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September 28, 2010 at 11:57 AM

Felix Hernandez could make final Cy Young Award pitch tonight

Mariners manager Daren Brown was evasive yesterday when asked whether Felix Hernandez would be starting the season finale next Sunday. Hernandez could be on-pace for a 260-inning season by then and that, in my opinion would be too much for a lost season like this one.
As I mentioned on my Talkin’ Baseball segment this morning, on KJR AM 950’s Mitch in the Morning show, when I covered Roy Halladay in his 2003 Cy Young Award season, he threw 266 innings after having tossed 239 1/3 frames the year prior.
Then, in 2004, Halladay was hit by arm troubles almost right away and limited to 133 innings that season.
Halladay was 26 in that Cy Young season. Hernandez is 24.
He could throw close to 260 innings if he goes deep tonight and again next Sunday. Could have thrown 270 innings or more this year had the team not held him back.
Hernandez threw 238 2/3 innings last year. So, he’s on almost exactly the same pace Halladay was at roughly the same age. And at this point, Cy Young Award or not, I’m shutting him down after this game to avoid pushing my luck. If I’m the M’s.
Because Hernandez willl be costing this team more next year than Halladay did the Blue Jays back in 2004. And Hernandez is integral to this franchise moving forward. An inning here or there, I’ve quibbled with as the season moves on. But there’s no reason to send Hernandez back out to face the A’s next Sunday. Let’s face it, he could throw a complete game against them under normal conditions, let alone a season finale where every player is trying to swing quickly and get the day over with.
But he shouldn’t need it for this Cy Young. In my book, the race is over. We’ve shown over and over again in recent weeks that wins are not a reliable stat at determining the overall prowess of one pitcher versus the next. That even the best pitchers — Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, anybody — do not win when their teams don’t score.
At this rate, the folks who still need convincing are never going to be convinced, whether Hernandez finishes 14-12, or 12-12 or 12-13. If they refuse to look at the more meaningful stats, a 14-12 record won’t get them to. It’s as simple as that.
One more time, for old time’s sake, I’ll blow the cases for Hernandez opponents out of the water. Bookmark this site, print it up and carry it around in your wallets. Especially if you happen to be a Cy Young voter.
C.C. Sabathia — Has fallen nearly a full run behind Hernandez in ERA (2.31 to 3.26) and trails him in innings pitched and strikeouts. Has more wins because his offense scores three more runs per game than Hernandez’s gives him. Need more? Hernandez has won more games than Sabathia when his offense scores three runs or fewer. And he’s lost fewer games when his offense scores at least four. Sabathia has pitched in more meaningful games, true, but this isn’t an MVP vote and he’s faced softer opponents than Hernandez has (including an M’s team that’s softest of all and one that puts undue pressure on Hernandez every time he takes the mound). All I know is, when Hernandez faced the Yankees, he beat them into the ground time after time. Twice in their ballpark and once in Seattle. Sabathia’s case falls apart when the argument that he “knows how to win more than Hernandez” is shot to pieces. Case closed.
Photo Credit: AP

David Price — Besides having questionable Twitter judgment, Price is little more than Sabathia-Lite at this point. He’s thrown 30 fewer innings, with 10 fewer strikeouts — than Sabathia, not Hernandez. Does have an ERA of 2.84, which is better than Sabathia’s. But again, we’re comparing him to Hernandez here. Hernandez’s ERA is more than half a run better. He’s thrown 42 more innings and 48 more strikeouts than Price. Unless you buy into the “wins” argument, Price is barely in Hernandez’s ballpark. Yes, he’s pitched in some more pressure-packed games, but again, this is not an MVP vote and let’s be honest, how pressure-packed were those games at Tropicana Field in from April to July with 15,000 people watching? This argument is a no-go. Sabathia-Lite doesn’t trump Hernandez in a year in which Sabathia himself can’t.
Clay Buchholz — The only guy with a shot at overtaking Hernandez in ERA (trailing 2.31 to 2.33), he’s put together a 17-7 season for a non-playoff team in Boston. Also had to pitch at Fenway Park, which is tougher on pitchers than Safeco Field. But you simply cannot award the Cy Young to a guy who has thrown 68 fewer innings and 107 fewer strikeouts than Hernandez. And that’s as of now. Don’t forget, Hernandez will pad his lead in both categories tonight. That’s the equivalent of Hernandez throwing seven additional complete games plus five innings greater than Buchholz. It’s just not comparable. And if BBWAA voters try to make it comparable, they will embarrass themselves. Because it’s highly doubtful Buchholz could maintain that ERA if he’d thrown the equivalent of 10 more seven-inning games. And then, we would not even be having this conversation.
Jon Lester — He’s only about 38 innings and two-thirds of a run worse than Hernandez in ERA. Otherwise, he’s pretty comparable in strikeouts, though he still trails 227-220. At 19-8, he could win 20 and — frankly — his numbers suggest he’s a more legit candidate than Sabathia or Price. But again, he hasn’t bested Hernandez in anything other than wins. That’s a discussion we’ve already had. Let’s call him Hernandez-Lite.
Jered Weaver — Has regained the strikeouts lead over Hernandez by a pair heading into tonight and could claim it if the M’s sit King Felix in the finale. His 227 innings are closing in on Sabathia’s 229 1/3 for second place. Like Hernandez, he’s support-challenged and that’s why he has a 13-12 record. Unlike Hernandez, he has an ERA of 3.02, which is nearly three-quarters of a run worse. Again, he measures up in a number of areas, and slightly beats Hernandez (possibly) in strikeouts. But he loses out on the all-important run prevention and durability front.
Francisco Liriano — The runaway leader in FIP (Fielding independent Pitching) at 2.50 but draws a lot closer to the pack in xFIP at 3.08 when his home run/fly ball ratio is “normalized”. As many have pointed out, these sabermetric stats are not used to measure past performance, but to try to predict future performance. That’s not what a Cy Young race is about. In the more mainstream stats like ERA and innings pitched, he lags well behind the pack. FIP was used by a lot of voters to justify giving Zack Greinke the Cy Young last year. But that was because he lacked the wins of other frontrunners and was close to them in other numbers as well and only really dominated in ERA. This year, no such debate about FIP is really needed.
Trevor Cahill — Does a lot of things well, but isn’t comparatively great in any one category.
I can’t really say it any better than that.
Take away wins and you see Hernandez leading or about to lead — after tonight — every one of the main categories.
The only guy with more complete games is Cliff Lee, but he fell out of the race a while ago. Hernandez would easily trump Lee in complete games had the M’s not pulled him early to preserve his arm in several games where he was cruising.
Forget about “quality starts”, since Hernandez owns that stat and no one is really close to him. Very few stinker games when Hernandez is on the hill.
But don’t take my word for it. Look at the top of just about every category that matters and you see Hernandez’s name. Some guys can compete with him in one category, some in others. But no one is at the top of all of those categories at once.
The only thing that can stop Hernandez is the myth about wins. And one more start next Sunday won’t change that one way or the other.
This race is already over. What it will come down to is whether some voters will stop covering their eyes and take a look at who actually won.



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