Felix Hernandez has been steadily dominant for long enough now that most baseball fans have become accustomed to it. However, if you took a quick look at his win/loss record the last few seasons, you’d never know it. In his brilliant Cy Young campaign in 2010, Felix put up an underwhelming 13-12 record. He followed this by posting a 14-14 record the next year and a 13-9 mark in 2012. Solid numbers to be sure, but certainly nothing spectacular. This year, he’s closing in on September with a 12-6 mark.
You can probably tell where I’m going with this. Felix’s record has essentially nothing to do with how well he’s pitched. In spite of his unimpressive win total, the guy has been filthy. It’s become increasingly apparent that wins aren’t a good barometer of how affective a pitcher is, but I don’t think there’s a pitcher in the game right now that’s a better illustration of this than Felix (Clayton Kershaw fans, your objections are noted).
As we’ve come to realize about wins, they are almost entirely dependent on the performance of your teammates. A pitcher can throw a 9-inning shutout but if his teammates don’t score any runs, then he can be credited with a no-decision or even loss despite the fact that he pitched brilliantly. And, of course, by the same token, you could give up 6 runs over 5 innings but if your team goes off and scores 14 runs, then you could still be credited with a “win” even though you didn’t pitch well at all. Simple stuff and it is starting to become more widely accepted. In addition to Felix, Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum have both bagged Cy Youngs in the last few years without having amazing win totals.
The value of run-support can be seen in many of the elite pitchers throughout the league. Guys like Kershaw (the probable NL Cy Young winner this season), Chris Sale and Kris Medlen are all putting up great years but can’t get any love from their offenses. In 2010—the year he won the Cy Young—Felix had the lowest run support of any pitcher in the entire majors. In fact, the 2010 Mariners offense was historically futile, netting a grand total of 513 runs, the fewest amount of runs that any AL team has scored over the course of a full season since the infusion of the DH in 1973.
Detroit All-Star Max Scherzer is an example of a pitcher who is having a great season that has also translated into a great record. The Tigers righty currently sports an eye-popping 18-1 record, good for a resounding .947 win-percentage. I thought it might be interesting to compare the current numbers of Scherzer and Felix to date just to see if there was any sort of discrepancy.
Doing this comparison made me realize that Scherzer really is having a great year. His numbers stack up very favorably against Felix and most of the other top-flight pitchers in the league. The 0.89 WHIP is phenomenal. However, Scherzer is being backed up by one of the most lethal line-ups in the league. No offense to the Mariners, but Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are marginally better options than just about anyone the Mariners trot out on a daily basis, save for maybe Kyle Seager. By the way, has anyone been paying attention to the year Cabrera has been having? The guy is swinging almost .360 with 40 homers with like 40 games left. Ridiculous. My 64 year-old banjo playing uncle could probably get at least 4 wins if he was pitching with Miguel Cabrera in his line-up. And trust me, he is nowhere near major league caliber.
At this point, it’s looking like Scherzer and Kershaw will be taking home the Cy Youngs this season and I can’t argue with that. Kershaw, appropriately enough, has been the undisputed best pitcher in the league despite rocking a relatively pedestrian 12-7 record. Once again, a solid mark but underwhelming compared to Scherzer’s ballistic 18-1. But check out the rest of his numbers. Kershaw has a 1.80 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 190.1 innings. His WHIP is 0.85. Really good stuff this year from the Dodgers southpaw.
As I said, recent years have seen Cy Young voters drift away from the “win” as an all-important stat. Obviously, I think this is a good thing. It shows voters are becoming more analytic and looking at the whole picture instead of taking the W as a face-value stat. We can only hope that Felix won’t be denied any hardware because of his inept line-up.