Prelude to Cy Young? M’s Hernandez named AL’s top pitcher

There’s no way to tell if this will translate to Cy Young Award voting support, but Seattle starter Felix Hernandez was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Wednesday.

He was also the only Mariner named to TSN’s American League All-Star team. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, the Major League’s hits leader with 214, lost out to Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Carl Crawford of the Rays.

Hernandez had just a 13-12 record for the woeful Mariners, thanks in major part to the fact that he got worse run support from his offense than any pitcher in the AL. He did lead the league in earned run average (2.27), starts (tied at 34), innings pitched (249.2), batters faced (1001), fewest hits per nine innings (7.0) and quality starts (30).

His candidacy for the Cy Young based on those numbers prompted a spirited debate during the final month of the season leading up to the voting. Votes are cast by two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) from each AL city, and while Hernandez had broad support, there’s no way to tell if those assigned to vote will go with Hernandez or one of the other candidates.

C.C. Sabathia, the New York left-hander who already has a Cy Young Award earned while pitching under new Seattle manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland, lead the league with 21 wins, finished sixth in ERA (3.18) and tied Hernandez and the Angels’ Jared Weaver with the most starts (34).

Two other lefties, David Price of the Rays and Jon Lester of the Red Sox, both won 19 games, tied for second in the league behind Sabathia and attracted voters’ attention. Price finished third in the league in ERA (2.72) while Lester was ninth (3.25), and while neither finished in the top 10 in innings pitched, both ranked in the top 10 in strikeouts (225, third, for Lester and 188, eighth, for Price).

The issue that was debated was how important wins are in evaluating a Cy Young Award candidate. It can easily be argued that wins are out of a pitcher’s control, particularly if he plays for a team, as Hernandez did, that had the worst offense in the league.

In the categories he could control – ERA, innings, strikeouts (he finished with 232, one behind AL leader Weaver) and quality starts – Hernandez was unmatched by his rivals. His win total, however, may doom him if voters insist that wins are a defining characteristic of the Cy Young winner.

Hernandez finished second in the Cy Young last year to Zack Greinke when Hernandez had 19 wins and the Royals’ Greinke had 16. Greinke had the league’s best ERA at 2.16 in 2009 while Hernandez was second at 2.49.

For the complete list of The Sporting News award winners: http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/feed/2010-10/2010-baseball-a

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com

Twitter: @JHickey3

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