Felix Hernandez and the chase for 20 wins

Jeff Gross

After snagging a win Monday through a quirk in the rule, could this be the King's year?

We’re continents away from the point in the season when individual record-chasing is more compelling than team goals, and I fervently hope we never reach it, but there’s one mark I’d care about even if the M's magic number was 1: Felix Hernandez getting his first 20-win season. It might not matter to you, but it surely matters to Felix.

What will it take? Well, Hernandez having a stellar season, of course, but also offensive production, the performance of the defense behind him, his teammates staying healthy—all things that are largely out of Felix's control. If he wins 20 it will have to be, as John McLaren would say, a total team f***ing effort.

And this is why some of you regard wins as a meaningless statistic. Perhaps. But wins mean something to Felix Hernandez. So I would ask all Mariner fans to park their skepticism and root for King Felix to get 20 wins for the first time this season—yes, even those of you who belong to the Dozenal Society of America.

After opening day, 1 down, 19 to go! Obviously, we’ve been here before.

In his previous 8 full seasons, King Felix has won his first start four previous times, including in 2009, when he went 4-0 in April on his way to his highest career win total of 19.

A 4-win month sounds incredibly hard, but some quick math (20 wins / 6 months) tells you that you’ll need at least two of them to get to 20 for the year. Or, if you only win two in a certain month, you might need to make up for it with a five-win lunar cycle. Obviously, "staying on schedule," as the Seahawks like to say, is critical. Here’s how the other Mariners to reach 20 wins made it happen.

Screen_shot_2014-04-03_at_6

Since King Felix’s first full season in 2006, MLB pitchers have recorded 16 20-win seasons.

Felix got closest in 2009, he won #19 on the last day of the season (the famous "Ichiro/Griffey post-game piggyback ride" game), and let’s not gloss over the fact that this was a game in which Felix relied on run support from a lineup that had Jack Hannahan starting at first base. In related news, Felix has never won more than 14 games in any other year, including his Cy Young campaign of 2010, when the Mariners inconveniently had the worst offense in franchise history. Here are his annual win totals illustrated poorly because I didn't have time this morning to figure out how to get Google Sheets to give me a less technicolor-dreamcoat-y graph.

Screen_shot_2014-04-03_at_6

I hesitate to draw conclusions from just three games, but I think it's fair to say that the Mariners' offense is likely to average more than the 3.2 runs per game (!) they did in 2010. This group should give Felix a much better shot at joining Johnson and Moyer on the 20-win pedestal. Still, when you consider that the Mariners have has many 20-win pitching seasons as they do division championships, you know that there is very little margin for error. Every start is critical.

That's why Felix's quirky win on Monday portends well. Hernandez was losing after the bottom of the 6th, but the Mariners conveniently picked the top of the 7th to take the lead. Though Hernandez was clearly not going to pitch the bottom of the 7th, he was still technically in the game, and thus the pitcher of record. This type of peculiarity is one of the things people dislike about wins as a statistic, but in this case it grants King Felix a win he looked very unlikely to get. A total team f***ing effort is important, but so is a dash of f***ing luck. #Felixto20!

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