ROUNDBALL DAILY

Is Felix Hernandez a Hall of Famer?

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez works against the Texas Rangers in a baseball game Wednesday, July 3, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. The Mariners won 4-2. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

There was a time when the only question you would have asked about Felix Hernandez and the Hall of Fame was how long his speech was going to be. And maybe–if he was going to be wearing a Mariners hat on his plaque.

At the height of his game, King Felix was the best pitcher in baseball. He was Clayton Kershaw in the American League–an unhittable force who did his work, for those of us on the east coast–late at night, in SportsCenter highlights at 7 a.m., or in the box scores of the morning paper.

There was something mythical about Felix’s greatness for those of us in the eastern time zone. You’d hear about his latest 1-hit, 14-strikeout gem, but you rarely had the chance to see him pitch. The Mariners were terrible during the height of his prime, routinely losing 90-plus games and squandering his best years, so they weren’t making any Sunday Night Baseball or Fox Saturday Baseball broadcasts.

Hernandez’s run of excellence began in 2009, when he won 19 games for a mediocre Mariners team and posted a 2.49 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and 217 strikeouts.

In 2010, he was even more spectacular– taking home the Cy Young award despite winning only 13 games for an abominable Seattle squad that went 61-101. He won the award by posting a 2.27 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, striking out 232 and walking just 70.

Hernandez also threw a perfect game that season, a tremendously fitting 1-0 masterpiece against the Rays in Seattle, which seemed to cement his rock-solid resume as one of the game’s unquestioned greats. The 1-0 part was fitting because it was an accurate reflection of the support he had around him.

Felix was good again in 2011, making the All-Star squad for the third straight year and winning 14 games for a 67-win team, but his ERA was an unspectacular (for him) 3.47.

In 2012, Hernandez finished fourth in Cy Young voting after pitching to a 3.06 ERA and earning 13 of the Mariners’ 75 wins. In 2013, he finished eighth, with a 3.04 ERA and a 12-10 record for the 71-91 M’s.

Seattle turned things around in 2014, winning 87 games and hanging around in the Wild Card race all year–the first time in over a decade they’d been relevant. Hernandez was a main reason for that. He finished second in Cy Young voting despite leading the league in ERA (2.14), striking out 248 batters and walking just 46 (!) and finishing with a WHIP under 1 (0.915). He lost out to Corey Kluber, who went 18-5 with a 2.39 ERA and 265 K’s to just 51 walks.

King Felix won 18 games the following year, put up a 3.53 ERA (with a 1.18 WHIP) and finished seventh in Cy Young voting. At that point, you probably would have bet that Hernandez was headed to the Hall, but he’s fallen on hard times since.

Felix Hernandez perfect game

Felix Hernandez after throwing the franchise’s first perfect game, against the Rays in 2012. He’s fallen on hard times recently, however. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Hernandez pitched to a 3.82 ERA in 2016, struggled to a 4.36 mark in an injury-shortened 2017, and has a stunningly-bad 5.58 ERA through 113 innings so far this season.

He’s coming off of his worst performance of the year–7 earned runs in 2.2 innings in an 11-5 blowout loss to the Angels, and his future in the rotation now appears to be in doubt.

Though he’s still only 32 years old, he’s now in his 14th major league season, and has thrown over 2,600 innings. That’s the downside of being a phenom at 19 years old.

It’s possible that he can figure out how to pitch with finesse, and find a CC Sabathia or Bartolo Colon-like second act, but it’s also possible that Felix’s best days are behind him.

While at his peak, there’s no question that he was one of the very best pitchers in the game, and for at least two sparkling seasons (2010, 2014), he was the best. Sorry, Kluber.

But the rest of his career (14-7, 3.92 in ’07, 9-11, 3.45 in ’08) hasn’t been as spectacular.

His career ERA currently sits at an impressive 3.30, but his career record (after playing on all of those bad teams) is 168-123, and he’s still yet to pitch in the postseason.

If he never finds it again, it’s possible that some will look at his Baseball Reference page  and say that he wasn’t great enough for long enough. His five remarkable seasons, four good ones and (so far) two bad ones might not represent a body of work that will get him into Cooperstown.

But for anyone who watched King Felix pitch (or at least saw him in those SportsCenter highlights), there’s no doubt–this guy was one of the absolute best of his era.

Some guys (Don Mattingly comes to mind) have been penalized for not lasting long enough at the peak of the sport, while others who were merely good for a long time (Mike Mussina) will get the nod.

Here’s hoping memories of King Felix in his prime, and not purely the numbers on his Baseball Reference page, are what’s remembered most.

Also see:

Thanks to Alphonso Davies and maybe the World Cup, MLS has itself a new fan

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