Two days before his 29th birthday, King Félix pitched the 2015 home opener for the Seattle Mariners against the Los Angeles Angels. He pitched seven innings of two hit, one run baseball. He struck out ten, leading the Mariners to a 4-1 victory.
At this point, anything less would be considered a fluke. 2015 marked the sixth straight year that Félix pitched Opening Day for the Mariners (seven of the last eight years). Since the streak began in 2009, he has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
Félix was just edged out for the 2009 Cy Young award by Zack Grienke who was just a bit better in most major categories. In 2010, he won the Cy Young with a 2.27 ERA, 1.057 WHIP, and a 174 ERA+. He won the award despite a Win/Loss record of 13-12. That record was directly influenced by the Mariners’ overall record of 61-101. He finished fourth overall in voting in 2012, eighth in 2013, and last year finished second to Corey Kluber. In one of the closer votes in recent history, Félix’s numbers were overall better than Kluber’s and I am sure he was disappointed not to win the award.
The intriguing part of not winning the award last year, is it happened in Félix’s best year of his career. He tied a career high in games started, and set a career high in strikeouts, WHIP and ERA. He also matched his career high in WAR. Hitters were held to a .200 batting average against him and a ridiculous .546 OPS.
The 2014 season stands out in the young King’s career but what made it similar to every other year in his career is that the Mariners have yet to enter the playoffs during his tenure. There is an easy argument to be made that Hernandez has the best career of any current player that has not made the postseason. While he may be getting better and better each year, so are the Mariners.
While I predicted Félix to win his second Cy Young this year, I also picked Seattle to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001 (who would have thought after the Mariners went 116-46 that they wouldn’t make the playoffs the next 13 years?). A postseason appearance would do a lot for his overall profile. While most baseball fans know of Hernandez’s talent, a trip to the playoffs – specifically a deep run, would up his overall appeal. There is no team in baseball that would want to be faced up with the Mariners in a one-game wildcard matchup if they have Hernandez on the mound.
The question is whether the Mariners can finally get over the hump and make it into October. Last year they seemed to be headed there down the stretch but missed it by a small margin. The Mariners seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get Hernandez into the postseason. Last season’s big free agent was Robinson Cano and the Mariners were not one of the frontrunners to acquire the all-star second baseman. They lured him in and then during this past offseason secured third baseman, Kyle Seager to a seven-year, one-million dollar contract. They were also active in free agency this year as they signed Nelson Cruz, albeit possibly a year late, as the price went up after Cruz had a monster year with the Orioles. The Mariners have showed signs of being all-in but they are still in the best division in the American League and there are many teams throughout the AL that are potential playoff contenders.
The Mariners have something that none of these other teams have, which is pitching royalty. Hernandez was signed to a $175 million dollar contract in 2013 and has a team option through 2020. It’s believable that he is just reaching his prime and can amazingly still be getting better based on the numbers he put up in 2014. Hernandez has started 30 games nine straight seasons and his consistency cannot be beaten. The Mariners know they are in a wonderful position every fifth day and if they can do reasonably well those other four days the King may finally get to his throne.