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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM

An argument against Felix for Cy Young that doesn’t involve win total

When I was watching a bit of the brilliant pitching duel between David Price and C.C. Sabathia last night before the Mariners game started, I knew someone was going to use that matchup to make a Cy Young argument against Felix Hernandez.

Sure enough, here comes an article today from my old buddy Jon Paul Morosi, who had a stint covering the Mariners at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before moving back to his hometown of Detroit to cover the Tigers. Now he’s a national writer at FOX, and a good one. I’ve even forgiven him for spilling a Coke down my computer keyboard at the general manager meetings two years ago, wiping out the machine for the rest of the event. I didn’t really mean all those things I was muttering under my breath.

J.P. essentially makes the case that Hernandez, despite his statistical excellence, should not win the Cy Young because, unlike Price and Sabathia, his team has long been out of the pennant race, so he’s not pitching under the same pressure.

Here’s the nuts and bolts of his argument:

Price and Sabathia are delivering when it counts, where it counts. Hernandez isn’t.

Plenty of wise, deep-thinking baseball observers believe that Hernandez deserves the Cy Young Award. He has the lowest ERA in the AL, along with the worst run support among full-season starters in either league. On a better team, with a more consistent offense, Hernandez would be much better than 11-11.

It’s a nice thought. Egalitarian, even. But it’s incredibly myopic to view Hernandez as the frontrunner on the basis of his ERA — even if it is 2.39.

There’s an award for a pitcher such as Hernandez. It’s called the ERA title. Not the Cy Young Award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

To be the best, one must do what Sabathia and Price have all season — compete against the best lineups, in postseason-type atmospheres, before crazed crowds at hitter-friendly ballparks.

And win.

This year’s Cy Young vote in the American League is taking on epic ramifications. For a long time, it has been viewed as a referendum on “old-school” ways of thinking (old fogey writers who disproportionately value victories, which are to some extent out of the pitcher’s control) vs. the new-wave statistical analysis, which favors Hernandez despite his lackluster record. Now I suspect we’re going to see a different dichotomy in play, as outlined by Morosi: Pitching for a team out of contention vis a vis pitching for a team in the playoff hunt. Last year’s winner, Zach Greinke of the Royals, had some interesting thoughts last week in the Kansas City Star.

I’m soaking it all in, because for all the articles and blogs that have been written about the Cy Young vote, and all the analysis on radio and television, I’m one of 28 people in the world who actually has a vote. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) designates two writers from each major-league city to vote for each of their awards (Cy, MVP, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year), and for Seattle this year it’s myself and Kirby Arnold of the Everett Herald voting for Cy Young.

I’m not ready to commit to a vote yet. There are still about four starts left for each contender, and I’ll let things play out. It’s the Cy Young Award for the 2010 season, not for the season through Sept. 14.

But I will say I’m leaning toward Hernandez, and not just because I’m one of his hometown writers. Wins aside — and I showed in this post how Hernandez has had at least seven potential victories snatched from him — I think most objective observers would agree that, up to this point, Felix has been the best pitcher in the league this year.

And that, to me, is what the Cy Young Award represents — the best pitcher in the league in a particular season. If it was called the MVP — Most Valuable Pitcher — I might lean more strongly toward Sabathia or Price. And, in a tiebreaking situation, I would certainly give bonus points to Sabathia and Price for having toiled in more meaningful games than Hernandez. Morosi makes a compelling point that Hernandez was 0-3 with a 4.79 ERA in May, when the Mariners started their major collapse.

But I’m still inclined to look at each pitcher’s body of work — and right now Hernandez’s body of work is the best.

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