Felix Hernandez's Cy Young is a testament to his maturity — and the ability of voters to see beyond wins
Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez was awarded the American League Cy Young Award on Thursday, despite winning just 13 games.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Watching the growth of Felix Hernandez — on and off the field — since he arrived in Seattle as a cavalier 19-year-old has been rewarding.
It's called maturity, and at age 24, Hernandez is evolving admirably on all fronts, a man of both substance and stuff.
Hernandez's coronation as one of the game's premier pitchers (and there are those who would remove the qualifier "one of," but I'll hold off as long as Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum are still active) arrived Thursday, when he overwhelmingly won the American League's Cy Young Award.
Some would say the Baseball Writers' Association of America came of age Thursday, as well. No question this year's AL Cy Young vote was being viewed as a referendum to see if the head-in-the-sand dinosaurs of the BBWAA were ready to join the 21st century.
As a card-carrying tyrannosaurus — but one who tries to keep his head above ground — I fretted over the repercussions if CC Sabathia or David Price, with statistics inferior to Hernandez in virtually every aspect except victories, had pulled out the Cy Young.
The grudging acknowledgment of growth the BBWAA had earned last year for giving the Cys to Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum — with 16 and 15 wins, respectively — would have surely boomeranged.
But score one for progress, as Hernandez received 21 of the 28 first-place votes from two BBWAA members in each American League city (including, in the interests of full disclosure, myself. My five-person ballot read: 1, Hernandez; 2, Price; 3, Cliff Lee; 4, Jon Lester; 5, Sabathia).
You could make the argument (and some of my fellow voters did) that never mind victories; with the Mariners hopelessly out of contention virtually all season, Hernandez never had to pitch under the same pressure as did Sabathia and Price as their teams vied for the postseason.
But Felix had his own pressure to deal with — the likelihood that his team, game in and game out, would supply him virtually no run support. No need to quantify again the historic ineptitude of the Mariners' offense except to point out that Hernandez received a grand total of seven runs of support in his 12 losses.
In a national conference call Thursday, Hernandez was incredibly gracious. At the same time he told of his delirious, tearful joy upon receiving the call from BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell ("It was a great, great, great, great, amazing thing"), he absolved his offense of blame.
"They tried to do too much for me," he said. "I love my teammates."
But the fact remains, glaringly so, that Hernandez's lackluster record was purely a byproduct of the fact that his consistent magnificence was not backed up by enough runs to give him the deserved "W's".
It's not as if BBWAA members had a sabermetric enlightenment, as has been portrayed in some quarters. This wasn't about xFIP or WPA or WAR. Hernandez won largely on the strength of his more traditional numbers — ERA and innings pitched and strikeouts and quality starts and opponents' batting average.
But it still took a leap of illumination, as a body, to disregard Hernandez's 13-12 record and give him the Cy Young. No way that would have happened 50 years ago, or 20, or even five years ago. In 2005, Bartolo Colon, by most statistical measures, was outpitched by Johan Santana, and yet Santana lost the Cy Young to Colon largely because the Angels pitcher went 21-8 while Santana was 16-7.
Given a redo, with modern-day sensibilities, I think the BBWAA vote goes for Santana, just as they'd probably take Randy Johnson and his 16-14 record over Roger Clemens' 18-4 in 2004 if given a second crack at it.
Fortunately, all of us are more informed now, and did what I feel confident was the right thing. Hernandez now stands as a pioneer of sorts, a trailblazer for the no-longer radical concept of giving the Cy Young to the best pitcher, regardless of record.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.