Something weird happened last night. During Robinson Cano’s second at bat of a seven-run 6th-inning, a lightning and thunder storm rained down on Safeco Field, despite it being a gorgeous night in Seattle.
That’s not the only weird thing that happened last night. The Seattle Mariners started raining runs. It wasn’t just a home run by $240-million man Robinson Cano. It was Mike Zunino tripling off the wall in right field. It was Endy Chavez slapping the ball down the left field line for an RBI double. It was Brad Miller also tripling. It was Dustin Ackley singling home two runs. By the time Robinson Cano nearly homered again, but settled for a double, the Mariners had scored seven times, effectively ending their game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It feels kind of odd to say, but the fact that Felix Hernandez — on the mound for the Mariners — shut down the Toronto Blue Jays’ offense wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t a surprise that the team that has scored the fourth most runs in baseball was held to one run on three hits over the course of seven innings pitched by Hernandez. Heck, I don’t even think the Blue Jays were surprised.
And, that’s with good reason. Because, since May 18th, Felix Hernandez has been unstoppable. That’s not an exaggeration. In his 16 starts since that date, Hernandez has pitched at least seven innings, while giving up two or fewer runs. Yes, that is an all-time record.
After the game, as Mariners fans nervously eyed the Wild Card standings and their upcoming schedule, the great Jonah Keri tweeted something pretty harmless.
You can make an excellent argument that Felix Hernandez should be front-runner for AL MVP right now.
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) August 12, 2014
Harmless in the sense that the Mariners have only played 118 of their 162 scheduled games. Also, harmless in the sense that it’s tremendously difficult for a pitcher to win MVP. Take away Justin Verlander’s MVP in 2011, and the last time a pitcher took home that award was in 1992, which also happens to be the year that I was born.
But, is Keri right? Is King Felix the front-runner for AL MVP right now?
If you’re ignoring the history of MVP voting — the disadvantages a pitcher has and the disadvantages players on non-playoff teams have — then yes. Felix should be considered the front-runner.
For this, I will rely on baseball nerds that are light-years smarter than me. First, we have Jeff Sullivan writing for USS Mariner.
What Felix really has going in his favor, aside from his overall numbers, is that he has a thing. He has this ongoing streak. Felix has made those 16 consecutive starts of 7+ innings and no more than two runs, and that’s the longest such streak ever, and that might gain him a little more purchase. He’s done something no one’s ever done, and it’s taken place into the stretch run with the Mariners turning their season around and getting deep into the race. Who knows how much longer it could continue? Voters love high-leverage performances, and they love consistency, and Felix is breaking baseball in his first playoff chase since blooming.”
Sullivan also points out that if you use a “pitcher WAR that gives more direct credit for runs allowed or prevented,” then that bodes even better for Hernandez.
Furthermore, Sullivan hopes that Felix’s sub-2 ERA might be enough for voters to go against the norm.
But, unfortunately, not only is Hernandez battling Mike Trout for MVP honors, he’s also battling his own teammate Robinson Cano, who might take some votes away from Felix. There’s also the problem of Trout playing for a World Series contender, while the Mariners are a game back of the second Wild Card spot in the AL.
Now, I turn to Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs.
But to call this an uphill battle would be a drastic understatement. While Felix is having a great season, Mike Trout is also having a great season, and Trout’s team is more likely to win one of the two Wild Card spots, and might even still steal the division title. Trout’s individual resume might not be quite as impressive as it was the last few years, but he’s hitting better than ever, and voters are unlikely to care too much about the decline in his defensive and baserunning value. Trout is the best player in baseball, he’s playing at a high level, and he’s on a team with very strong postseason odds. He’s still the favorite to win, even if Felix keeps pitching at this level.”
In short, what might hold Felix back from being MVP is:
- The fact that he’s a pitcher
- Mike Trout is still ridiculously good
- Mike Trout happens to play for a better team than Felix
- Voters might attribute Seattle’s success this season to Robinson Cano’s arrival
Here’s the thing though: I don’t really care about the American League MVP award. Okay, let me rephrase. Of course I care. When I saw Keri’s tweet last night, I got giddy. I retweeted immediately. I wanted to talk about it with someone. Anyone.
But, what I meant to say, is that Felix’s MVP award is entirely secondary to something we — Mariners fans and Felix — have wanted for the past 986 years: a playoff berth. It’s why we signed Cano to that 10-year deal, despite the fact that we’ll still be paying him when he’s using a walker. It’s why, for the first time last night, Mariners fans showed up in large numbers to an August baseball game played on a Monday (well, that and the fact that Blue Jays fans flock to Safeco when their team is in town). It’s why this summer hasn’t been the normal dead period for sports like it normally is for a Mariners fan like me.
The good news is that Felix’s pursuit of MVP and the team’s pursuit of the playoffs aren’t mutually exclusive. Instead, it’s the opposite. If Felix continues his dominance, there’s a much better chance he’ll be pitching in October for the first time in his career. Again, here’s Sullivan:
Within the last few years, we’ve gotten to care about the Cy Young. This year, we get to care about both the Cy Young and the league MVP. And also a run to the playoffs. Nothing quite like caring about a run to the playoffs. The Mariners wouldn’t be in this position were it not for the King, who has become in every sense the perfect player. Sure would be great for him to get an MVP. Sure would be great for him to get something better.”
Sports suck the majority of the time because it involves a whole heck of a lot of faith that isn’t really rational. Faith that my undying love for an inept franchise will pay off with a World Series title sometime in my lifetime. Heck, at this point, faith that the Mariners will simply qualify for the postseason.
Felix Hernandez has had faith in the Mariners too. It’s one reason why he’s stuck with the hapless Mariners for so damn long, when he could have been winning titles in cities like L.A. or New York.
This season has been a weird one. Namely because it’s August and I still have faith. I’m not used to this. I don’t think Felix is either. But, while I might not be able to handle this season’s change, I have faith the King can.