This comes as a surprise to no one: Felix Hernandez can pitch.
At 28 years old, Hernandez has won a Cy Young with two other top four finishes, been named an All Star five times in his career and Friday marks the two-year anniversary of his perfect game, the most recent in Major League Baseball. A second Cy Young looks very much in his reach this year. In 180.1 innings tossed, he has posted a 191 ERA+ and leads the American League with a 0.860 WHIP. His dominance also shows with his FIP, 2.07, which also leads the AL. The ace for the Seattle Mariners is cruising along, and his club has won 8 out of its last 9 games heading into Friday. He’ll get the ball on Saturday against David Price of the Detroit Tigers, hoping to add to his possible 2014 AL Cy Young season.
That said, could Hernandez also be the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2014?
For one thing, it’s not like pitchers win the MVP very frequently these days. Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, but then again, no matter what people say about wins and losses, it’s hard not to think him going 24-5 was a factor in that. Hernandez is 13-3, which is very good and the other numbers speak for themselves, but that’s not a jaw-dropping record like Verlander’s was. Hernandez’s teammate Robinson Cano is making $24 million a year for the next 10 season. In his inaugural campaign in a Mariners uniform, he’s an MVP candidate himself and is enjoying one of his best seasons defensively, too. General Manager Jack Zduriencik paid handsomely to land the big fish in the free agent market after the 2013 season and he has not disappointed. For the past four seasons Cano has placed top 6 in AL MVP, finishing as high as 3rd and it would hardly be a surprise if he was somewhere in that vicinity in 2014. Therefore, it’s a question if Hernandez is even the MVP of his team, let alone the entire American League.
The MVP competition for the King is stiff beyond just his own squad. See, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are banging loudly on the postseason door. They’re 5 games up in the first AL Wild Card as of Friday and Mike Trout has finished runner-up as AL MVP the last two seasons. Miguel Cabrera beat him out both times. Had it not been for the fact the Tigers went to the World Series and ALCS in the previous two seasons respectively and if not for the fact that Trout’s Angels haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2009, maybe, just maybe, the 23-year-old outfielder would be gunning for his third straight MVP. Trout has an OPS+ of 170, which leads the American League and has collected 256 total bases in 2014, more than any other player in the game this year.
Then there’s the debate if pitchers should be able to win the MVP in the first place. This season could be history making, as it’s possible a pitcher could win the MVP in both leagues for the first time since 1968. Hernandez is bound to place high and Clayton Kershaw is somehow outdoing himself from his remarkable 2013. It would certainly say a lot about the impact of the pitcher if both men won their league’s MVP trophy, but critics would argue Hernandez and Kershaw start once only every five days, but then again, every game does count and while one player doesn’t make a team, where would the Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers be without their respected coveted ace?
Also, factor in that some may say that if Pedro Martinez couldn’t win the MVP when he was pitching, what would make Hernandez deserving? Yes, Martinez should have won the AL MVP in both 1999 and 2000, in which his stats in both seasons were about as insane as someone can get, especially considering those were two years during the steroid era and he was pitching in Fenway Park. It’s not unreasonable to say Ivan Rodriguez over Martinez in 1999 and Jason Giambi over Martinez in 2000 were mistakes, but that can’t be used as criteria in this day and age. It’s a different era. Other numbers are used to measure how good a pitcher is.
Plus, each year, the position players are different in terms of who they are as an MVP candidate and the numbers they are posting. During the great Trout/Cabrera debate of 2012, Hernandez may not have had much room to stand out that year if he was wielding his 2014 numbers, but this season, though Trout is the likely favorite, Hernandez is good enough to place high this year. Another factor is a three-peat for Cabrera is unlikely. He’s enjoying another very fine season, but after the show he put on in 2012 and 2013, it’s not a stretch to say he’s had a disappointing campaign by his standards and if Seattle makes the playoffs and Detroit doesn’t, that also may help boost what place Hernandez finishes in.
Even if he doesn’t collect both awards, he certainly seems to be in the running for both. The highest MVP finish he’s ever had was 16th in 2010, when he won his Cy Young. How could anyone say he hasn’t been a huge factor in Seattle’s possible return to postseason baseball? The M’s haven’t played meaningful games in October since 2001 and the team went 71-91 just a year ago. All of a sudden, this club is 10 games above .500 going into play on Friday and it’s a most opportune time for them because, again, they’re taking on Cabrera’s Tigers this weekend, whom they trail by just a half a game in the hunt for the second AL Wild Card.
Hernandez winning the AL MVP in 2014 certainly is possible, but it all comes down to a number of things. For him to win, he would have to keep up his dominance. Trout and the Angels would have to decline. There would have to be a way Cabrera and the Tigers don’t catch fire. Hernandez would have to be better as a pitcher than Cano as a position player and even if the Chicago White Sox don’t go anywhere, look for Jose Abreu to get some votes thrown his way. Also, Seattle qualifying the playoffs is an almost requirement for him to win both awards, since no player on a non-playoff team has won an MVP in either league since Albert Pujols in 2008.
It depends if the voters think a pitcher should win the award or not, and with that being said, it should be an outstanding race from now until the end of the year.