Felix Hernandez was given a special presentation by team CEO Howard Lincoln and GM Jack Zduriencik prior to a game last weekend for having captured AL Pitcher of the Month honors. But Hernandez, who appeared in his first All-Star Game last night in St. Louis, could be taking home a whole lot more than that if he keeps up his performance.
Right now, I’d say Hernandez is one of a handful of favorites for a Cy Young Award.
That might not have seemed possible six weeks ago. But Hernandez took off in June and hasn’t looked back since.
There is no objective formula for determining a Cy Young winner.
The vote is subjected, tallied by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I had a vote last year and picked Roy Halladay over Cliff Lee. In the end, Lee won the vote by a wide margin with Halladay placing second.
It helps to get off to a good start in these things. Both Halladay and Zack Grienke are among the Cy Young frontrunners, mainly because they have been “out there” all year and writers with a vote will have heard their names. Yes, that does matter in establishing a final pool.
Hernandez is a relative latecomer, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be on voters’ minds.
After all, he was the Pitcher of the Month. He was at the All-Star Game, though not as prominent as Halladay in all the hoopla leading up to it.
Once you cull a relative shortlist of guys, the numbers come into play.
Most writers — groans please — will look at wins. Hard not to. We can sit here and pull hair out and scream about the unfairness of it all but a pitcher with fewer than 17 wins has only won a Cy Young once, with Brandon Webb doing it a few years ago. Pedro Martinez did it with 17 once, but he had a bunch of unworldly stats to go with it.
Randy Johnson should have won the NL Cy Young back in 2004, but finished second to Roger Clemens despite having better numbers across the board. Why did Johnson lose? My guess would be his 16-14 record, even though he had Jarrod Washburn-type run support all year in Arizona.
So, wins help get you into that elite group being looked at by voters. You don’t have to like it, but it is what it is.
So far, Hernandez is up there with nine wins, one fewer than Halladay and Greinke. So, he’s on-pace in that category.
Next, writers will usually look at ERA.
Hernandez at 2.53 is also in good shape, having surpassed Halladay, who is No. 4 at 2.85. Greinke has come back down to earth a little, but still has the overall lead at 2.12. That’s an excellent ERA and will garner attention.
Once you get past those two stats, writers tend to vary in what they like most.
Many will look at innings as their No. 3 category.
Hernandez once again fares well, clocking in at No. 6 in the league at 124 2/3. Halladay is behind him with 123 at No. 8. Greinke is No. 4 at 127 1/3, so, once again, he leads the other two.
The top pitchers in ERA aren’t really close to the Big Three pitchers yet. C.C. Sabathia, for instance, could put a second-half run together. He’s at No. 3 with 128 1/3 innings, but his 8-6 record is ho-hum, though he is still technically just a win behind Hernandez. But his 3.86 ERA is a run worse than any of the three big AL arms.
And that will matter if he can’t close the gap.
You have to have the whole package in Cy Young discussions.
Next, many voters look at strikeouts.
Justin Verlander leads all comers with 149 and frankly, he’s looking like my Cy Young darkhorse at the moment because his innings and 10-4 record match up very well with the Big Three. His ERA of 3.38 is also close enough that a string second-half run could inch him in among the leaders.
So, watch out.
Among the Big Three — for wins, ERA and innings — Greinke has 129 strikeouts at No. 3, Hernandez has 121 at No. 4 in the AL and Halladay is sixth at 106.
But where Greinke has an edge over all is in complete games, with five. Halladay has three. Hernandez has only one.
Some voters, in a tight race, give credence to Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) — a stat that produces an ERA-like total and measures how a pitcher performed independent of the defense behind him.
Greinke has a FIP of 1.97, even better than his 2.12 ERA and the only sub-2.00 pitcher out there.
Halladay’s 2.86 FIP is almost identical to his 2.85 ERA.
Hernandez has a 2.95 FIP, which is higher than his 2.53 ERA and suggests he’s benefitted some from the defense behind him. He’s also a full run of FIP worse than Greinke, which means he still has ground to make up.
My darkhorse, Verlander, has a 2.70 FIP which is much better than his 3.38 ERA and shows you how close he is to being on the tip of any Cy Young conversation. For some voters, he already is.
Now, if Halladay gets traded to an NL team, that removes one of Hernandez’s closest Cy Young competitors.
But Grienke isn’t going anyplace. The fact that he’s done what he has with a team as bad as the Royals should also score him bonus points with voters.
Hernandez may make a run at a Cy Young yet. But he’ll have to keep up his remarkable stretch of outings just to close the gap between him and Greinke is some of the sub-categories other than wins and innings.
It says here that any road to the Cy Young in 2009 is still running through Kansas City. Hernandez has his work cut out for him.