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August 16, 2010 at 11:05 AM

Felix Hernandez should be on every Cy Young Award voter’s shortlist despite scarcity of wins

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An interesting situation is developing in the American League Cy Young Award race with seven weeks to go in the season.
Felix Hernandez keeps on losing even as his ERA continues to get better and better. Hernandez is now 8-10 with a 2.62 earned run average. We heard last year how Zack Greinke was going to put to the test the notion that wins for a pitcher are overrated and should not matter.
Well, if that was the case, Hernandez is going to have to make the case that wins for a pitcher are completely irrelevant.
Greinke won 16 games in an AL where there were three 19-game-winners and a 17-gamer. Tim Lincecum actually won the N.L. Cy Young with a record-low 15 wins, but there was only one 19-game winner and a 17-game winner, so the lack of wins by him stood out a bit less.
But Hernandez could very well turn the entire notion of victories and the Cy Young on its ear because there could be a half-dozen AL pitchers with 18 or more wins this year. Hernandez will be fortunate to reach 12 or 13.
Take away wins and losses, though, and let’s see where he fares:
Sabathia 174 2/3
Pavano 168
Weaver 163
Lee 161 1/3
Buchholz 2.49
Cahill 2.50
Lee 2.58
Lester 2.80
Weaver 182
Lester 165
Liriano 150
Morrow 151
Lee 7
Pavano 5
Braden 4
Romero 3
Notice that Hernandez is in the top-five of just about every pitching category of Cy Young significance?

Not only that, but he’s No. 1 in innings pitched and No. 2 in strikeouts. Used to be, the pecking order for Cy Young voters would be wins, ERA and innings pitched as the big three.
Lately, that’s evolved, with less emphasis on wins and more on strikeouts and complete games.
But there is no concrete formula anymore. Nowadays, more and more writers are looking at things like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in a close vote.
Liriano 2.19
Lee 2.30
Lester 3.02
Weaver 3.05
Yes, it’s the first time Francisco Liriano of the Twins appears on a leaderboard and is well out front along with Cliff Lee. But being 22nd in the league in innings pitched will likely hurt Liriano’s chances, no doubt. The Cy Young isn’t for the most efficient six-or-seven-inning pitcher in the league. Liriano has gone eight innings just three times and has no complete games. That pales in comparison with guys like Lee and Hernandez. and Carl Pavano.
And when you “normalize” the home run/fly ball ratios of pitchers with the xFIP stat, Liriano and Lee come back much closer to the pack. So, the top two guys appear to have gotten “lucky” with the number of home runs they’ve given up.
Liriano 2.94
Lee 3.25
Lester 3.26
Weaver 3.38
Lee does manage to stay up near the top, like Hernandez, of every key stat, as well as the FIP-related ones. There is still a lot of momentum for Lee, given his historic 15-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
But I dunno. Again, the Cy Young isn’t supposed to be for the best strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Or the best “no walks” guy. It’s for the most outstanding pitcher. And I still think Hernandez has a shot if he passes Lee in ERA, holds on to his innings lead and can overtake Jered Weaver in strikeouts. Heck, even finishing second in strikeouts can help Hernandez if he wins out in the other categories I’ve mentioned.
Still, wins have their place. There are plenty of ex-pitchers and players who place a good deal of emphasis in a pitcher’s ability to overcome his own team’s lack of plate prowess, or poor defense, and win games.
So, why shouldn’t voters follow that lead?
Well, I’ll argue that those players weren’t talking about the 2010 Seattle Mariners. They were probably referring to the setbacks that pitchers may endure once every four starts. Not every time out.
And I think that if Hernandez keeps going at the pace he has — one every bit as good as last year and arguably even better — he might force voters to make an historic choice. A 12-win guy for the Cy Young? Heck, why not? The fact that Hernandez has remained so dominant on such a bad baseball team makes him every bit as credible as Greinke was last season. It’s not his fault the M’s bats are that much worse than even the awful Royals were at scoring runs.



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