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Felix Hernandez And The Cy Young: A Not-Impossibility

Justin Smoak moves to absorb talent rays being emitted by Felix's cells
Justin Smoak moves to absorb talent rays being emitted by Felix's cells

We begin the way we must always begin: the Cy Young Award, like all major awards, is voted on by a panel of individuals of varying opinions, making it an imperfect process that leads to an imperfect result. He who wins a Cy Young might not have been the most deserving candidate, but then, if you really get down to it, how able are we to identify the most deserving candidate, anyway? If you want to take it beyond win/loss record and ERA, how far are you willing to go? Because you can go really really far. Farther than you've probably thought of. Ultimately, the Cy Young is just an individual-player award and we don't watch this game in the hopes that our players win awards. Awards are a neat bonus.

So with the above all written out, the list of players who have won at least one Cy Young Award is of a certain length. The list of players who have won at least two Cy Young Awards is of a certain shorter length. Just 16 pitchers have won multiple Cy Youngs, which might actually be a bigger number than you expected considering the award didn't exist until 1956. In 2009, Felix Hernandez finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. In 2010, Felix Hernandez finished first in the AL Cy Young voting. In 2012, Felix Hernandez stands a chance of getting votes, and he stands a chance of getting the most votes.

It didn't feel like it over the first couple months, but Felix has put himself in position to possibly win the greatest single-season award a pitcher can receive. Right now he leads the American League in innings. He's tied for fourth in ERA, he's number one in FIP, and if you put any stock into FanGraphs' pitcher WAR, he's number two. Baseball-Reference's pitcher WAR ranks him tied for sixth.

The top contenders would presumably be Felix, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and David Price. We talk about this now, of course, because Felix just threw a perfect game, which the other contenders have not. Felix has propelled himself into the discussion. Jered Weaver, though, did throw a no-hitter, in case you forgot, and in that no-hitter he walked one and hit another. Verlander hasn't thrown a perfect game although I guess he landed Kate Upton anyway? Price hasn't done anything historic but according to Baseball Prospectus he's faced the third-toughest opponents of all regular AL pitchers so far. It's weird that we don't adjust for quality of competition when we unquestionably, absolutely should.

The standard thing to do in these circumstances is to argue in favor of your preferred candidate. I would, obviously, like for Felix to win the Cy Young more than any of these other guys, but I'm not going to sit here and pretend like he's the clear front-runner. For one thing, he's not, and for another, there's still another month and a half left to go, and this entire picture could change. Someone could get hurt, someone could slump, someone could throw another perfect game. Felix could throw another perfect game! Felix could throw another perfect game.

So it doesn't do much good to try to identify the front-runner right now anyway. Working in Felix's favor is that he's durable and piles on the innings, which always helps. Weaver will be somewhat held back by an injury that caused him to miss a few starts. I don't know what Felix has that Verlander doesn't. Statistically, I mean. Everything's almost identical, and Verlander hasn't made a bunch of his starts in Safeco Field. I don't know to what degree Cy Young voters take park effects into consideration, and I suspect they collectively span the range from "not at all" to "quite a bit," but if you're going to talk about who deserves to win, you can't not consider Safeco. We've written so much about the queer way it's played all season long. Verlander hasn't pitched with that, although he has pitched in the AL Central, which isn't very good, especially when you don't have to face the Tigers part of it. So. I told you this was complicated.

Also, David Price! Price's strikeouts are right there with Felix and Verlander. All of his numbers are outstanding. As much as there's been talk about Weaver's 15-2 record, Price has a 16-4 record, which you would desperately hope wouldn't matter but which does still matter at least a little bit. Remember that Felix won with just 13 wins in 2010, but he also led in ERA and innings, so it's not like that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the voters were beyond win/loss records. More interestingly, Tim Lincecum won with just 15 wins in 2009, but he was insanely good. Among starters, he had the NL's lowest FIP by 0.43 points. The next-best starter FIP was 18 percent higher than Tim Lincecum's FIP.

So here's the conclusion for right now: Felix Hernandez stands a chance of winning his second Cy Young Award. If everything stayed exactly the same, he'd be one of probably three or four strong candidates, but there's more baseball to play and everything will not stay exactly the same. Felix could surge, Felix could sink, or any of the other guys could surge or sink instead or as well. If I had a vote and if I were voting right now, I'd cast a vote for Justin Verlander, and then I'd ask why I have a vote, and why I had to vote right now, something about this seems fishy. Felix is close, though. The Mariners are not within real striking distance of a playoff spot, but Felix is presently within striking distance of being the Cy Young front-runner. Perhaps he already is the Cy Young front-runner, thanks in part to Wednesday's perfect game.

(On Wednesday, Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game.)

I mentioned those 16 pitchers who have won multiple Cy Young Awards over their careers. Roger Clemens won seven of them, two more than anyone else. Eight pitchers have won exactly two Cy Young Awards. Among those eight pitchers is Johan Santana, who won with the Twins in 2004 and 2006. In 2008, Santana finished third in the NL voting, picking up four of 32 first-place votes. That season Santana led the National League in both innings pitched and ERA. That season Santana also allowed a grand slam to Felix Hernandez. Felix Hernandez has a perfect game against a playoff contender and a grand slam against a Cy Young contender. haha what??