When the Mariners made the decision on Sept. 30 to shut down Felix Hernandez for the season and hold him out of his final start at Safeco Field on the last day of the season, it inspired a firestorm of reaction.
Those who objected did so on two grounds: One, that it was an affront to the fans who deserved one final chance to see Hernandez (and who had bought tickets with that expectation); and two, that it would hamper Hernandez in his Cy Young efforts. By missing that start, Hernandez wound up losing out on the strikeout title to the Angels’ Jered Weaver, who fanned 233 to Hernandez’s 232. Hernandez supporters were thus unable to throw the selling point that Felix led the league in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched — a pretty powerful trifecta. He could have also lost the ERA title, but didn’t.
Here’s a sampling of some of the reader blog responses to my Sept. 30 post announcing that Hernandez was being shut down, and a subsequent post on the same topic:
—This is just another example of why we have one of the worst clubs, our best player has the chance to go for the cy young and Z folds the tents.–I see both sides but GMz just took away any chance Felix had to win the Cy Young.
—great, just the kind of fodder the naysayers want. “oh, he doesn’t even lead the AL in ERA or Ks, so obviously Price or Sabathia are better choices”
I know they want to protect him, but he would be less than 20 innings more than last season – that kind of difference seems rather negligible. Felix is the bloody king.
–letdown. No k title
i dont hold my breath for cy young now
–Anotherr idiot decision by our lame duck GM. On the last day of the season – at home, when nothing else is going on in all of baseball (no Price, No Sabathia), Felix would the the news and have his best shot at influencing voters. But thats not good enough for Jack – why not settle for a 3rd pl finish in the voting – no reason to push for #1, or even give fans something to root for – #3 is OK
Jack Zduriencik’s counter-argument that day was that voters should be able to see Hernandez’s dominance, even without one final start. He told reporters, “I look at this way: Right now, he’s leading the league in starts. He’s leading the league in so many different categories. Is one more outing going to make that much of a difference? If you’re a true baseball person and you look at what he’s done this year, is that one extra outing going to mean that much? In my opinion, he should get the Cy Young. He’s earned it regardless of what the won-loss record is. All the other numbers are in his favor. Again, one more start shouldn’t make that much of a difference.”
Turns out, of course, Zduriencik was right. The missing start, and the lack of a strikeout title, appears to have had absolutely no affect on the voting, judging by Hernandez’s overwhelming Cy Young victory.
As for whether or not the Mariners were short-changing their fans by holding out Hernandez, that’s for each fan to decide themselves. But I felt then, and still do, that they made the right decision. In a season going nowhere, why further tax the most valuable arm in the organization, one that had already, at age 24, thrown 249 2/3 innings? I know people love to point out that back in their day, Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson and Jenkins used to throw 300 innings routinely. Well, those days are gone for good, and they’re not coming back. Pitchers just aren’t groomed for that kind of workload anymore, and there are all kinds of studies warning of the ill-effects of overworking pitchers — especially those under 25.
In the end, Hernandez got his Cy Young, and the M’s did something proactive to protect their ace. No guarantees, of course, because even without that final game, Hernandez’s workload these past few years has been prolific. But imagine the outcry there would have been if he had pitched the finale and come up with a sore arm next spring. The Mariners haven’t done much right in recent years, but one thing the M’s have done well — and this goes back to the Bavasi regime — is taking care of Felix Hernandez’s arm.