Clayton Kershaw may be gathering most of the fanfare for the most dominant pitcher this season, but, Felix Hernandez has strung together a season of epic proportion himself. So much so, as we pass through August, he must be the early favourite to grab the American League Cy Young award. Here is a breakdown of exactly what King Felix has been doing this season.
First, in terms of his core statistics, Hernandez is on pace to destroy any of his previous, career bests. His 1.95 ERA is head and shoulders better than ever before. In fact, in 2010, when he won his first Cy Young, he collated 2.27 ERA, which is 32 points higher than it is currently. His 9.68 K/9 ratio is the highest he has ever produced. Felix has already struck out 194 batters. Dominance.
With regard to the more, ‘complex’ statistics, the trend of complete and utter pre-eminence holds true. On the road and at home. Felix has a brilliant 2.07 FIP, and a 2.38 xFIP while allowing only a mere 3.8% of flyballs to leave the ballpark when playing on the road. These clearly show that pitching in the pitchers friendly Safeco Park, is not the reason Hernandez has been lights out. He has destroyed lineups in every ballpark. In fact, his road ERA is lower than his home ERA.
A lack of baserunners always helps when pitching, and King Felix has mastered just that. He has held opposing batters to a .189 opponent batting average, and owns a stunning 0.86 WHIP. Of the few who actually reach base, Hernandez strands 76% of them. Bottom line: You don’t score runs off the King. Rather – you strike out.
So – how has Hernandez managed to be so dominant? Concerning batted ball, there are a few noticeable trends which may have contributed to his success this season. His line-drive and fly-ball percentages are both down massively from the past few seasons, whilst, on the other hand, his ground-ball percentage is at its highest in seven years. Hitters simply can’t make good contact off the King.
If you look at Hernandez’s heatmaps, it is clear to see that he has kept the ball down much more this season. Last season he pitched to the bottom third of the strike zone around 19% of the time, however, this season that number has increased to 24%. Small changes make huge differences. Another thing worth noting: Felix has added around one mph on average to each pitch.
One does not simply get the nickname ‘King Felix’ without deserving it. Hernandez has the swagger, the talent and the dominance of a Cy Young winner. If I really wanted to I could continue to bark out stat, after stat, all of which clearly convey Hernandez is having the season of a lifetime. But – I think you get the picture. If the King continues to pitch like he has, it would be utterly sacrilege should he not win the Cy Young. He will win the Cy Young. He has to. Mark my words.
All numbers courtesy of fangraphs.com