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Andy McDonald

Andy McDonald

Posted: October 5, 2010 03:10 PM

Hail to the King, Baby

What's Your Reaction:

The Seattle Mariners' 24-year-old pitcher 'King' Felix Hernandez is fucking awesome.

I should be able to end the article there, but some readers -- all two of you -- may feel duped for clicking to read only that. Or maybe you would welcome me dabbling in brevity. In which case, go to hell!

No, I kid. Stay here with me and let's talk about baseball.

With the Cy Young awards nearly ready to be dished out, the debate rages on about who is most deserving. Looking at ESPN's Cy Young Predictor, a calculation developed by baseball statistician Bill James and ESPN's Rob Neyer, the American League numbers show, as of 10-1-2010...

  1. CC Sabathia (NYY)
  2. David Price (TB)
  3. Rafael Soriano (TB)
  4. Jon Lester (BOS)
  5. Clay Buchholz (BOS)
  6. Neftali Feliz (TEX)
  7. Felix Hernandez (sea)

Felix Hernandez (sea) -- previously established as fucking awesome -- is seventh on the list.

Editor's note: I abbreviate Seattle Mariners (sea) in lower case letters because, given the run support they provide King Felix, or rather don't provide King Felix, they don't deserve capitalization.

Let's see that list again, but with stats (innings pitched, quality starts, complete games, wins, losses, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP), as of 10-1-2010...

  1. CC Sabathia - 237.7INN, 26QS, 2CG, 21W, 7L, 197K, 3.18ERA, 1.1907WHIP
  2. David Price - 207.7INN, 25QS, 2CG, 19W, 6L, 187K, 2.73ERA, 1.1990WHIP
  3. Rafael Soriano - 61.3INN, 3W, 2L, 44S, 56K, 1.76ERA, 0.7826WHIP (relief pitcher)
  4. Jon Lester - 208.0INN, 20QS, 2CG, 19W, 9L, 225K, 3.24ERA, 1.2019WHIP
  5. Clay Buchholz - 173.7INN, 19QS, 1CG, 17W, 7L, 120K, 2.33ERA, 1.2035WHIP
  6. Neftali Feliz - 68.3INN, 4W, 3L, 39S, 71K, 2.76ERA, 0.8927WHIP (relief pitcher)
  7. Felix Hernandez - 249.7 INN, 30QS, 6CG, 13W, 12L, 232K, 2.27ERA, 1.0574WHIP


Of this list, the most likely candidates for the American League Cy Young, King Felix has...

  • the most strikeouts

  • the lowest WHIP and ERA (for a starting pitcher)

  • the most Complete Games thrown

  • the most Quality Starts of any pitcher since 1980

  • all in the most innings thrown


So what is the problem?

In short, wins and losses. In long, the Mariners are as familiar with third base and home plate as I was with dating in high school.

With only 13 wins, King Felix will be panned by some baseball writers who think wins and losses are a viable pitching stat. The ESPN Cy Young Predictor actually gives bonus points for helping take your team to the playoffs. Obviously, with the fewest wins, and the Mariners nowhere near the playoffs, King Felix is not on top.

There are many baseball writers and analysts who view the Cy Young award as an MVP award for pitchers, and therefore will never consider a pitcher for the actual MVP award. Many of those same writers think of the MVP award as not only a judgment of the individual, but as a judgment of a player as he relates to his team's performance.

My thinking has always been, if you're giving out an award to an individual, declaring him the best in the league, based on all individual performances within that league, shouldn't it be a testament to his value within the league, not his value to the team?

Wins/losses is a team stat. And we already count it. It's called a team's record. It's a cute number to throw around when a pitcher has a 20 win season, but so much more is involved than just the pitcher. Sure, you have no-decisions, when a reliever comes in and blows a lead or has the ball when the lead is taken, but that just supports the argument that a starting pitcher's record can be deceiving in terms of his dominance.

CC Sabathia's record is 21-7. David Price's record is 19-6. Felix Hernandez's record is 13-12. That's really what this is all about. There are people who think wins and losses are pertinent, and people who don't.

I personally believe wins and losses are a terrible decider for the Cy Young Award and this year highlights that as well as any.

Preferable to wins/losses is the Quality Start, when a pitcher goes at least 6 innings in a start and gives up no more than 3 earned runs. You take your team's offense out of the equation, thereby showing with greater accuracy how good a pitcher really is. And guess who is first is Quality Starts with 30, the most by any pitcher since 1980? King Felix Hernandez.

Editor's note: Critics of the Quality Start argue that 3ER in 6 innings is a 4.50ERA and far from "quality." I agree. My only point here is to show King Felix's consistency. And with a 2.27ERA in 249 innings, consistent he is.

Let's look at the strikeout, or more specifically strikeouts per 9 innings. It's the purest indication of a pitcher's skill and dominance. The strikeout is essentially the pitcher's unassisted contribution to the game.

CC Sabathia and David Price, while no doubt dominant pitchers, strikeout fewer batters per nine innings than King Felix.

Average K's per 9 innings
CC Sabathia: 7.49
David Price: 8.11
Felix Hernandez: 8.36

And King Felix leads this stat with 249.7 innings, 30 more innings than Sabathia, and 40 more innings than Price.

I've also heard people say that pressure should be a factor with the Cy Young Award, and being on Seattle, "How many pitches has King Felix thrown that have really mattered?" They say, "Sabathia and Price are performing in tough playoff races."

Frankly, I doubt there is a single pitcher in baseball who faces a batter today thinking about tomorrow's batters. "If I get this guy out, we're 1.5% closer to the playoffs!" They're facing the batter they're facing, period. Either you get them out or you don't.

And King Felix gets them out more often than any starting pitcher on that list.

His stats are so good he has a better ERA than Cy Young candidate Neftali Feliz, a closer with 180 fewer innings. Feliz also has 4 wins, which means he actually has a higher win frequency than King Felix. But Neftali Feliz plays with a formidable offense behind him in Texas, showing again that a pitcher's win is as much about his team as it is about him. Pitchers can keep runs from going on the scoreboard, but they can't put them there -- quite literally, in the DH'd A.L.

A team's performance matters when it comes to a pitcher's wins and losses, and therefore wins and losses shouldn't matter when it comes to the Cy Young Award.

Save Roy Halladay (PHI) or maybe Adam Wainwright (STL) of the N.L., King Felix has the best overall pitching stats in the entire league. And yet, because his team is offensively flaccid, he's lower on this Cy Young Predictor list, and lower in the minds of many analysts who still cling to wins/losses as a true pitching stat -- it isn't.

Watching Sunday Night Baseball (Red Sox at the Yankees -- shock!), forced to listen to John Miller try to hide how much he loves the Yankees and Joe Morgan (not) try to hide how much he loves himself, I couldn't help but wonder if that 24-year-old from Seattle would get the attention he deserves.

As ESPN's Tim Kurkjian -- taking a break from laughing about the unbelievable-ness of everything -- addresses an upcoming battle between Sabathia and Price, I again wonder if King Felix will be eclipsed by pitchers on contending teams.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not arguing that these other pitchers aren't forces to be reckoned with, only that when judged purely on pitching -- the Cy Young's focus -- King Felix has no equal in the A.L.

It's one thing to amass so many innings, but to do it while maintaining that strikeout ratio per game (8.36), that WHIP (1.057), and that ERA (2.27) is unreal.

He should win the A.L. Cy Young, not because of how well he helped his team, or because of how well his team helped him. He should be the A.L. Cy Young winner because he's the A.L.'s best pitcher this year.

Hail to the King, baby.


*as of 10-4-2010, King Felix is now sixth on the list, still five lower than he should be.

 

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