Mariners ace Felix Hernandez not winning Cy Young Award is a stunner | Larry Stone
Baseball writers who voted against Felix Hernandez explain why. “I thought Kluber was better in September,” wrote Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star. “I thought Kluber had to overcome more to reach comparable numbers,” explained Dan Hayes of Chicago.
Seattle Times columnist
The 2014 season officially ended for Felix Hernandez on Wednesday with one last defeat he didn’t deserve.
The culprit this time wasn’t lack of run support, or a bullpen that coughed away a late lead. Instead, it was a complex and ambiguous vote that, by a slight margin, didn’t go his way.
Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, barely known in baseball circles when the season began, walked away with the American League’s Cy Young Award by 10 ballot points over Hernandez, who all season long seemed to have the hardware in his back pocket.
The result wasn’t a travesty or a sham, as some disgruntled Mariners fans were saying on social media. There was a case to be made for Kluber, and many of my sportswriting colleagues in the Baseball Writers Association of America made it eloquently, as I’ll display later in this column. There was an ultrathin margin between two seasons of magnificent accomplishment.
I just felt the case for Hernandez was better. Frankly, I was stunned that Hernandez, with his reputation, his body of work, and his midseason stretch of 16 straight starts, from May to August, of seven-plus innings and two or fewer runs, didn’t win the day over the relatively anonymous Kluber.
That sentiment was shared by Kluber, who told reporters, “I wasn’t expecting it. I definitely thought Felix was going to win. He had such a great year. I guess I just assumed who he is and how good a year he had, and all that kind of stuff, would get him more votes.”
Moments after the announcement on MLB Network, Hernandez sat at the podium in the Safeco Field interview room, gamely answering questions. The shock, however, was written on his face as his young son, Jeremy, playfully held a recorder in front of him.
“I don’t know what to say. That was tough,’’ Hernandez said.
Felix, being Felix, was gracious in defeat, as he always is — even after the agonizing ones. He praised Kluber and vowed to work “harder, harder and harder” next year. The event was supposed to be a coronation. Instead, it was more like an autopsy.
The Cy Young result will be debated, parsed and second-guessed all winter, ripped in some quarters and hailed in others. I reached out to several voters — the BBWAA electorate is two writers from each American League city, so 30 in all — who had opted for Kluber over Hernandez.
All those who responded presented cogent, well-reasoned arguments, which made it clear that several factors weighed against Hernandez: Kluber’s strong September, in which he went 5-1, juxtaposed against Hernandez’s critical loss in Toronto on Sept. 23 in a game the Mariners desperately needed; the Mariners’ defensive advantage over Cleveland, along with a more favorable home ballpark for pitchers, making Kluber’s statistics more impressive in their eyes; and various sabermetric statistics that pointed in Kluber’s favor.
Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star said it was the closest vote he’d cast in eight years of doing BBWAA ballots.
“The separator for me this year was in the finish, and that they had such similar numbers with Hernandez pitching in front of what I believe to be a better defense and in a better ballpark for pitchers,’’ Mellinger wrote in an email. “I thought Kluber was better in September, and I know that all games count the same, but both teams were in the race. With two pitchers so similar in production, those types of things take on more consideration.”
Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News said in an email, “Felix had the advantages of working home games in a pitcher’s park and was backed by a good defensive team. After watching Cleveland kick around the ball, I’m surprised Kluber ever got an out.
“Kluber was good in the second half and very good in September, when the Indians were pushing for a playoff spot. Maybe I made too much of one game, but Felix’s performance in the late-September start at Toronto when his team really needed him to come up big worked against him for me. Felix is a tremendous pitcher. I put him second. I just felt that Kluber was a bit better.”
Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com said, “It was a very hard choice. Felt like it was a toss-up between two great candidates. In the end, Kluber’s strong finish along with a great FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) gave him the edge to me. Having seen Cleveland’s defense all season along with the difference in home parks, I thought Kluber had to overcome more to reach comparable numbers.”
Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle said it was a particularly tough decision for him in light of his front-row seat to Hernandez’s exploits while covering an AL West team.
“The only way to summarize it without much length: Of two pitchers who were in a class by themselves in the AL, I felt Kluber was slightly more dominant,” he said. “He had 11 games where he struck out at least 10, while Hernandez had six. Acknowledging how good a case both pitchers have and the importance of sustained overall success throughout a season — which both achieved — if I had one game to win in 2014, I would have chosen Kluber.
“I think the numbers support the choice: FIP, K/9, yes, even WAR (Wins Above Replacement). I do think that Safeco Field’s pitcher’s park reputation plays a little unfairly for Hernandez, setting up a standard that can be difficult to reach. The stadium difference was not the sole factor for me, and I understand the sentiment of, ‘Look at that ERA, what more could he do?’ It wasn’t easy.”
Not at all. To my mind, the totality of Hernandez’s dominance gave him the nod. Oh, in six starts in September, Hernandez had a 1.66 earned-run average (helped by a scoring change from the Toronto game that took away four earned runs; Kluber’s ERA in six September starts was 2.09), so it’s not like he disintegrated under pressure. It’s a shame if one clunker of an outing cost Hernandez the award, especially since he came back to pitch brilliant one-hit shutout ball over 51/3 innings in the season finale — a game that could have tied the Mariners for a playoff spot if Oakland lost.
The Mariners missed the playoffs by one victory, and Hernandez missed the Cy Young by a mere two votes that had him second instead of first.
Hernandez had finished second once before in the Cy Young voting, in 2009. This one was harder, harder and harder to take.
|Felix vs. Kluber|
|The Mariners’ Felix Hernandez garnered 13 first-place votes in the 2014 AL Cy Young award voting, while Cleveland’s Corey Kluber had 17 first-place votes.|
|Cy Young points||159||169|
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.