Over the last few of weeks, we've offered introductions to our Best Players of 2015 series. We set the stage for the whole endeavor, and we then revealed the players who landed between 45th and 11th on the list. If you need a refresher on the methodology, nine of our writers ranked players based on how well they thought players would perform during the 2015 season. They ordered them from No. 1 to No. 20, and those players got point values (20 for first, 19 for second, etc) and were ranked by the sum of their points. The highest possible score is 180. We're already told you Anthony Rendon ranked 10th, Jose Bautista finished ninth, Miguel Cabrera landed at eighth, Josh Donaldson ended up seventh, and Buster Posey was sixth.
No. 5: Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher (Seattle Mariners)
Joe Nicholson/USA Today
The King is holding court. There's no right-handed pitcher in baseball that our staff trusts more for the upcoming season, and it's not hard to see why. Sure, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer are great, but Felix Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the sport for basically a decade. Somehow, he's only going to be 29 this year.
There are a number of pitchers who could perform better than Felix this year, but the reason he's so high on our list is that the odds are pretty low that a bunch of pitchers will be better than him next year. Maybe Chris Sale will be better. Maybe Kluber. Maybe Kershaw. Probably Kershaw. But the odds that Felix winds up as the tenth best pitcher seem very small.
He won't be King forever, but he ought to be for a little while longer.
Why We Love Him
Felix's major flaw is that he plays in Seattle, which means you're always very tired on the days after one of his starts. He's a dynamic personality with an amazing repertoire. He's durable and consistent. He's had a park adjusted ERA worse than average once in his career. He's never had a below average park adjusted FIP or xFIP. And obviously, he's much better than average most of the time.
He doesn't throw as hard as he did coming up, but his superhuman changeup and very good breaking balls make that almost moot. Nothing's a guarantee, but the Hall of Fame is very much in his future if things go just reasonably well over the next couple of years. And it's not a stretch to say 2014 was his best year. He got better at 28. If he gets better at 29, watch out.
To know one's surprise, the projection systems love Felix. Steamer has him at 5.0 WAR in 212 IP. ZiPS has him at 5.4 WAR in 218 IP. PECOTA is the downer of the group, expecting Felix to tumble all the way to 4.3 WARP in 233.2 IP.
In other words, the only thing keeping Felix from an All-Star caliber season is an injury of some nature.
Where He Fits In
Felix was comfortably ahead of Posey in our rankings with 104 points to Posey's 95. He was the top right-handed pitcher, comfortably edging twelfth ranked Kluber who had 54 points. There's a big gap between Felix and the player who ranks fourth, however.
Hernandez is also the first player we've unveiled who was named on all nine ballots. The top four received the same honor, but no one below Felix on the list won over every single voter. He spanned the list, finishing 19th (Bryan Grosnick) and fourth (Chris Teeter).
He was a good dividing line, in my book. It is clear to me that the players who finished one through four are the best four players in the game, and Felix belongs right behind them as a player who will likely not be the best player in the game but will almost certainly be close behind. His consistency amid such a chaotic game is what has our attention.