(Felix Hernandez reacts to striking out Shin-Soo Choo in the eighth inning last night to get out of a bases-loaded jam. Photo by Associated Press).
On Aug. 20, 2005, the Mariners’ 19-year-old phenom, Felix Hernandez, made his fourth career start, facing the Twins in the Metrodome. He shined for eight innings, giving up just five hits and two runs (both in the first) while striking out nine. Yet the Mariners were having their own problems with Twins starter Kyle Lohse. At the end of eight, the game was tied 2-2, and Mariners manager Mike Hargrove pulled Felix in favor of George Sherrill.
The Mariners would go on to score six in the 10th to win the game, but Hernandez got a no decision for his efforts. Little did he know, but it was a sign of things to come — the first of what my research shows is now 38 games by Hernandez in which he has pitched seven or more innings, given up two or fewer earned runs, and either took a loss or no-decision.
It boggles the mind to think what sort of record Hernandez would have put up by now had he gotten the requisite run support. As it is, he’s 86-68, having barely passed his 26th birthday. I understand that win-loss record has been de-valued as a measure of a pitcher’s success — a point driven home when Hernandez (deservedly) won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record. But here’s the thing — pitchers still care about their record. Pitchers still carry their w-l mark as a badge of success or failure. The sabermetric movement hasn’t changed that — at least not enough to dillute the frustration of having so many gems unrewarded with a notch in the victory column.
I gave Hernandez unlimited credit for the exemplary manner in which he’s handled the tough losses, the latest of which, of course, occurred last night when Brandon League couldn’t hold Felix’s 1-0 lead in the ninth inning. (An aside: I can’t believe how many people I’m hearing from ripping Eric Wedge for not leaving in Felix for the ninth inning. Remember, Felix had thrown 126 pitches, and just worked out of a very stressful eighth. No way should he have been left in to throw, what, 140, 145 pitches? Maybe that’s the way they did it in the old days, but we know a lot more now about the stress on the arm that comes after 100 pitches. No, Wedge did the absolute right thing in getting him out of there). This one, I think, was especially galling, because 1) Hernandez had turned in such a gutty, emotional effort to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth; and 2) Things were supposed to be different this year, as far as run support. So far, they haven’t been. Hernandez has already had three excellent starts this year in which he doesn’t have a W to show for any of them.
Hernandez continues to say all the right things after such games, and continues to support his teammates. But he’s only human. It has to be frustrating to see potential victories denied him. And yes, you have to wonder if it will have bearing on his decision about whether or not to re-sign with Seattle. His contract runs through 2014, but you’ve got to think that next winter is when extension talks will heat up. By all accounts, Felix loves the organization, loves the city, loves his teammates. But it sure would help things if they could also score him some runs.
Here is a summary of the 38 starts in which Hernandez gave up two earned runs or fewer over at least seven innings and didn’t get a win:
March 28 vs. Oakland: 8 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s win 3-1.
April 13 vs. Oakland: 7 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 4-0.
April 19 vs. Cleveland: 8 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s lose 2-1
April 6 vs. Texas: 7 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 7-3
May 1 vs. Boston: 7 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
May 17 vs. Minn: 8 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 2-1
July 10 vs. Angels: 7 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 4-2
Aug. 7 vs. Angels: 8 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 2-1
April 10 vs. Texas: 7 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s win 4-3
April 26 vs. KC: 7 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 2-1
May 13 vs. Balt, 7 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s lose 6-5
May 23 vs. S.D., 7 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 8-1
May 29 vs. Angels, 8 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s lose 5-1
June 24 vs. Cubs: 9 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
July 5 vs. K.C.: 7 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 6-4
July 2 vs. White Sox: 8 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s win 2-1
July 26 vs. White Sox: 7 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 6-1
Aug. 31 vs. Angels: 7 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s win 3-1
Sept. 23 vs. Toronto: 8 ip, 1 er, L, M’s lose 1-0
May 14 vs. Texas: 7 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
June 5 vs. Minn: 7 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s lose 2-1
June 21 vs. Ariz: 7.1 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s win 3-2
Aug. 12 vs. White Sox: 7 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s win 1-0
Aug. 18 vs. Detroit: 7 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s lose 5-3
Sept. 18 vs. Angels: 7 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
April 1 vs. Texas: 7 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s lose 5-4
April 6 vs. Balt: 8 ip, 0 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
April 22 vs. Balt: 7 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s win 4-2
Aug. 7 vs. T. Bay: 8 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s win 2-1
Sept. 3 vs. Texas: 7.1 ip, 1 er, L, M’s lose 1-0
Sept. 19 vs. Oak: 8 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 2-0
July 2 vs. K.C.: 8 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2
Sept. 14 vs. T. Bay: 7.2 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s win 2-1
April 23 vs. Detroit: 7 ip, 1 er, L, M’s lose 6-4
Aug. 8 vs. T. Bay: 8 ip, 1 er, ND, M’s win 5-1
Aug. 20 vs. Minn: 8 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s win 8-3
Aug. 31 vs. NYY: 8 ip, 2 er, L, M’s lose 2-0
Sept. 27 vs. Texas: 9 ip, 2 er, ND, M’s lose 3-2