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October 23, 2009 at 1:55 PM

No love for Felix Hernandez: maybe there’s a reason

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Colleague Larry Stone had an interesting blog post on the fact that Felix Hernandez was blanked in Players’ Choice Awards voting by his fellow ballplayers. They chose Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia as the three finalists for top AL pitcher.
My first reaction was: this is why they don’t let players pick the major awards.
I mean, we’ve seen coaches mess up the Gold Gloves for years.
For all the grief the BBWAA writers take, I still think they do the best voting job. But anyhow, back to Hernandez getting blanked. Could there be a plausible explanation, other than players merely voting on reputation rather than results?
I think there could be. Let’s explore.


First off, I wasn’t at all surprised to see Greinke up there. He had a better season than Hernandez.
It’s Halladay and Sabathia that will cause the consternation.
But let’s take a look at Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) a stat that eliminates outside defensive influences from a pitcher’s results to get a truer indication of how good said hurler really was. The final FIP score comes out looking like an ERA, so it’s a fairly easy stat to grasp.
Greinke had far and away the top FIP in the AL at 2.16.
Next on the list was Justin Verlander at 2.80.
After that? Must have been Hernandez, right?
Well, no. It was actually Halladay at 3.06.
Interesting.
Hernandez comes in next at 3.09.
Sabathia is two more spots down at 3.39.
What does this mean?
Well, it’s quite possible that when players say they thought Halladay was a better pitcher than Hernandez, they are telling the absolute truth. Because Halladay — according to FIP — did a slightly better job of getting hitters out all by himself.
And in players’ speak, that means Halladay was the tougher pitcher for them to face and might have appeared to be tougher to face than Hernandez.
How to explain Sabathia, then?
I can’t, really. Although I don’t know how much more difficult a 3.09 FIP pitcher like Hernandez would seem to be than a 3.39 guy like Sabathia. Especially if the Yankees were in the process of kicking your team’s butt with Sabathia on the mound.
Really, it’s a sawoff between Halladay and Hernandez, so players going with Halladay (who does have the reputation that Henrandez is only now building) makes perfect sense.
In Sabathia’s case, he also has the reputation, yes. Hernandez had the better numbers, but they aren’t that much better in terms of FIP where one guy might clearly stand out. Don’t forget, the Mariners played some teams — like the Twins — early in the year when Hernandez wasn’t yet in top form. So, when Twins players voted, which Hernandez were they picking?
I still think Sabathia is a dubious choice, but still, according to the numbers, there wasn’t that much of a glaring discrepancy between him and Hernandez where a hitter looks like a liar for picking the Yankee. Maybe some hitters really did feel Sabathia was tougher and their reality was skewed by playing a tough Yankees team. We’ll never know. But in this case, two of the three finalists had better FIP numbers than Hernandez — meaning hitters had every right to feel Greinke and Halladay were the tougher arms to face.
On Sabathia, well, I think they blew it.
But as Meat Loaf once said, two out of three ain’t bad.
And to me, this isn’t as big a travesty as it first seemed.

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