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August 17, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Felix Hernandez perfect game vaults him back into very top of Cy Young Award debate

ADDITIONAL NOTE 1:50 p.m.: The Mariners have activated LHP Charlie Furbush off the 15-day DL and sent RHP Shawn Kelley to Class AAA Tacoma for the next two weeks until September rosters expand.
Felix Hernandez was a hot topic of conversation around the country yesterday because of his perfect game. And as I mentioned last night in my hour-long special on Sports Radio KJR (link above), this should vault him right back to the very top of the Cy Young Award discussion.
As was written here a week ago, Hernandez already had the Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers to justify the claim that this was really a two-man contest between him and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. But given the season that Jered Weaver of the Angels was having in more traditional categories like earned run average, it was going to be a challenge to overcome.
Well, two things have happened since.
First, the Mariners beat Weaver last Sunday. No, it wasn’t a thrashing, but the one thing Weaver has going for him is an incredible won-lost record. And while most of us — and Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters — showed two years ago that wins no longer take precedence in Cy Young voting, it’s tough to ignore Weaver’s won-lost record in tandem with his ERA.
So, logically, his current 15-2 record is not as good as 15-1. It’s a start if you’re in Hernandez’s camp. Because had Weaver finished 24-1 with a 2.20 ERA, I don’t care how many strikeouts Hernandez winds up logging, you weren’t going to find too many voters out there — traditionalist or more sabermetrically-inclined — who would justify giving the prize to Hernandez based on FIP.
The second thing that’s happened since last week is far more important to Hernandez’s Cy Young case: his perfect game.
Two years ago, when Hernandez came seemingly out of nowhere to win his first Cy Young in a season of only 13 wins, he was on practically nobody’s shortlist when the month of August began. Then, he made an East Coast trip to Boston and to New York, where he manhandled the Red Sox and Yankees. All of a sudden, the top pundits in the country were talking about Hernandez and his plight of being a top pitcher on a team that simply could not score.
And that debate carried over through the end of the season. It wasn’t that Hernandez necessarily won over the BBWAA Cy Young voters in New York and Boston. Each market, just like Seattle, gets only two votes per local chapter. But the fact that the biggest baseball talking heads out there in print and broadcast media tend to reside on the East Coast helped frame the debate in Hernandez’s favor. And that road trip really helped turn the tide his way.
Hernandez won’t have a similar road trip to help him out this time. But now, thanks to the perfect game, he wont need one.

That’s because the whole country was talking about him yesterday. I know this, based on the number of TV and radio requests I had both yesterday and Wednesday from ESPN, satellite radio and local stations in places like New York, Texas, California and Canada.
Naturally, I had to turn them all down, since — as many of you keep pointing out — I was not at the perfect game.
But that aside, the fact that so many people are now buzzing about Hernandez in so many different parts of the country will indeed thrust his name to the very top of any further Cy Young discussion. The advanced stats say this should be a Hernandez and Verlander fight. But Weaver’s record and ERA say that he has been the best at limiting runs and winning games when he is on the mound.
Remember, please, that stats like FIP try to suggest who the best pitcher would be if you eliminate defenders from the equation. Unfortunately, baseball games aren’t played that way. Baseball games are played with defenders behind every pitcher and the results gleaned are the only ones that actually happened in the context of the way baseball is played each and every night.
And when it comes to handing out awards, there will be Cy Young voters, I can guarantee you, who will want to give it out based on actual results. Not hypotheticals that remove things like ground ball and flyball results from the equation. Not hypothethicals that only want to measure specific things like strikeouts and walks and thus will favor harder-throwing pitchers like Hernandez and Verlander over the Weavers of this world.
And as I wrote last week, those voters have a solid point.
We don’t say a guy was a “Home Run Champion” because his 35 homers were less “lucky” than the guy with 40 homers. No, we crown the 40-homer guy the champ every time.
As intriguing as the newer stats tend to be, there is still a degree of subjectivity involved in some of them. And that forms part of the overall subjectivity of any Cy Young and awards debate. There are no completely “objective” stats. Those who favor FIP and WAR (Wins Above Replacement level) will have a subjectivity towards the stat categories that go into those, while others will look at stats like ERA for awards purposes because it looks at what happened under conditions that simulate actual games where actual defenders were involved.
Like I said, if I was scouting which pitcher to sign for five years, $150 million, I’d be more interested in his FIP score. But for handing out awards, it’s tough to argue that the guy with the best won-lost record and ERA by a country mile didn’t outperform everyone else in categories that reflected actual results, in actual games where real defenders took part, flaws and all.
It’ll be interesting.
But Hernandez’s perfect game will convince people to look beyond Weaver.
Every discussion will now include “Yeah, but Hernandez pitched a perfect game, and had the best FIP and was right up there in WAR with Verlander and we know WAR has a margin for error, so maybe Felix was slightly ahead…”
Actually, it could be a little more basic than quoting FIP and WAR. What I think this perfect game by Hernandez will also likely do is force voters to look at his innings pitched.
As of today, Hernandez is on-pace for 245 innings. Weaver is only on-track for 189. That’s a difference of roughly six complete games.
For me, that’s too big a gap if it holds up. Too big for Weaver to overcome without a serious PR campaign — or maybe a perfect game of his own — on his behalf. Especially now that Hernandez has everybody’s attention. I mean, a pitcher usually has to break the 200-inning threshold to win a Cy Young as a starter. In Weaver’s case, because of injury, he may not even do that and could wind up more than 55 innings behind Hernandez.
In other words, this thing is far from decided.
I’d say it’s now a three-horse race between Hernandez, Verlander and Weaver. We’ve got about 6 1/2 weeks of season left to go and the winner could very well be decided by one of the three pitchers slipping up over that timeframe.
But Hernandez, at present, is right up there. And in reality, this could now be his race to lose.



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