September 24, 2010 in Sports

Blanchette: Hernandez deserves Cy support

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Seattle Mariners have crammed 100 pounds of embarrassment – or nearly – into the 10-pound bag of the 2010 season, but one more crushing indignity awaits these pitiable slappies and the brain trust of general manager Jack Zduriencik, CEO Howard Lincoln and team barnacle Chuck Armstrong.

Felix Hernandez will win the American League Cy Young Award, or else he won’t.

He reaffirmed his front-running candidacy on Thursday in the most fitting way possible this M’s season – throwing a complete-game two-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays.

And losing, 1-0.

As a bonus, his likeliest foil, CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees, was tuned up by Tampa Bay a few hours later, providing Hernandez additional statistical cover, not that his case wasn’t already legit enough.

Now, you’d think Hernandez winning the Cy – along with Ichiro Suzuki’s remarkable 10th consecutive 200-hit season – would serve as modest relief to relentless Safeco dungstorm, and to be sure celebration will be in order should he win. But either way, additional light will be splashed on the Mariners’ pathetic ways. If Felix wins, it’s possible he’ll do it with a losing record for a last-place team that is on pace to drop 100 games, a vortex of unprecedented circumstance. If he doesn’t, it will be because of the epic failure of his teammates – and of management for assembling this Murmurers’ Row.

And while we’re on that subject, consider the lineup the Mariners marshaled in support of their King on Thursday: six players who played at least part of their seasons at Triple-A Tacoma. Two of those had never before batted in the big leagues. Regulars Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez were out with “flu symptoms.”

Really, guys? Flu symptoms?

The runny nose? Or the sore throat?

And which flu? It wouldn’t be the 26 Games Out Flu, would it?

You know what’s amazing? That Cal Ripken Jr. managed to go 2,632 games without “flu symptoms.”

If you haven’t been scoring at home – and probably you haven’t since May – Hernandez is the A.L. leader in earned-run average (2.31), innings pitched (241) and strikeouts (227), and second behind former teammate Cliff Lee in walks and hits per innings. There are a half dozen other designer statistical categories that he also leads, but let’s keep this at the remedial level.

But Hernandez’s won-lost record is 12-12. Sabathia is 20-7, and there are other contenders with substantially better records than Felix – and traditionally, wins are a major (and once upon a time were the primary) component of the voters’ criteria.

Stands to reason. Cy Young, after all, remains the winningest pitcher in baseball history.

But while baseball was juicing up on pills and needles a while back, its acolytes were juicing up on math, and different devices were discovered to measure a player’s worth and effectiveness – and to debunk the notion that the pitcher has sole control over his record, or even that a won-lost record is an indicator of much of anything.

Others have chewed up bandwidth spelling this out in greater detail, but the case of Hernandez vs. Sabathia comes down mostly to this: offensive support. When Sabathia pitches, the Yankees have scored an average of more than 7.5 runs per game; when Hernandez is pointed toward the mound, the M’s respond with half of that.

Or consider this: In Hernandez’s 12 losses, the Mariners have scored a total of 16 runs. Seven times Felix has failed to win when allowing two or fewer runs. Seven times he left either leading or with the score tied only to not figure into the decision thanks to the M’s bullpen. You know how some pitchers have a personal catcher? Felix has a personal spoiler in reliever Brandon League.

Simply put, Hernandez would be the runaway winner of an individual award – the most outstanding pitcher, not the “most valuable” – if not for his terrible teammates. Now, there is an argument that he hasn’t pitched in games as meaningful as Sabathia or others. But is there any pressure greater than going out every start knowing that giving up even one run is likely to be too much? And the fact is, Hernandez cut his ERA in half from the point when Lee, Seattle’s other ace, was traded away.

There comes a point where ineptitude is impossible to overcome. That was acknowledged a year ago when Kansas City’s Zach Greinke – on a 97-loss team – beat out Hernandez for the Cy. Now it will truly be tested.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for Hernandez is this:

He compiled all these gaudy numbers without getting to face the lineup of the Seattle Mariners.

Either when it was at full strength, or best by “flu symptoms.”

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