Through his age-28 season, King Felix was a pretty good bet for the Hall of Fame. He was coming off a Cy Young runner-up season in which he could have pretty easily won the hardware. He already had one Cy Young along with two runner-up finishes and was a five-time All-Star in nine full seasons. His top statistical similar through age 28? Greg Maddux. Seriously. Don Sutton and Steve Carlton were also in his top five.
The following season, 2015, Hernandez won 18 games, but everywhere else there were bad signs. Look at some of the rate stat declines:
The ERA+ also dropped from a stellar 170 to a slightly-above-average 108. The 18-9 record masked the drastic decline that happened in just one season.
The decline continued. He put up a marginal season in 2016 before an injury-riddled 2017 and a disaster of a 2018. Last year, he was 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA and his time in Seattle had come to an end.
What was once a career that resembled one of the best ever through age 28 now is most statistically similar to Cole Hamels, Kevin Appier and John Lackey. All very good pitchers, but not Hall of Famers. The top match through age-33 is Frank Viola.
As things stand, Hernandez is 169-136 with a 3.42 ERA, 117 ERA+, 1.21 WHIP and 2,524 strikeouts and 2,729 2/3 innings.
In terms of JAWS, there's plenty of work left to do. Hernandez is 109th among starting pitchers. He's in the ballpark of Roy Oswalt, Jerry Koosman, Jim Kaat and Viola. Even if he was to be considered as a peak candidate, he "only" has the one Cy Young and sits 108th in WAR7 (the top seven WAR seasons).
There also is zero postseason experience to boost his candidacy.
Quite clearly, Felix is short and there really isn't much debating it.
He needs a career renaissance. Let's say Hernandez finds a way to get to 200 wins (he's 31 away) and 3,000 strikeouts (476 away). He'd have to put together several very good seasons in order to do that. In the process, he'd very likely put up good rate stats and boost his standing in WAR and JAWS.
Now on the opposite coast with the Braves, perhaps Hernandez needed a change of scenery and that's what will make it happen?
Spring stats don't matter the overwhelming majority of the time. Sometimes, though, we need to see something. Hernandez looked good before the season was suspended. He was pitching to a 1.98 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. Solid.
The lost time could cost him, though. Hernandez is now 34 and his arm has seen better days. He debuted with a 98+ mph fastball and last season it averaged 90.43 mph. Maybe the time off helps him stave off the inevitable, but he's also losing valuable time to tack on to his Hall case.
Or maybe Felix really is done and he was only going to make matters worse in 2020. The projection systems are not bullish in the least at him being a major contributor for the Braves in 2020 and that will diminish by year unless he comes through with a Comeback Player of the Year type effort.
We can't be sure just yet. The one thing we do know is what once looked like a pretty good chance at a Hall of Fame case now looks like it is decidedly not a case.