The King’s Court was in session over the weekend, and although the Mariners succumbed to the recently fumbling, bumbling Oakland A’s in extra innings Saturday night (attribute the loss to Fernando Rodney doing Fernando Rodney things) Felix Hernandez was once again excellent. In 7 innings, Felix gave up two runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking none -- a Quality Start line which we have become accustomed to seeing from the King.
With all due respect to Corey Kluber and Chris Sale (who my colleague Neil Weinberg made the case for earlier today) Felix Hernandez has been the best pitcher in the American League and should win the Cy Young award regardless of whether or not the Seattle Mariners make the playoffs.
It is impossible to dispute that Felix Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this year, so before diving into Hernandez’s performance, it’s worth taking a step back and look at how often he has pitched. Every inning Felix pitches is an inning a lesser Seattle pitcher is not on the hill. Felix is second in the AL in innings pitched, having thrown 219; he only trails David Price, who has thrown 7 additional innings (albeit less effective innings). The King has started 31 games, accounting for 20% of the Mariners total and accounts for 17% of the M’s total innings. Alternatively, Corey Kluber has accounted for 16% of the Indians’ innings and Chris Sale has tossed 12% of the White Sox’ total innings, after having missed time earlier in the year when he was on the disabled list.
There is significant value in a team receiving additional above-average innings from a starting pitcher, as it saves wear-and-tear on the bullpen, particularly late in the season. This trickle-down effect impacts a team on the periphery, but is an added bonus when employing a starter like Felix.
With a 2.14 ERA, Hernandez is second in the AL only to Sale who’s ERA sits at 1.99 -- both quite a bit better than Kluber, who is third-best with a 2.45 ERA. Although the Mariners play their home games in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field, two of their divisional rivals, the Angels and A's, are first and third (respectively) in the American League in runs scored, so to present a more objective case, it would be most accurate to use the park and league adjusted stat ERA-. Hernandez’s 57 ERA- tells us his adjusted ERA is 43% better than league average. Only Chris Sale’s 50 ERA- is better in the American League, but again, Sale has pitched in 56 fewer innings.
Yes, Felix has dominated by the ERA and ERA- metrics, but he also is at the top of the leaderboards in FIP and FIP-. When diving into strikeouts, walks, and home runs, factors almost entirely in a pitcher’s control, it is not difficult to see why Felix has been so effective. By Field Independent Pitching (FIP), Felix is tied for third-best with Garrett Richards at 2.59, only trailing Sale (2.45) and Kluber (2.55) in the AL. Using the park and league adjusted metric FIP-, Felix’s field independent numbers show him with a FIP 30% better than league average, compared to Kluber’s 31% and Sale’s 37% (Phil Hughes is tied with Kluber at 69).
Behind the Field Independent Pitching numbers are stellar strikeout and walk rates. The King posses a 9.25 K/9, averaging more than one strikeout per inning, and a 1.68 BB/9. His strikeout rate is fifth-best in the AL, at 26.6% and his walk rate is eighth-best, at 4.9%. Combining the two, and looking at K-BB%, Felix is at 21.8%, good enough for third-best in the AL behind only Sale and David Price. Although Hernandez’s 15 home runs looks like a lot independent of other numbers, when put into the context of how many innings he’s pitched, it is good for seventh-best in the American League. With a 0.62 HR/9, he is basically even with Sale’s 0.61, and only slightly behind Kluber’s .59.
Everything you need to know about Felix’s excellent year can be summed up by looking at his record setting streak from earlier this season. From May 18 to August 16, Hernandez went at least seven innings and gave up two runs or fewer in 16 consecutive starts. While this is admittedly using arbitrary end-points, it speaks to the utter and complete dominance by one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. During this time, Hernandez pitched 121 innings, giving up 19 earned runs for a paltry 1.41 ERA. In these three months -- in which he did not miss a start -The King gave up only 69 hits, striking out 134 and walking only 20.
Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Phil Hughes and Jon Lester have had fantastic years, but when accounting for a full body of work, no one can hold a candle to the King. He is at the top of the leaderboard in strikeout rate, walk rate, earned run average and field independent pitching. He has limited home runs, and had a stretch of three months where he absolutely destroyed opposing hitters. Combine all of this with the durability and amount of innings thrown, including far more innings than one of his closest Cy Young threats, Chris Sale, and it’s clear Felix Hernandez should be the 2014 Cy Young Award winner.
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Steven Martano is a writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.