Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young, but in the end it won’t really matter
By Dave Cameron
Editor’s note: Dave Cameron of USS Mariner writes a weekly column for the Brock and Salk blog focusing on baseball from a statistical perspective. Mike Salk writes occasionally for USS Mariner as well.
Felix Hernandez deserves the Cy Young award – I think most of the baseball world has come to realize that over the last month or so. He’s been as dominating as anyone in the American League the last two years. No one has had a better season on the mound, and I hope the voters get it right and give Hernandez the trophy that he has earned.
But you know what? It doesn’t really matter.
For instance, can you name the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner? I’ll give you a hint – it was not Pedro Martinez, despite the fact that he led the league in ERA (2.26), strikeouts (239), and any advanced sabermetric stat that you can think of. He was obviously the best pitcher in the AL that year, but the voters gave the trophy to Barry Zito, thanks in large part to his 23-5 record, even though he wasn’t even in Martinez’s league when it came to pitching dominance. But, if you were a baseball fan at the beginning of this decade – and you weren’t in Boston or Oakland at the time – do you remember that Zito won the award over Martinez? Do you care? Does anyone look back and think “man, remember that year that Barry Zito was better than Pedro Martinez”?
Of course not. Public opinion is not held captive by the votes of 28 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. They got that one wrong, just like they got it wrong when they gave Roger Clemens the Cy Young award over Randy Johnson in 2004 (again, W-L record was the main factor) or when they gave Justin Morneau the MVP award over Derek Jeter in 2006. But, just like in 2002, I’d imagine that you’d have had to rack your brain to remember either of those votes. I couldn’t have told you who won the AL MVP in 2006, and I write about baseball for a living. Does anyone think less of Jeter because he finished second to Morneau in the awards voting that year, if you even remember that it happened?
Baseball history is shaped through stories and memories. I watched Pedro Martinez destroy the Mariners in Safeco Field on numerous occasions, and I never saw Barry Zito do anything similar. When I talk to friends about great performances in baseball history, Martinez comes up, Zito does not. When we look back on the 2010 season, we’ll talk about the greatness of Felix Hernandez. We won’t care what his win-loss record was, or how BBWAA voters interpreted that metric – we’ll care about how great his curveball was and that 93 mph change-up he threw last week. We’ll tell our friends about the year that Hernandez was the best pitcher in the league, throwing 250 innings of downright dominating baseball, and taking his place as one of the game’s elite.
The results of the Cy Young voting won’t shape history. We will all shape history with our words, and even if they don’t include “Cy Young Award Winner”, we’ll remember – there was no one better than Felix Hernandez in 2010. Trophy or not, he’s pitched his way into history. He’s earned the stories that we will all tell about him.