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Felix gets his Cy due, thanks to slowly changing outlooks


Let's call this what it is: simply the most game-changing awards vote yet.

Should a starting pitcher with a mere 13 victories dare be placed on the Cy Young pedestal alongside Roy Halladay (21-10 this year), Cliff Lee (22-3 for Cleveland in 2008), John Smoltz (24-8 for Atlanta in 1996), Steve Carlton (27-10 for Philadelphia in 1972) and other past winners who, well, regularly won?

The big question here in digesting Felix Hernandez's controversial AL Cy Young Award victory Thursday is whether this portends an entirely new era.

Whether the "sabermetric" zealots, with their "new-fangled" WAR-y numbers "crunching," have successfully stormed the castle with their "pointy heads" and "hard drives" -- ah, stereotypes -- or whether the "old guard" writers who tabulate "traditional" statistics with their No. 2 "pencils" while wearing shirts stained of "mustard" will succeed in protecting some measure of the game's "history" (or "dignity", your choice).

It's all a bunch of crap.

Whether you're new school, old school or Montessori school, Hernandez deserves this award because of a set of circumstances vastly different from the norm.

Yes, his paltry 13 wins ranked 18th -- 18th!! -- in the AL.

Most years this happens, show me a Cy Young winner who ranks 18th in wins and I'll show you an electorate that should be stripped of its voting privileges.

But this isn't most years.

Hernandez's Mariners were Biblically awful with the bats. Think Noah's Ark during the flood, and fired manager Don Wakamatsu didn't even have two of every animal. They scored just 513 runs -- 100 fewer than anybody else in the AL. That isn't baseball, that's cricket.

AL Cy Young
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Meantime, Hernandez led the league in ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249 2/3), opponents' batting average (.212) and games started (34). He ranked second in strikeouts (232) and would have led the league there, too, with two more.

"I was never like, 'I should get it,'" Hernandez said on a conference call Thursday. "But I think I deserve it."

As for what he didn't do, the raging debate du jour regarding starting pitchers is wins and whether they're overvalued by the old guard of baseball writers.

Probably to some extent, the answer is yes. Because as the game has evolved and bullpens have been deployed differently since the 1980s, starters don't hang around long enough anymore to earn as many decisions as they once did. Today, by the seventh or eighth inning, the outcome of games is in the hands of the relievers.

Should this diminish CC Sabathia's 21-7 season? Heck no. If you're going to argue on the one hand that the importance of individual wins is overvalued given the game's evolution, the other side of it is that starters who stay in games, rack up innings pitched, give the bullpen a night off and earn their own Ws are more valuable than ever -- simply because there are fewer than ever of this breed.

Of course, Hernandez had the wins last year -- 19 -- but finished second in Cy Young voting to Greinke.

"It hurt me a little when I didn't win the Cy Young last year," admitted Hernandez, whose ERA was slightly worse than Greinke's a year ago (2.49 against 2.16) but whose workload was slightly greater (238 2/3 innings pitched against 229 1/3).

MLB Awards Season
AL Cy Young voting
Hernandez, SEA212311167
Price, TB41571-111
Sabathia, NYY3101221102
Lester, BOS--191233
Weaver, LAA-126224
Buchholz, BOS--25420
Lee, SEA/TEX--1116
Soriano, TB---135
Cahill, OAK---124
Soria, KC---1-2
Liriano, MIN----11
Verlander, DET----11

In categories across the board this season, Hernandez simply was the most dominant pitcher in the league.

Hernandez and Sabathia each made 34 starts. The Mariners scored four or more runs for Hernandez in seven starts. The Yankees scored four or more for Sabathia in 26.

True, Hernandez was pitching for a club that essentially was out of the race by Mother's Day. And true, Sabathia (who finished third in the voting) and Tampa Bay's David Price (second) were pitching in the beastly AL East.

But Hernandez also was 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA in three starts against the Yankees. And 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in one start against the Red Sox. And 0-1 with a 1.13 ERA against the hard-hitting Blue Jays (that lack of run support, again).

Hernandez was 6-7 after the All-Star break ... with a 1.53 ERA. Wins should never be completely devalued. But context is critical.

As Sabathia told the New York Daily News in late September, he'd vote for Hernandez.

"Just watching him pitch the other day against us -- against this lineup -- and to throw a complete game and get a win?" Sabathia said. "That's the best pitcher in the league to me."

To a lot of people.

Yes, in a perfect hardball world, you would like to see a higher wins total. Even last year, when Kansas City's Zack Greinke won the Cy Young with just 16 wins, he ranked seventh in the AL.

That Hernandez ranked 18th is hard to digest.

Then again, the pathetic Mariners offense was even harder to digest.

This isn't a matter of sabermetrics vs. traditional stats, much as some might want to frame it that way. If anything, that Hernandez was named first on 21 of the 28 ballots cast (two writers per AL city) shows that maybe these two supposed "sides" have moved far closer together in their thinking than either would have you believe.

This year, win total aside, Felix truly was "The King."

Times change. Thinking changes.

I mean, the music of the Beatles is now available on iTunes? Anything is in play.


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