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August 17, 2010 at 8:49 AM

More on Felix Hernandez and his Cy Young Award chances

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Wanted to get back into this topic this morning after reading what a lot of you had to say during yesterday’s blog post. Some of you are wondering why I’d bother mentioning that Felix Hernandez even has Cy Young chances. One or two people even accuse me of being a homer.
All I’ll say is, when I see a Mariners player, or ex-player, that I consider to be worthy of an award, or special honor, I will go to bat for that player as hard as I can. Not because he is a Mariners player. But because I consider him deserving.
Many of you suggest that Hernandez threw away any Cy Young credibility because of the six unearned runs he allowed after the Chone Figgins error the other day. Not buying it. Do we eliminate Cliff Lee from consideration because of the four runs he allowed in the eighth inning last night when protecting a 4-2 lead at Tampa Bay?
Of course not.
All pitchers have nights like those. Hernandez is no more a “tanker” than Lee is a “choker”. They both had bad finishes to good outings. Maybe Hernandez did lose his focus a little when he threw that meatball to Travis Hafner for the grand slam. And maybe Lee lost his focus a little last night, distracted as he was by the heat of his mound duel with David Price against an opponent the Rangers could face in the playoffs. Maybe the pressure got to him. Maybe not. As I said though, one off night should not ruin anybody’s Cy Young chances.
As for the argument that Lee outpitched Hernandez when he was here, playing for the same bad Mariners team, yes, I agree on that. But I’d also point out that since Lee has gone to a much better Texas Rangers team, Hernandez has actually outpitched him.
So, the earlier point means nothing. In a close race, it isn’t how you start. It’s how you finish.
Further, I’d suggest that if Hernandez was pitching for a contender the way Lee is, he’d be allowed to finish off more games than the M’s are letting him. The Rangers are pitching Lee like a team that knows he won’t be around for them in 2011, letting him go until his arm is ready to fall off. Hernandez has not been given that leeway and could be tied with Lee in complete games — instead of trailing 7-5 — had the M’s not been overly cautious. Don’t forget, he was pulled early last week by Daren Brown after eight innings, 110 pitches of shutout ball.
Hernandez was pulled by Don Wakamatsu after eight innings, 91 pitches of shutout ball on July 21 because it was 0-0 and the manager felt his inept offense wasn’t going to score in any event before extra innings.
So, on a normal team, there’s your sixth and seventh complete games right there.
In other words, we can play the whole “what if” thing forever and it swings both ways. Let’s just look at what the raw data tells us right now.
And, more interestingly, let’s look at what Lee’s outing means right now. It means that Hernandez has passed Lee in earned run average, 2.62 to 2.71.

Hernandez now sits third in ERA in the AL behind only Clay Buchholz and Trevor Cahill. Both have missed nearly a month of action due to injuries this year, so their innings totals are way down and make them unlikely Cy Young candidates.
But even if they were, Hernandez is now within striking distance of both.
Barring injury, Hernandez will run away with the league title for innings thrown. He is now second in strikeouts. If he wins the ERA title as well, how can he not be considered for the Cy Young, as every other pitcher before him who has excelled in those categories has been?
As I mentioned yesterday, it could all come down to whether or not BBWAA voters truly believe that wins are overrated. I’m not sure many of you truly believe that. You say you do, but would you give the Cy Young to a 10-win pitcher?
I read on yesterday’s blog that some folks feel David Price of the Rays, who was outpitched by Lee last night, will cruise to the Cy Young. Well, again, only if voters do not feel wins are overrated.
Price may turn his season up a notch these final seven weeks, but right now, the best thing he has going for him is his wins total.
Yes, Price is 15-5 and could win 22 or 23 games. But his next-best stat, ERA, is only sixth best at 2.85. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is 12th best and his home run adjusted xFIP says his real ERA is more like four runs per game. So, no, he has not been as overwhelming as some of the other contenders.
Price is only 15th best in the league in innings pitched.
His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is a decent 2.2, but nothing that puts him even close among the league’s elite.
In other words, take away wins, and pushing Price for the Cy Young is about as legit as touting Chone Figgins for a Gold Glove at second base.
There is nothing about Price that is Cy Young worthy other than his 15-5 record. Which brings up the question once again, are we to treat wins as an overrated stat? Or do they actually mean something?
Because as much as I see BBWAA voters taking flak for some of their Cy Young picks in the past, I don’t think most fans — even stats-minded ones — have their minds made up about the whole wins thing.
Because even if Price goes 22-5 and Hernandez finishes 10-13, if nothing else changes on the peripheral numbers front, Hernandez will have had a far better season.
Still not convinced?
Let’s look at my current NL frontrunner for the Cy Young, Roy Halladay of the Phillies. I believe he has been the most dominating pitcher in the NL so far and has the numbers to back it up. But even though he’s 15-8, he went through an awful stretch for about five or six weeks from mid-May to late-June.
Halladay had just two wins in eight outings during that stretch and a once-imposing 6-1 record fell to a rather pedestrian 8-6.
So, what happened? Well, he had a couple of bad outings. But the big factor was that the Phillies scored just 17 runs during the eight games — just over two per contest.
Sound familiiar? The difference is, while Halladay only had to put up with it for six weeks, Hernandez has had to endure this an entire season.
So, no, in this case, it isn’t some mystical “will to win” or lack of it that has kept Hernandez at an 8-10 record. You can’t win if your team doesn’t score. Whether you’re Hernandez or Halladay — 15-8 and the best pitcher in the NL.
When you look at it that way, it’s tough to argue that Hernandez should not be a top-three Cy Young candidate right now. And if he continues on this pace, it may be very difficult to argue that he is not the deserving Cy Young winner.
Unless, of course, you still think a won-loss record is indicative of something.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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