On August 31, Felix Hernandez was a candidate for the AL Cy Young Award.
On September 14, he is not.
Granted, my information comes from a heartbroken Twitter feed, not the exclusive insider access of a sports blogger, but the general consensus appears to be an accurate one: September has not been kind to the King of Seattle.
At first glance, the difference between Felix’s production in August and September is alarming. Over his past three starts, he shouldered 30 hits, 18 runs, 4 walks, and 15 strikeouts in 16 IP and 80 batters. By comparison, August saw 19 hits, 6 runs, 5 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 41.2 IP and 146 batters.
Between the two months, we’ve seen the best and worst of Felix: a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays and a 10-hit, 7-run shelling by the Toronto Blue Jays. Perhaps a month with three complete game shutouts and a perfecto is unsustainable. Perhaps the blame rests on 3.75 runs of support from a non-contending team. Perhaps something more fundamental is troubling him.
Despite his fall from Baseball Heaven, Hernandez continues to cling near the top of the AL leaderboards. He places first in total innings pitched (212.2), shutouts (5), FIP (2.96), and tERA (3.47). In strikeouts (199), WAR (5.5, via FanGraphs), xFIP (3.28), and SIERA (3.26), he ranks among the top five AL pitchers.
This hasn’t been a banner month for Felix, but his contributions over the season have been record-breaking. According to the Mariners’ thoughtfully compiled “Felix Facts,” he is the first Mariner with five shutouts in a single season, three 1-0 shutouts in a single month, and a perfect game. While his September meltdown has been cringe-worthy, it’s not exactly yanking him out of the Cy Young race just yet.
Further reassurance is found in his 2010 Cy Young Award nomination, when the BBWAA decided to lend more credence to pitcher performance and less to the anemic offense behind it. In his final three starts of 2010, Felix amassed 30 hits, 16 runs, 2 walks, and 11 strikeouts in 16.1 IP and 78 batters. Sound familiar? Here are a few more similarities:
I’ll be the first to admit that Felix has earned a shaky start or two. What he hasn’t earned, with eleven one-run outings, five shutouts, an AL Pitcher of the Month award, and a perfect game, is our doubt.