Did Felix Hernandez get snubbed? You be the judge.

felix cy 3

Felix captured the Cy Young Award in 2010 despite a 13-12 record.

In 2010, Felix Hernandez was 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA. Nobody thought he could win the Cy Young Award with a 13-12 record. But the BWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) looked past the win loss record and realized that indeed Felix Hernandez was the best American League pitcher that year. It looked as though “The King” was in line to win his second Cy Young award after a phenomenal 2014 season. Instead Corey Kluber edged out Felix Hernandez with 17 out of the 30 first place votes. It seems as though the BWAA has once again looked at the award in a different way as it did back in 2010, this time from a sabermetrics and team defense stand point. Kluber had a great year but was it as good as Felix’s? You be the judge.

Let’s break this down from a statistical but non-sabermetric stand point.

Felix Hernandez                                 Corey Kluber

Season Totals                                     Season Totals
Record- 15-6 (8th)                              Record- 18-9 (1st)
ERA- 2.14 (1st)                                    ERA- 2.44 (3rd)
WHIP- .92 (1st)                                    WHIP- 1.09 (6th)
Innings Pitched- 236 (2nd)                Innings Pitched- 235.2 (3rd)
Strikeouts- 248 (4th)                          Strikeouts- 269 (2nd)
Opponent BA- .200 (1st)                    Opponent BA- .233 (7th)
Quality Starts- 27 (1st)                       Quality Starts- 26 (3rd)

In the more familiar statistics Felix beats Kluber pretty steadily down the line. The only thing Kluber beats Felix on is his win loss record as well as strikeouts. In 2010 we discovered that a pitcher’s win loss record really doesn’t play a big factor in winning the Cy Young Award. To me, a pitchers win loss record is one of the most overrated statistics in baseball. More times than not a pitcher has little control of his win loss record.

Now let’s break this down from a sabermetric stand point.

Felix Hernandez                                 Corey Kluber

WAR- 6.8 (2nd)                                   WAR- 7.4 (1st)               WAR= Wins above replacement
BABIP- .251 (2nd)                               BABIP- .306 (35th)        BABIP= Batted balls in play
FIP- 2.56 (2nd)                                    FIP- 2.35 (1st)                FIP= Fielding independent pitching

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber edged out Felix in sabermetric statistics.

It seems as though Kluber edges out Felix from a sabermetrics stand point. The tough thing about sabermetrics is that most baseball fans don’t know what the heck they are or what they mean! And I am sure that if you asked Corey Kluber or Felix Hernandez what FIP stands for they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Baseball is a crazy sport and the outcome of balls in play is dictated largely by the quality and/or arrangement of the defense behind the pitcher, and by a good deal of luck. A lot of sabremetrics experts say that BABIP (Batted Balls in Play) is a fairly poor statistic when measuring a pitcher’s success because after the baseball is thrown it is out of the pitchers hand what happens next. I tend to disagree because if the pitcher misses the barrel of the bat more often times than not, he will induce weak contact, which lead to easy outs. I would like to specifically point out the sabermetric statistic FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which takes into account only the things that a pitcher can control such as walks, home runs, hit batters. FIP came up over and over again when it came to Kluber supporters. So Kluber’s FIP is better than Felix’s so does that make him a front runner for the Cy Young? Let’s take you back to the year 2012, the year David Price won the AL Cy Young award.

2012 Season Statistics
David Price: 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 3.05 FIP
Felix Hernandez: 3.04, 1.14 WHIP, 2.84 FIP

Price led Felix when it came to the traditional measures of successful pitching, just like Felix was better in these categories than Kluber this year. But Felix Hernandez had the significant edge over Price when it came to Fielding Independent Pitching, the main reason given by supporters of Kluber winning this year.

So was Corey Kluber just an unlucky pitcher this year when it came to Batted Balls in Play? Maybe so. Or was it his defense? We’re talking about two of the leading groundball pitchers in the AL — Hernandez ranked second in that category, Kluber ninth. How is it, then, that Kluber allowed 37 more hits in a virtually identical number of innings? You could argue that defense was part of the reason. Was it the ballpark that Kluber pitched in? Felix pitched in a pitcher friendly Safeco Field where as Kluber pitched in a neutral field at Progressive Field. Hernandez’s Mariners were second in the majors in defensive efficiency, the rate at which batted balls in play are converted into outs. Kluber’s Indians were 25th. The disparity in defensive runs saved between the clubs was smaller — the Mariners were 19th, the Indians 30th — but however you measure it, the Indians were not good. The problem I have with these arguments is that they are assumptions. I can’t argue the fact that Safeco Field isn’t a pitcher friendly ballpark because it is but Progressive Field isn’t a small ballpark. As far as defense goes, you can’t assume that with a better defense that his numbers would be that much better. He could have been just as “unlucky” with batted balls in play with the Mariners defense as he was with the Indians. With better defensive positioning, who knows, it could have turned the Indians bad defense into a good one. Just ask baseball statistician Bill James about that.

A lot of Corey Kluber supporters have made the point of what a great 2nd half of the season he had. Also the discussions of how good he was in the month of September came up time and time again in the Cy Young talks. So, let’s compare the two pitchers in the 2nd half as well as in the month of September.

Felix Hernandez                                 Corey Kluber

2nd Half                                              2nd Half
Record- 4-4                                         Record- 9-3
ERA- 2.16                                             ERA- 1.73
WHIP- .94                                             WHIP- .96

September                                          September
Record- 2-1                                         Record- 5-1
ERA- 1.66                                             ERA- 2.09
WHIP- .95                                             WHIP- 1.07

Comparing both pitchers 2nd half and September numbers there is no real big difference here other than that Kluber has more wins than Felix. Kluber has a better record and ERA in the second half but Felix has a better WHIP. In the month of September Felix’s numbers were flat out dominant but once again Kluber had a better overall record. Kluber supporters made the argument that when it mattered the most (September baseball) Kluber was the best pitcher. This argument is false, the numbers don’t lie.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

All throughout the season Felix was consistent.

My question is this: what makes a start in September so much more valuable than a start in April? Yes, both pitchers were in a playoff race so every start was heavily weighted in September. But shouldn’t every start be treated as a must win or an important win? In my opinion starts in April are just as important as starts in September. Last time I checked this award wasn’t given to the pitcher who had the best 2nd half or September statistics. And even if it was, you could make the argument that Felix would win that award as well. So, let’s compare the first half numbers.

Felix Hernandez                                      Corey Kluber

1st Half                                                    1st Half
Record- 11-2                                            Record- 9-6
ERA- 2.12                                                 ERA- 3.01
WHIP- .90                                                 WHIP- 1.20

The obvious thing here is how much better Felix was than Kluber in the first half. But once again this award isn’t decided on who has the best first half numbers. The thing that stands out here between the first half, second half, and September numbers is Felix’s consistency. Felix was just as good in the first half as he was in the second half. Let’s not forget that one time that Felix set a major league record 16 straight starts of 7 innings pitched with 2 earned runs or less. A span from May 18th to August 22. Felix also had the best WHIP (.92) since the year 2000 when Pedro Martinez had one of the most dominating seasons off the mound in major league history.

There are so many different angles you can argue with this Cy Young award. Kluber had better strikeout numbers. Felix had a bad start at a crucial time in the season. Should the BWAA decide the Cy Young award? Should there be a basis of statistics on what determines the Cy Young award? The arguments are endless. I believe the best argument lies behind the cold hard facts of traditional statistics from the entire season. I don’t believe that sabermetric statistics should be a factor in the Cy Young Award until they are talked about more regularly amongst the general baseball population. Corey Kluber had a great season but in my mind Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in the American League in 2014 and deserved the Cy Young Award. He wasn’t just good in the second half or September he was good the entire year. The traditional numbers don’t lie.

-Jason Van Skike


Sources: Ken Rosenthal, James Silberman

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