Mariners' Felix Hernandez wins AL Cy Young Award
Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award on Thursday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Felix Hernandez wiped away tears of joy and praised the support of Mariners teammates in helping him capture the AL Cy Young Award.
But the support of Baseball Writers' Association of America voters came through in a far bigger way for Hernandez on Thursday than did most of those bat-wielding teammates. The voters overlooked, in unprecedented, historic fashion, the fact Hernandez won only 13 games in 2010 and chose instead to laud his statistical dominance in most other categories.
And it resulted in Hernandez capturing the second Cy Young in franchise history despite playing for a 101-loss team that provided the league's worst run support just about every time he stepped on a mound.
"I think, for me, for my part, the Cy Young has got to be for the most dominant pitcher in the league," said Hernandez, 24, speaking via conference call from his native Venezuela, where he'd traveled on Wednesday so he could be with his family for the award announcement.
"Not for the one who wins 20 games, or 21 games, or 19 games. Because you saw what happened last year, I think I had great numbers last year and I didn't get it. So, this year, I had great, great numbers. Better numbers than last year. I wasn't like, 'I should get it.'
"But I think I deserve it."
So did the voters, who gave Hernandez 21 of a possible 28 first-place ballots, helping him easily outdistance David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays by a points score of 167-111. Price received four first-place ballots. Third-place finisher CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees received the other three and finished with 102 points.
Randy Johnson won Seattle's only previous Cy Young in 1995.
To duplicate that, Hernandez had to overcome the perception that wins matter heavily in Cy Young voting.
Hernandez led the AL in earned-run average at 2.27, innings pitched at 249-2/3 and quality starts with 30. He also finished second in strikeouts at 232 and complete games with six.
But no starting pitcher had ever won the Cy Young with fewer than 15 wins.
But voters began a noticeable shift away from win totals last year, awarding the NL Cy Young to 15-game-winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants, while Zack Greinke of the Royals took the AL prize with 16.
Hernandez was trapped below 10 wins as late as Aug. 24 and didn't know until the final week whether he'd finish with a winning record. After finishing runner-up to Greinke in a 19-5 season in 2009, a "hurt" and disappointed Hernandez tried not to get too caught up in Cy Young talk this past year.
"The most dominant pitcher in each of the leagues deserves the Cy Young and that is what happened this year and what happened last year," he said. "I had good numbers last year, but Greinke was better than me in some of those and that was probably the reason I didn't win last year.
"This year I put up better numbers than last year, aside from wins, and I think that is what helped me win."
The significance of this year's vote could be debated for some time.
While some consider it a triumph of "new" stats over traditional ones, others argue that the strongest numbers in Hernandez's favor — ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts to name a few — have been around for decades. And not everyone remains sold on the idea that "wins" for pitchers are overrated.
In a conference call Tuesday after winning the NL Cy Young, Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay replied to a question about Hernandez by stating:
"Obviously Felix's numbers are very, very impressive. But I think, ultimately, you look at how guys are able to win games. Sometimes the run support isn't there, but you sometimes just find ways to win games.
"I think the guys that are winning and helping their teams deserve a strong look, regardless of how good Felix's numbers are."
Seven of the BBWAA voters appeared to endorse that viewpoint in going with Sabathia and Price. Two voters — George King of the New York Post and Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal — didn't even have Hernandez in their top three.
King, who was on vacation and could not be reached, voted Hernandez fifth. Ocker had him fourth behind Sabathia, Price and Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox, arguing that Hernandez's lack of wins was "too big a handicap" to overcome.
"For me, wins and losses matter," said Ocker, who has covered the Cleveland Indians for 30 years. "It also matters for a pitcher who pitches under the stress of a pennant race."
Hernandez wasn't sweating the difference of opinions Thursday. The win means he'll receive a $1 million salary bonus next season and $500,000 in each of his three remaining contract years.
He received a congratulatory phone call shortly before the award was announced.
"I don't have any words to explain how I feel," he said. "I mean, you cannot explain it. The first time I heard I won the Cy Young, my mind was, 'Really? Really?' And I just asked one more time 'I won the Cy Young?' And they said, 'Yes, you won the Cy Young.'
"And I started crying. And my wife jumped on me. And my whole family started jumping around the house. It was a lot of talking, a lot of jumping. It was a great, great, amazing thing, man."
And a rare bright moment for the entire Mariners franchise to savor as it goes about finding Hernandez support beyond the voting kind.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.