Despite leading the American League in just about every meaningful statistic, Felix Hernandez has hovered around the .500 mark all season. To some in the mainstream, Hernandez “inability” to rack up wins has disqualified him from consideration for the Cy Young, which, of course, has made him the poster child for sabremetricians far and wide.
Although Hernandez is probably the most deserving candidate for the award, he isn’t exactly a slam dunk. According to various advanced metrics, Hernandez’ lead over other deserving candidates, such as Francisco Liriano, C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester and David Price, isn’t very large. In fact, Fangraphs version of WAR actually ranks Cliff Lee as the American League’s best pitcher, with surprising candidate Justin Verlander just a shade behind the King.
2010 AL WAR Leaders
|Cliff Lee||Multiple||205 1/3||6.6|
|Felix Hernandez||Mariners||249 2/3||6.4|
|Justin Verlander||Tigers||224 1/3||6.3|
|Francisco Liriano||Twins||186 1/3||6.2|
|Jered Weaver||Angels||217 1/3||6|
|Jon Lester||Red Sox||204||5.9|
In an attempt to counteract the lazy, misguided conventions of the past (i.e., a pitcher’s job is to “win”), it seems as if those advancing Hernandez’ cause have exaggerated his performance a bit. Although he has certainly had a great season, and is a great pitcher, by no means does Hernandez’ 2010 campaign register on a historic scale, whether you use tradition or advanced metrics to perform the measurement. In other words, if Hernandez were not to be voted the Cy Young, it wouldn’t exactly be a travesty.
Instead of focusing on Hernandez, the more interesting part of the equation is the historic futility of the team on which he plays. After all, that’s exactly why the debate exists in the first place. Not only does Hernandez “lead” all of baseball with the lowest level of run support (3.75 runs per game/ 3.07 per 27 outs), but the Mariners have managed to score two or fewer runs in 15 of his 34 starts. No matter how you slice it, the Mariners lack of support for Hernandez is startling.
Pitchers with Lowest Run Support (min. 160 IP)
Hernandez shouldn’t take his offense’s lack of support too personally, however, because the Mariners’ lineup has been a universal deadbeat. To date, Seattle has scored only 506 runs (or 3.20 runs per game), which is good for last in the American League by almost 100 runs (the Orioles are next with 597). How bad is that? Well, since 1901, only 123 teams have scored fewer (out of 2,272 seasons), and of the teams that did score less, 50 played in a season shortened by either a strike (1981 and 1994) or war (1918 and 1919).
On a per game basis, only 64 teams have scored fewer runs than the 2010 Seattle Mariners, and all but four played in either the dead ball era (39 between 1902 and 1918) or the pitching dominant period that preceded the DH (21 between 1963 and 1972). Regardless of qualifications, not since the 1981 Blue Jays, which averaged 3.10 runs/game, has the major leagues seen such a low scoring team.
Taking things one step further, when compared to the per game average of the league, the Mariners 71.8% rate ranks an astounding fifth worst in baseball history, dating all the way back to 1901.With the season not yet concluded, the team could still conceivably “climb” as high as second on the list of all-time futility, or “drop” back a few slots, but regardless of the final weekend, the 2010 Mariners have locked up a claim to being one of the top-10 worst offensive teams in modern baseball history. Even if you want to cut the team some slack for playing in a pitchers’ ballpark, the historic proportions of the offense’s ineptitude is still rather impressive.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and proprietary
So, instead of wasting time hemming and hawing about Felix Hernandez’ lack of run support, it’s time everyone took full notice of the real star of the show in Seattle. King Felix may very well earn his Cy Young award, but the 2010 Mariners’ lineup is the one making history.