the Cy Young. The MVP, by definition, should be given to the most valuable player ‘ the player who elevates his team to another level, namely the postseason.
Contrarily, the best ‘ not the most valuable ‘ pitcher should receive the Cy Young. A pitcher only plays once every five games and, therefore, can only impact 20 percent of his team’s record. With this in mind, Hernandez, who led the league with 34 starts, couldn’t single-handedly transform the woeful Mariners into a playoff team and definitely cannot be held accountable for their 61-101 finish.
In the Cy Young’s 54-year history, only one starting pitcher, the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela, has received the honor with 13 wins.
Based on statistics and reasoning, it would be a crime if Hernandez doesn’t become the second.