The AWARD TOUR: 2014 American League Pitcher of the Year

Posted: November 10, 2014 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s coming down the awards season stretch here in the CHEAP SEATS, and now the heavy lifting is getting under way. In a year that saw many men carry the role, pulling apart the best arm in the American League this year is no easy task. However, when the dust settles, there was a standard issue performance from one of the game’s top hurlers that set the mark yet again. And this time around, he deserves the oft-missed spotlight for his works…

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2014 American League Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Without a doubt, Felix Hernandez has long sat among the upper rung of the elite pitchers in the game. I mean, while the validity of some nicknames (ah em, ‘Big Game’ comes to mind) can be disputed, “King Felix” is not one that is contested too often. Every season he turns in as an excellent of an all-around performance as could be imagined, but it always seems to come with a caveat of some sort—mostly created by his teammates.

The Mariners have long been a middling club that has kept him from what should be a career overflowing with victories. However, just once in his career has Hernandez come even close to 20 victories, when he notched 19 back in 2009. Otherwise, his season totals have ranged mostly between 12 and 14 a year, not exactly what you would expect from an “elite” starter, regardless of the emphasis one places on pitcher victories as a marker of success.

However, one thing that Felix has mastered is the art of bringing to the forefront art of measuring a pitcher’s worth in spite of lack of creditable victories. And once again in 2014 the King showed that he showcases the best-rounded dominance of any arm in the AL, and that the true success is in the details.

So, from the very beginning of this assessment of his year, throw out the wins category, at least for now. We will come back to it later. But here is what he did otherwise: finished in the top five in innings pitched (236, 2nd), strikeouts (248, 4th), WHIP (0.92, 1st), games started (34, 1st), quality start percentage (79%, 3rd) and batting average against (.200, 1st).

That is an awesome assortment of areas that show just how impressive his summer was in how they contradict each other. He held batters to the lowest average against in the league while pitching the most innings. He was a regular terror as well, making the most starts in the MLB this year, but surrendering the least amount baserunners by his own cause, with a walks + hits figure of under one per inning. His 248 strikeouts were a new career-high as well, while his 46 walks tied his career-low set a year ago.

However, what’s more is that he finally pitched in some meaningful baseball games. It was the first time that he got to perform in a true ace-like environment, in the midst of a September push for the postseason, which despite finishing on the fringe of, he proved his mettle in completely. As the stretch went on, he remained equally effective. Posting first and second half splits of a 2.12 ERA before the break, and a 2.16 mark after, including a 1.66 ERA in 38 September innings. He lowered opponents averages to .197 in the second half and allowed one run or fewer in four of six starts in the season’s final month.

And as for the victories, they came. 15 in total, his second highest single-season mark of his career. And while there were a number of hurlers that finished ahead of him in that category, none made a more indelible mark off the mound than the King did. And that’s why he deserves the throne and they deserve the court.

 

Runners Up

  1. Corey Kluber, Indians: The breakout star of the year in the AL, Kluber rose to the top of the Cleveland rotation and in the course of the season, became one of the league’s premier power arms. In his third year, he finished tied for the league lead in victories with 18, while he finished second in strikeouts with 269 and third in ERA at 2.44. His second half ERA of 1.73 was tops among all full-time starters in the MLB.
  2. Chris Sale, White Sox: It was high quality over sheer quantity for Sale, but he continued his ascension up the hill of premier pitchers in the game. The side winding lefty finished with the second best ERA in the AL at 2.17 and held opponents to a .205 batting average. He worked at least six innings in 18 of his final 19 starts, while striking out at least nine in eight of those contests.
  3. Max Scherzer, Tigers: He decisively proved the critics wrong that said the 2013 Cy Young winner was foolish for not taking the money while his stock was at its peak. His 2014 effort, while not an award winning one, was once again among the best in either league. He went 18-5, while posting a career-best 252 strikeouts, so the evidence does still point towards he’s getting even better.
  4. Jon Lester, Athletics/Red Sox: The grizzly lefty carried over his World Series momentum into the new year and posted one of his best all-around seasons ever. Split between Oakland and Boston, he a 16-11 record and finished with a 2.46 ERA, the lowest mark of his career by nearly a full run.

 

Past Winners

2013: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

2012: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2011: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

 

For more of the Award Tour as it makes its rounds, stay tuned here on CSP. For the in the moment words and reaction, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan, which is built for that type of thing. Ya know.

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