Felix Hernandez Pitches Well, Loses
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.