Felix Hernandez finally gets respect as best starter in baseball

December 1, 2010 No Comments »
Felix Hernandez finally gets respect as best starter in baseball

Much was made about Felix Hernandez’s 13-12 won/loss record leading up to the announcement of the 2010 A.L. Cy Young Award winner. Many felt King Felix might not get the honor since it would be the first time w recipient got the award with so few victories. But Hernandez ran away with the honor and rightfully so. This is one time that the baseball writers got it right. Hernandez has been baseball’s best starting pitcher for the last two seasons, and it hasn’t even been that close.

A starter can really only do one thing – pitch well enough to keep his team in position to win the game. I know in the National League they can swing the bat, but let’s not quibble over that. Most pitchers hit more like your Grandma Ruth than Babe Ruth. Fielding can also play a factor, as can the ability to keep runners close on base. Some pitchers really shine in those areas, but for the purpose of this discussion on the best starting pitchers, let’s stick to PITCHING.

For the last two seasons, 2009-2010, Felix Hernandez has been the best starting pitcher in the game, period. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting in 2009, when Kansas City’s Zack Grinke earned the honor on the strength of a phenomenal first three months of the season. But King Felix wasn’t far off.

A Quality Start is when a starting pitcher throws at least six innings and also allows three earned runs or less. It’s not a perfect measure of a starting pitcher, but when a hurler logs a Quality Start he’s put his team in a good spot to win. A look at the numbers reveals that Hernandez has been stellar at doing that over the last two seasons. The righty has tossed 59 quality starts in 68 overall games started. The next closest pitcher to that figure is Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals, with 50. Hernandez’s challengers as the best pitcher in the AL are far behind him in QS over the past two years. Greinke and C.C. Sabathia each have 47, while Detroit’s Justin Verlander has 44. Roy Halladay, who pitched for Toronto in 2009 and Philly last year, also has 47 QS.

The top 12 in Quality Starts for 2009-1010 are:

  1. Felix Hernandez            59
  2. Adam Wainwright         50
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez             49
  4. Tim Lincecum                 48
  5. Cris Carpenter                47
  6. Roy Halladay                  47
  7. Zack Greinke                  47
  8. Jered Weaver                47
  9. C.C. Sabathia                  47
  10. Josh Johnson                46
  11. Wandy Rodriguez        46
  12. Dan Haren                      46

No one is even close to Hernandez, and it’s not simply a one year dominance. In 2010 he started 34 games and logged 30 QS. In ’09 he had 29 QS in 34 starts. Amazingly, in 2010 he had 20 Quality Starts in his last 21 starts of the season.

One has to go back a long time to find any starting pitcher who accumulated as many as 59 quality starts in a two-year stretch. In 1992-1993, Greg Maddux put up 59 QS in 71 starts, three more starts than Felix had. Not since the era of the four-man rotation has a pitcher made more than Felix’s 59 quality starts in consecutive seasons, and it took a Hall of Famer to do it. In 1974-1975, Catfish Hunter made 60 quality starts for Oakland, but it took him 80 starts to do so, a 75% ratio. The last two years, Hernandez’s quality start percentage is  86.7%.

It wasn’t Hernandez’s fault that his Seattle teammates couldn’t scratch across more runs for him in 2010, in fact the 13 wins are quite impressive considering how abysmal the M’s were. Nothing should diminish Hernandez’s amazing performance over the last two seasons, and since he’ll only be 25 years old in 2011, much more is to come from baseball’s best starting pitcher.

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