BY John Hickey 11:43AM 11/18/2010

Felix takes home AL Cy Young Award

Writers don’t hold M’s offensive ineptness against his splendid season

Felix Hernandez's Cy Young win may alter postseason voting for years to come. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

Voting for baseball’s post-season awards may never be the same.

The decision of the voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to give the American League Cy Young Award to the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez was absolutely the correct decision.

Hernandez had 21 of the 28 first-place votes and 167 points in the voting, a comfortable winner over runner-up David Price of Tampa Bay (four first-place votes, 111 votes).

“I don’t have any words to explain how I feel,’’ Hernandez said from his home in Venezuela. “The first time I heard it, I started crying, my wife jumped on me, the whole family started jumping around the house.’’

There was talk of a Hernandez candidacy as early as the beginning of September, but he said he didn’t think about it then.

“It was after the season that I looked at my stats and what I did and said, `Wow,’ ’’ Hernandez said. “I finished second (in the Cy Young voting) last year, but I had a better year this year.’’

Having the award come to Seattle this year was unexpected at some level, given that Hernandez won just 13 times in 2010. No pitcher has won the Cy Young with so few victories to his name.

On the other hand, it’s possible that no pitcher has pitched so well for a team that hit so poorly.

While 13 wins is nothing special, everything else about Hernandez’s game was beyond special. The 24-year-old wound up leading the league in innings pitched (249.2), earned run average (2.27), quality starts (30) and opponents’ batting average (.212).

If you venture into the world of sabermetrics, a favorite haunt of BBWAA voters, Hernandez’s dominance was no less clear cut. He ranked first in WAR (wins above replacement) at 6.0, first in +WPA (win advancement) at 19.01 first in WPA (win probability added) at 5.12, first in adjusted pitching wins (4.7) and first in opponent OPS (.585).

The numbers can be numbing. But the only number that matters is this one: 14. The Mariner offense finished 14th out of 14 AL teams in batting average, runs scored, RBIs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

To say the Seattle hitters stunk up the joint up is too kind. It was the worst offensive production in Mariners history and one of the worst offenses in baseball memory. The second-poorest offense in the AL belonged to the Orioles, and Baltimore scored 100 more runs than the 513 put up by Seattle.

What that meant was that Hernandez was always pitching with the thought that giving up one run was giving up the run that would beat him. That’s a terrible burden for any pitcher, but Hernandez proved he wasn’t just any pitcher.

In almost half (15) of his 34 starts, he allowed one run or less in at least seven innings, the best such performance in the AL, and he had 13 starts in which he allowed one or zero runs while throwing eight or more innings.

What he didn’t do was win. So for voters putting a high premium on victories, the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia (21-7, who finished third), the Rays’ Price (19-6) and the Red Sox Jon Lester (19-9, who finished fourth), were better bets.

In the final month of the season, the argument raged among writers, those with a vote and those without. It was argued that winning was largely out of a pitcher’s control; it was luck of the draw whether he pitched for a team that scored sufficient runs. Sabathia had 7.31 runs scored on his behalf, Price 7.03 and Lester 6.88. Hernandez? Just 3.10 runs per game from the Mariner offense, which was below average even for a Seattle pitcher and ranked dead last in the league.

It was worse than that. In Hernandez’s 12 losses, the Mariners scored just seven runs when Hernandez was in the game. In 10 of his 34 starts they scored either one or zero runs, and 15 times it was two runs or less.

The question facing voters in this case was how much events out of the pitcher’s control factor into a pitching award.

It was an easy call for some, not so easy a call for others.

But from 2010 forward, it’s a good bet that Cy Young Award voting will never be quite the same.

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3


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