Felix Hernandez Pitches Well, Loses

Jeff Sullivan · November 12, 2014 at 8:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I don’t know if I could love hockey more than I do, but just as I have issues with the way baseball is played, I also have issues with the other sport. Most especially — and this isn’t unique — I can’t stand the regular-season shootout. Everyone loves playoff hockey overtime, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that regular-season games have the potential to go on forever, but there should at least be more overtime, and there should never be a shootout. There should be a tie before a shootout. A shootout awards a point to a team for something other than how it plays hockey. It serves as a tiebreaker, but it’s a tiebreaker that has nothing to do with the game that was played to a tie in the first place. Feel like settling even baseball games with a home-run derby? It’s random. It’s nonsense. It’s exciting nonsense, but it’s nonsense.

If the AL Cy Young race were a hockey game, it was played to a shootout. Felix Hernandez’s team had 1, and Corey Kluber’s team had 1, and then they couldn’t break the tie, so they went to the designated tiebreaker. The tiebreaker didn’t reward the better team — it rewarded a team, where no better team stood out. Because this is America, hockey games aren’t allowed to end in ties. The Cy Young voting, in theory, can end in a tie, but that hasn’t happened for decades, so more realistically, someone had to win. Every ballot had a first place and a second place. The individual ballots can’t reflect how close a race this was. The overall ballots can, and did. Corey Kluber beat Felix Hernandez because someone was going to beat someone.

I was surprised. You were surprised. Felix and Kluber were surprised! We all kind of assumed. Some of us wrote about how Kluber probably wasn’t going to get enough support in the voting, given Felix’s first-half momentum and given Kluber’s relative anonymity. But see, the voters are also readers, and in addition to that, the voters aren’t idiots. They’re a lot smarter than they used to be. You don’t make votes based on momentum. You make votes based on the numbers you pull up in front of your eyes. Once people really took a look at Felix vs. Kluber, they were left thinking, welp, gotta pick one. The voting tally indicates it came down to little more than a coin flip.

It would be difficult to make up a closer race than the one that just concluded. The innings were the same. Neither pitcher got hurt. Felix pitched in a better environment with a better defense, but he also induced weaker balls in play. Felix seems to have gotten more help from his catchers. Some of that is because of Felix’s own command. Felix seems to have faced an ever so slightly more difficult schedule. It was that close. The gap was well within our own statistical error bars, and really, I don’t see a gap, anyway. I’ve looked at this off and on for months. The two pitchers were equally good. Which means there’s nothing to be upset about, except a justifiable loss that could’ve been a justifiable win.

There are people who feel like Felix should’ve won because he ripped off that 16-start streak. Valid — that was an incredible streak. He ran a 1.41 ERA. Kluber ran a 1.77 ERA over his last 18 starts. Why focus on fractions of a season? Other people feel like Felix blew it when he allowed eight runs to the Blue Jays in his penultimate game. I’m absolutely sure that did cost him, but all it meant was that voters would take a harder look at Kluber than they otherwise might’ve. Again, we’re left with the overall season performances. Had some things happened differently, the outcome would’ve been different. Felix had chances to cement his victory. If you want to stick with the hockey-game analogy, Felix’s team rung a few shots off the crossbar before time expired. He allowed this to get as far as a shootout, and then it was out of Felix’s hands. 50/50, like Yoervis Medina throwing a strike.

As always, this makes you wonder a little bit about the nature of rooting. We all like the Mariners, so we all like seeing the Mariners win awards. It’s like a little sugar rush. But the awards are to recognize outstanding performance. Felix not winning the Cy Young doesn’t do anything to retroactively change his performance. It doesn’t do anything to change his future projection. Maybe, this reduces Felix’s chances of making the Hall of Fame by like a tenth of one percent. And next year, when Felix gets introduced, he’ll get introduced a second or two faster, time that would’ve been filled by saying “your 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner”. But there’s a funny thing about that shorter introduction: the sooner it’s over, the sooner Felix gets to pitch. That’s what we actually care about. That’s why there’s always a huge group of people with signs and bright yellow t-shirts. Felix Hernandez, this past season, was arguably the best pitcher in his league. That’s because Felix Hernandez is arguably the best pitcher in his league.

It would’ve been nice for Felix to have the label. Not a whole lot of two-time Cy Young winners. We would’ve gotten a little rush, and Felix would’ve given an awesome press conference, with awesome quotes about how he’s awesome and how he thinks this city and this team are awesome. Would’ve been an evening of warm fuzzies. But we aren’t fans for the warm fuzzies in November — we’re still hoping for the warm fuzzies in October, and what happened today has not anything to do with what’ll happen in 11 months. Felix himself managed to say it best:

“[The Cy Young Award] means a lot,” Hernandez said. “But my goal is just to win the whole thing with this team right here, the Seattle Mariners. They deserve it, the fans deserve it. Individual stuff doesn’t matter, this is a team sport.”

Have I mentioned that the Mariners project to be one of the best teams in the American League? The competition is incomplete, but the Mariners are also incomplete, and they’re working to improve. You get today to be bummed about the award. Day’s almost over.


13 Responses to “Felix Hernandez Pitches Well, Loses”

  1. Dennisss on November 12th, 2014 9:07 pm

    For today, I am bummed. When it came down to a coin flip, we all figured the voters would choose Felix because he’s Felix. Sort of like if the champ and the challenger fight to a draw, the champ keeps the title. Sort of. Even Cleveland fans probably figured Felix would win. Instead, they chose Kluber, because what? Strong finish? I feel like Felix got robbed, but only just barely robbed.

    Felix had a great year regardless.

  2. Woodcutta on November 12th, 2014 9:13 pm

    It may have been close and Kluber winning didn’t “rob” Felix of this award but I wonder if Felix would have had that horrible start in April if the voting would have been different. If that is the case, then there are still issues with the voting for these awards.

  3. Shoeless Jose on November 12th, 2014 11:29 pm

    My little fantasy for hockey overtime is an additional 20 minute period, but with only the first five minutes played with five skaters. Then five minutes with four skaters. Then five minutes with three. Then the final five minutes with just two skaters. Think of it! The line changes would be nuts.(Of course if one of the teams wanted to pull the goalie to get an extra skater, they could, with all the usual risks).

    You’d almost certainly get a goal in that time, and it is a logical extension of one of the fundamental pillars of hockey (and of the things that makes it different from so many other sports): variable number of players on the ice. And if the powers that be insist on a shootout should the game still be tied, at least going to (effectively) just one skater is the natural last step in this progression.

  4. Westside guy on November 13th, 2014 12:08 am

    Felix is good enough – and, incredibly, still young enough – that I’m reasonably certain he’ll earn one or two more Cy Young awards before he’s through.

  5. Breadbaker on November 13th, 2014 12:45 am

    Felix had a season that was better than dozens of Cy Young seasons in the past. That Kluber had essentially the same season and his “narrative” somehow broke the tie for some sportswriters is not a big deal. If he had exactly the same season in 2015 I’d be happy.

  6. PackBob on November 13th, 2014 9:30 am

    On the one hand sabermetric-inclined fans tend to dismiss the awards. On the other hand, the awards become much more relevant when it’s “our” guy in the running. For me, Seager was the other side of the coin to Felix. I fully expected Donaldson to win.

    Kluber’s strong finish and Felix’s late dud probably did sway voting, but who is to say it shouldn’t? What is freshest in the mind takes precedence, and not only the playing baseball stuff.

    Sabermetrics has been riding a wave of more and more acceptance, and one of the results is taking a closer look at some of the more obscure data, like pitch framing and defense. Both were plusses for Kluber and both are rather murky in actual effect.

    The closest result to what transpired on the field would have been a tie and Kluber’s win is maybe more a win for sabermetrics.

  7. MKT on November 13th, 2014 11:35 am

    I’ve also thought that hockey and soccer should play overtime but with diminishing numbers of players. I think 5 minutes is too long for hockey though, because line changes will become difficult when the number of players gets small. Instead I’d suggest just playing say 2 minutes.

    With soccer instead of reducing by one man in overtime, I’d start with maybe 6-on-6 including the goalkeepers for five minutes, then 4-on-4 for five minutes and then 2-on-2. As with the hockey suggestion, teams could choose to pull their goalies if they wished.

  8. Sowulo on November 13th, 2014 6:16 pm

    2-on-2 soccer would be completely untenable. The field is much too large.

  9. Dennisss on November 13th, 2014 6:57 pm

    Felix Hernandez pitches well, people talk about hockey and soccer.

  10. Longgeorge1 on November 13th, 2014 10:42 pm

    At least it did not come down to a popularity contest. Sabermetrics is a good way to take emotion out of these prizes. I can’t say that I watched enough of Kluber to compare the two so what the hell.
    In the NL Kershaw swept the award voting, probably deservedly so, but in the post season MadBum showed stuff that hasn’t been in in the Series since Christy Matthewson in 1905, would the “eye” of a good scout predict that or is Bumgarner’s post season work something that just comes out. I know some people don’t believe in clutch and Madison will probably get lit up some time in the postseason just to “prove” that theory.
    Anyway Felix had a great year, I enjoyed every minute that I watched, Congratulations to Cory! He was at least as deserving as Felix.
    I love that baseball is getting past steroids and the talents of these great pitchers is showing through. GO M’s.

  11. heyoka on November 14th, 2014 7:52 am

    Look, Kluber needs bling. This was a charitable vote.

    Well intentioned but it may have cost Felix one more vote from his near unanimous induction into the Hall of Fame…..the Mariners’ Hall of Fame.

  12. EbenezerSeattle on November 14th, 2014 11:13 pm

    I was bummed as well, though I thought it so close that it could go either way. I do sense that Felix giving up eight runs to the Blue Jays on September 23 swayed a few voters, enough to swing the vote to Kluber. That was the day after Jeff’s Fangraphs post on the Cy Young, and it illustrated that the media was paying much more attention to the race between Hernandez and Kluber, and the reaction to Felix’s blowout was heightened.

    The media discussions on these awards is much smarter than it used to be, so that is a positive. I still get peeved thinking about the 1996 AL MVP, when Griffey (9.7 fWAR) and ARod (9.2 fWAR) were 1-2 in AL WAR, yet lost to Juan Gonzalez (3.5 fWAR), who was 34th among AL position players in WAR. Thanks, Jim Street and Bob Finnigan.

  13. djw on November 17th, 2014 7:09 am

    Kluber deserved it. It was a close call, but he produced a little more value. I’m impressed with the voters here.

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