Felix Hernandez Has Been Even Better Than You Think
By JJ Keller
It’s no secret that the Mariners’ own Felix Hernandez has been dominant this season. It is officially undebatable that he is one of the very best hurlers in baseball, has been for years now, and at just 28 years old, figures to be for most, if not all, of his remaining contract with Seattle.
To this point in the year though, The King has been almost unbelievably good, even by his standards, which includes a career 3.10 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and the 2010 AL Cy Young.
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He currently owns a 1.99 ERA, 2.06 FIP, 2.39 xFIP, 5.5 fWAR and 5.1 rWAR. The first three are career bests, and the WARs project to be also. All but the ERA lead the AL — that pesky Chris Sale and his 1.88 ERA in almost 50 fewer innings ruin the clean sweep — and only Clayton Kershaw bests him in such categories as ERA, FIP and xFIP. This is a Felix post, but let’s just take a second to appreciate how good Kershaw is. It is insane.
Despite not taking the sweep, Felix does have the edge in innings, as Sale and Kershaw both missed time due to injury, and only have 110 and 112.1 IP respectively, while The King is 2nd in baseball at 158.1. He has managed to dominate just as much, and for longer, which only adds to his case.
On top of the raw numbers, Felix just tied Tom Seaver‘s 1971 streak of thirteen straight starts with at least 7 innings pitched while giving up 2 runs or fewer. He just has not had a bad start in a long time, seemingly since his rough patch earlier in the year when he was apparently battling some kind of illness.
In those four outings from 4/26 until 5/12, Felix pitched just 24 innings, allowing 14 runs, 12 of them earned, while striking out 6.38 and walking 3 per nine innings.
But since that time, something has clicked, and Felix has been better than ever. From his start on May 18th to his most recent outing, Felix has gone 99 innings with a 1.36 ERA, 1.77 FIP, and 2.09 xFIP. It’s pretty clear that apart from those four outliers, Felix has been as good as anyone, both this year, and maybe all time.
To illustrate that, here are Felix’s numbers if we disregard the rough patch:
[table id=26 /]
The ERA would lead the league, and the improvements in K/9 and BB/9 would make his FIP even better, and probably right there with Clayton Kershaw, while still having the edge in innings. So while it isn’t fair to just take away bad starts from one guy and not the others, an argument could be made to do so when comparing him to guys with so few innings.
If all that isn’t enough. Pitch F/X rates his change-up as the best of it’s kind, and one of the better pitches overall at 12.3 runs above average.
Long story short, we all know Felix is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, most likely second only to Kershaw. But I don’t know if everyone fully understands just how dominant he has been this year. That 1.54 ERA that we get when removing the anomalous patch would be the 39th best single season ERA of all time.
His pace of 8 fWAR over 230 innings — which doesn’t even require us to cherry pick out bad starts — would be somewhere around 120th all-time, 60th since 1950, and Top 10 since 2000.
The 2.06 FIP he currently holds would be 8th best since 1950, and the absolute best in the 21st century.* We are witnessing one of the best pitching seasons of this era, from a guy who is on track to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. The offense may be weak, but at least we can look forward to watching royalty every fifth day.
*All “best seasons” were with pitchers who threw at least 200 innings that year.