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Hot Stone League

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

July 20, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Felix Hernandez has crept into the Cy Young race


(Photo by Associated Press)

I’d better prepare for the same old debates about the Cy Young Award — particularly, how much (or little) win-loss records mean, how much a person should be docked for not pitching in a pennant race, and how much benefit he gets from a pitcher-friendly home ballpark.

Those were hot topics around here two years ago, when Felix Hernandez beat out David Price and CC Sabathia for the American League Cy Young Award, despite his 13-12 record. Actually, it was a hot topic three years ago, when Felix finished second to Zack Greinke.

Now Hernandez is slowly but surely getting himself back into the Cy Young conversation (provided he’s not traded to the Cardinals at the deadline. That’s a joke. Sorta).

It’s been an amazing turnaround, considering that way back in spring training, the big topic was Hernandez’s dropoff in velocity. And then when, after a good start, he faltered in mid-May, getting blasted for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against Cleveland, and going 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA in a three-start stretch, it seemed like maybe the Hernandez aura was waning. In the midst of it all, he missed a start with lower back pain. The big question in town was, “What’s wrong with Felix?”

Turns out the answer was, “Nothing.” Since a strong no-decision against the Giants on June 17, Hernandez is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in his last seven starts, with a 59-7 strikeouts-to-walk ratio. Opponents are hitting .215, and he’s been the same dominating, workhorse Hernandez that we’ve come to expect.

If you look at his body of work for the season, Hernandez now ranks comfortably among the top pitchers in the league, and he’s trending in the right direction. He leads the AL in innings pitched (140.2) and strikeouts (143). He’s fifth in ERA at 2.82. He’s sixth in WHIP at 1.17. By one accounting of WAR (FanGraphs), he’s second in the American League (and MLB) among pitchers at 4.0, behind only Justin Verlander’s 4.2. By another accounting of WAR (Baseball Reference), he’s ninth among AL pitchers at 2.6.

I won’t even mention his win-loss, because it’s irrelevant. OK, it’s 8-5, which puts Hernandez on pace for 14 victories (one more than his total in winning the Cy Young in 2010). . Hopefully, the BBWAA voting populace by now is enlightened enough to realize how little control a pitcher has over his record, and what a price Hernandez has paid for the lack of offensive support given him by the Mariners. Here are five of Hernandez’s no-decisions this season: 8 innings pitched, 1 earned run; 8 innings pitched, 0 earned runs; 8 innings pitched, 1 earned run; 7 innings pitched, 1 earned run; 7.2 innings pitched, 1 earned run. And he had a loss in which he gave up two earned runs in 7 innings pitched. The point is, he could, and should, very easily be in double-digits in victoriies.

Hernandez isn’t the Cy Young leader right now. That would be Verlander, with Chris Sale, Jered Weaver, David Price, Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia, Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson , among others, all hanging tough.

But Hernandez has worked has way into the heart of the debate, and if he keeps pitching the way he has, will be a major factor, again, when it comes time for voting.



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