They nailed it. Felix Hernandez excelled this season in just about all pitching categories except one, the increasingly better-understood (or at least weighted) wins, which is reliant on a bit more than just what the starting pitcher does. Is this the year that will define the line in the sand between the winningest pitcher in the league and the best? Zack Greinke last year may have laid the foundation, but this year could be the vote that establishes precedent going forward. Five years ago, Sabathia may have won simply because he won 21 games. Not so this year.
In his favor, Felix had the worst offense behind him since the designated hitter was implemented. He had the worst run support
in the American League (and in all of baseball, for that matter) at just 3.75 runs per game. Delving further, check out the bottom of his 2010 game log
: Run sport in games started, showing an even lower 3.07 runs per 27 outs (I’m not sure what ESPN uses for run support average; perhaps per start or game, as I worded it). In 19 of his 34 starts, he was given three runs or fewer, including zero in four of them. Price received
5.30 runs per 27 outs, just nine of three runs or fewer and seven games of eight or more runs (Felix had just one). Sabathia got
5.89 runs of support for every 27 outs, had eight games of three or fewer runs and 10 of eight or more. In other words, Felix pitched as many games with three or fewer runs behind him than Price and Sabathia combined.
Despite the scoring on his side, Felix went ahead and threw 249 2/3 innings, completing six games and pacing the AL in WAR (6.0), ERA (2.27), hits per 9 innings (6.993), innings, starts, batters faced (1,001), and a slew of six sabermetric categories: adjusted pitching runs, adjusted pitching wins, base-out runs saved, win probability added, situational wins saved and base-out runs saved (they’re at the bottom of this leaders page
). I’m sure there’s a metric out there that could estimate Felix’s record had he had the run support of Price or Sabathia, and I’d love to see what those numbers are.
I know there are those who want to knock Felix for the unbalanced schedule, because he made 14 starts against AL West foes Anaheim, Oakland and Texas. Well, for one thing, all of those teams were better than Seattle. But he also went 7-4 against the Yankees, Twins, Rangers and Red Sox — three playoff teams and another formidable contender (he didn’t face Tampa Bay). He also went 2-1 against the Reds and Padres, an NL division winner and a contender that went to the final day of the season before being eliminated. That’s 9-5 against top competition.
Price went 5-3 against similar opponents (Atlanta, Boston, Minnesota, Texas and the Yankees) and Sabathia was 4-2 against Boston, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Texas. In fact, the pitcher among these three who benefited most from fattening up on weak competition was Sabathia — 12-3 against sub-.500 teams, including 10 of his 21 victories against the Orioles (5-1), Royals (2-0) and Mariners (3-0).
I’m still OK with wins as a stat — there’s a bit of a traditionalist in me — but they should only be a starting point, perhaps no more than the introduction to the book that is a pitcher’s season. What would have really been interesting was if Felix couldn’t get that last win in his final start of the season — by the way, he beat Texas, 3-1, with eight innings of one-run ball — and finished with a .500 record. I wonder if that would’ve had an impact on the voting.