Breaking News: The Seattle Mariners are a terrible baseball team. They are not good. They have not won many baseball games up to this point and there’s no reason to believe that they will win many for the rest of the season. That’s how being bad works. There is, however, a shimmering bright spot up here in the top corner of the country, and that shimmering, shining, sparkling, blinding bright spot is a right-handed pitcher by the name of Felix Hernandez. Perhaps you’re familiar with his exploits. He makes baseballs bend through the air at high speeds and batters swing baseball bats and do not make contact. He’s been doing this for some time.
In the interest of full disclosure (very professional), I will tell you that I am a Seattle Mariners fan. That probably shouldn’t inspire a spirited reaction from you, it should probably just make you feel sorry for me. That aside, this blog post is about a Seattle Mariners player, so take this post with whatever measure of salt you’d like. Maybe you feel like this post warrants a pinch of salt, or maybe a teaspoon. A tablespoon? A cup? Two cups? The whole bowl of salt?! This is getting insane. You better cool it on the salt, man. I’m about to assert that Felix Hernandez is putting together a compelling case for the American League Cy Young Award. What I’m going to use to defend myself against an unrelenting onslaught of crystalline mineral is facts. Facts and numbers and statistics and stuff.
About those facts and numbers and statistics: Felix has good ones. Maybe it’s just my natural geographical predilection towards overcompensation and righteous indignation, but it seems to be that Felix has been a bit overlooked so far this season. All anyone wants to talk about is if he should get traded to the Yankees or some shit. Anecdotally, he seems to be getting knocked for inconsistency, and there was also a bit of concern at the start of the season about a reduction in velocity, so perhaps that’s lingering and coloring some perception. It’s true that Felix has spiked a few games with run totals that we wouldn’t normally expect from such a dominant pitcher, and while his fastball speed is the lowest it’s ever been, this is also his seventh full year in the Majors, and his results haven’t suffered in any way whatsoever. Felix is currently posting the highest K/9 of his career at 9.50, and his BB/9 of 2.37 is a career low. This is the ideal direction you’d prefer these respective numbers to trend. He’s also allowing home runs at the lowest rate of his career. This is mostly due to his home park of Safeco Field playing like an even more depressing version of Petco, but fly balls that don’t clear the fence are typically outs, and Felix has been making the most of his opportunities.
When looking at overall value, Felix finds himself in a rather serious competition with Justin Verlander and Chris Sale. The three pitchers are separated by less than .5 fWAR, and while you can mix and match your preferred version of ERA, FIP, and xFIP and come to different conclusions, we’re at the point of splitting hairs, and splitting hairs doesn’t sound like something you should want to do. It sounds weird and kind of gross. Here’s hoping these statistical comparisons become more clear as the season progresses, because right now this is an unruly and confusing mess of awesome pitching. If there’s one area of advantage that points towards a potential Felix surge, perhaps it’s in BABIP. Felix’s .317 batting average on balls in play would be the second highest mark of all his professional seasons, and isn’t quite even with his career average mark of .298. Sale’s number currently sits at .264, and Verlander at .242—of course, both are excellent pitchers who are going to have an edge when it comes to inducing weak contact and suppressing this number, but history would favor some regression for both of them. Factor in a positive slide for Felix, not to mention a favorable home park and one of the league’s strongest defenses behind him, and it’s not irresponsible to imagine a scenario where the King starts to carve out some distance between him and his competition. Sure, there’s a big difference between putting up deserving numbers and actually receiving votes from the backwards fools who decide these types of things, but that’s an argument for a different day. It doesn’t hurt that Felix has recently submitted two rather signature starts, dominating both the bat-strong Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers with complete game, monster strikeout fury. It’s ridiculousness such as this that led the King to win a previous Cy Young, and he had a crappy team and a low win total back then, too. All hope is not lost. This very specific hope also assumes a clean bill of health and continued transcendent dominance, but these are things one tends to take for granted when discussing Felix Hernandez. Besides, throw me a bone, this is literally all I have left to hold on to as a fan of the Mariners. I’m on the brink of unraveling here.