Despite the headline, the Cy Young momentum is definitely surging in King Felix’s direction. ESPN’s Jayson Stark is the latest influential columnist to come out with an endoresement of Hernandez for baseball’s highest pitching honor.
Yet on the same day Stark’s article was published (not punished, my typo of the day), C.C. Sabathia hurled a magnificent game against Oakland today, blanking them one hit over eight innings to raise his record to 19-5. Now, Felix’s numbers across the board are all better than Sabathia’s, with the lone exception of win-loss. The 28 voters (two from each American League city; full disclosure: I’m one of them) will likely face, as Stark said, a referendum on New Age vs. Old Time award values. While there are other viable candidates, such as Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill and David Price, it’s possible that it will come down to the gaudy won-loss record of Sabathia, which could reach into the 22 or 23 range, versus the overall domination of Felix undermined by something like an 11-12 or 12-11 record.
I actually think that Felix can still win under those circumstances. The electorate of the Baseball Writers Association of America is far more enlightened than it used to be when it comes to evaluating pitchers (position players, too, for that matter). It’s not a particularly difficult concept to understand that a pitcher’s win-loss record is reliant on matters partly out of his control, especially run support and bullpen.
Just to drive home that point, here are seven games from Hernandez in which he didn’t get a victory:
April 5, vs. Oakland: On Opening Day, Hernandez and the Mariners are holding a 3-1 lead after six. He gets two quick outs in the seventh, then walks Mark Ellis and Travis Buck. Sean White replaces him, and gives up RBI singles to Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis to allow Oakland to tie the game. The Mariners score two in the ninth to win, 5-3, for Brandon League.
May 13, at Baltimore: Hernandez pitches seven strong innings, limiting the Orioles to five hits and one run. He leaves with a 5-1 lead, only to have League give up five runs in the eighth. The Orioles win 6-5, and Hernandez gets a no-decision.
May 29, at Los Angeles Angels: Hernandez pitches another strong game, limiting the Angels to one run on six hits through eight innings. But the score is 1-1 when he’s pulled, so no decision for Felix. The Angels go on to win 5-1 on Kendry Morales’s ill-fated grand slam in the 10th off League.
June 24 vs. Cubs: Felix works nine innings, limiting Cubs to five hits while striking out eight, but the game is tied 2-2 after regulation. In the fourth, the M’s had the bases loaded with no outs, but couldn’t score. In the ninth, they had first and secord, one out, and again couldn’t score. The Cubs won 3-2 in 13, the loss going to Garrett Olson.
July 5, vs. Royals: He leaves with a 4-2 lead after seven strong innings, but League gives up two in the eighth to eliminate Hernandez’s victory. The Royals scored two in the 10th to win 6-4.
July 21 vs. White Sox: Hernandez blanks White Sox on two hits, striking out eight, in eight innings. But the game is scoreless when he is removed. The Mariners go on to win 2-1 in 11, but the victory goes to League, who gave up a run in the top of the 11th only to have the M’s score two in the bottom.
Aug. 31, vs. Angels: Hernandez blanks the Angels on three hits over seven innings, but again the Mariners can’t score, either. Another agonizing no-decision. The M’s eventually win, 3-1, the W going to League.
Those are seven no-decisions that could easily have been victories, which would raise Hernandez’s record to 17-10, greatly strengthening his Cy Young position. And he’s had a few losses in which a little run support could have changed the L to a W. Here are the Mariners’ run totals in Hernandez’s 10 losses: 1, 3, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1 (a total of 12 — 1.2 per game). You’re not going to get many victories with that kind of support, no matter how well you pitch.
With better bullpen and run support, Hernandez could have a record every bit as glossy as Sabathia. I trust voters to recognize that.
(Felix Hernandez pitches against the Angels last Tuesday, another tough-luck outing in which he didn’t receive a decision. Photo by Associated Press).