A Worthy King

It’s about time for old-school statistics to make way for the new generation of baseball measurements.

As most of you already know, Felix Hernandez won his first Cy Young Award, despite owning a 13-12 record. But does that even matter?

In the history of the Cy Young Award, no starting pitcher has ever won with less than 15 wins, and that bar was set a mere two years ago by Tim Lincecum. At the same time, no pitcher who led the league in innings, strikeouts, and quality starts ever lost the award, either. In addition to that, King Felix also was second in the league in strikeouts (one behind Jered Weaver) and WHIP. Hernandez was the most dominant pitcher in the American League — by far — all he lacked was run support.

The case many people made for CC Sabathia to win the Cy Young was his dependability. Sabathia was the proud owner of a 21-7 record, the first pitcher to win over 20 games since Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb did so in 2008. But in reality, the only edge he has over Hernandez is wins. In every single other significant category, King Felix holds a significant advantage.

Let’s take a look at Player A and Player…

Player

ERA

WHIP

Inn

K

BB

FIP

Opp AVG

LOB%

QS

CG

Player A

3.18

1.19

237.2

197

74

3.54

.238

75.6

26

2

Player B

2.27

1.06

249.2

232

70

3.04

.216

77.4

30

6

From this chart, it’s pretty clear which pitcher you want. Player B is far superior in every single category. The only difference is wins and losses. But what goes into getting a win?

A win is one of the most flawed stats in baseball, right up there with the RBI. If Felix Hernandez pitches a complete game and gives up one run and loses 0-1, is that a worse game than CC going 5 innings, giving up 6 runs, and winning the game 9-6? Furthermore, if you leave the game in the top of the eighth inning with the score 2-2 and your team scores in the bottom of the inning, does that make your start any better?

The problem for Felix this year was his teammates. His team couldn’t hit, and his bullpen couldn’t hold a lead. Not only was his offense abysmal, it is the worst in 37 years! Ever since the AL instituted the DH, no team has been worse offensively than the 2010 Seattle Mariners.

Not only were the Mariners incredibly insufficient, they gave the least run support in the league to King Felix. The man received a mere 3.75 runs of support per nine inning. Compare that to CC’s 7.31 runs per nine inning and Phil Hughes’s league tops 9.60 runs per nine innings, and its no wonder there is such a discrepancy in wins.

There is no competetor more fierce than one Felix Hernandez.

There is no competitor more fierce than Felix Hernandez.

If won-loss records really meant something, Phil Hughes would be twice the pitcher Felix Hernandez is. Hughes finished the year at an 18-8 clip, far superior to Hernandez’s 13-12 record. All that their records mean is that Hughes capitalized better on his nearly triply better run support.

More so than wins and losses, a better way to measure quality outings is, well, quality starts. If you can consistently go six innings and give up three or less runs, your team will win a majority of your games. Felix, however, averaged over seven innings and King Felix led the league with a whopping 30 quality starts in just 34 starts. Hughes, on the other hand, only had 15 quality starts.

Sadly, however, quality starts do not always translate to wins. Hernandez led the league with eight tough losses, quality starts that result in losses. If you still don’t have an idea of how historically bad this Mariners team is, ESPN’s Jayson Stark had a whole section in his annual Strange but true team feats of the year column devoted to their dysfunctional offense. If we take a look back and CC and Phil Hughes, they only combined for 5 tough losses all season, largely thanks to their generous run support.

Ultimately, teammates’ help does not determine the best pitcher. What determines the best pitcher is how they play in the biggest games. Against the AL East, the best-hitting division in baseball, King Felix always was throwing his A-game. Hernandez had seven starts against the AL East and held the opposition to a measly 0.63 ERA over 57.1 innings. He also had a 0.72 WHIP while striking out 58 batters. The bigger the game for Hernandez, the better the performance. Top that, CC and Phil. Compared to Felix, their lines of 3.41 ERA/1.20 WHIP/6.9 K/9 and 4.52/1.27/6.4 and they might as well be Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny in big games.

This year, Felix Hernandez was the man. He had little to play for in Seattle, yet he was tops in the league in almost every relevant category. He dominated the big boys in the AL East. If he had a good offense behind him, or even a competent one, we’d be talking about one of the best seasons ever by a starting pitcher.

It’s time to move on from win-loss records. You guys no better than that. Sure, it’s nice to say you won 20 games in a year, but it’s not as impressive if your team doesn’t have faith in you going into a big game. King Felix was the man this year. King Felix reigns supreme.

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