Felix Hernandez: MLB’s best young pitcher in 20 years

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That’s pretty defensible, right. Felix Hernandez debuted at 19, and while he wasn’t great right away — in fact, he was pretty disappointing his first three years — he’s provided a ton of value to the Mariners in going 96-72 with a 3.17 ERA in 230 career starts to date. Baseball-reference WAR rates him as the game’s most valuable pitcher through age 26 since a certain late-80s trio.

Here’s the top 10, according to bWAR, since the expansion era started in 1961:

47.2 – Bert Blyleven – 1970-77
34.7 – Tom Seaver – 1967-71
34.5 – Dwight Gooden – 1984-91
34.1 – Roger Clemens – 1984-89
33.9 – Bret Saberhagen – 1984-90
32.5 – Frank Tanana – 1973-80
31.8 – Dave Stieb – 1979-84
30.7 – Felix Hernandez – 2005-12
30.0 – Fernando Valenzuela – 1980-87
29.3 – Pedro Martinez – 1992-98

Yes, Saberhagen really was that good. He won Cy Young Awards for the Royals at ages 21 and 25, and he ranks fifth here despite missing time with arm problems and going 5-9 with a 3.27 ERA in his age-26 season.

Hernandez’s total doesn’t include today’s perfect game, which will inch him closer to Stieb. He should pass Stieb, and he might have a crack at Tanana before his age-26 campaign wraps up next month.

The next best active pitchers rate well behind Hernandez here. Most simply didn’t have a chance to throw so many innings before age 26.

25.7 – Matt Cain – 2005-11
25.7 – Carlos Zambrano – 2001-07
24.8 – Zack Greinke – 2004-10
24.0 – CC Sabathia – 2001-07
22.0 – Barry Zito – 2000-04
22.0 – Johan Santana – 2000-05
21.5 – Mark Buehrle – 2000-05
20.9 – Clayton Kershaw – 2008-12
19.8 – Tim Lincecum – 2007-10

Lincecum, for instance, made just 122 starts before turning 27. Santana made 108, plus 76 relief appearances. Hernandez is at 230 starts and counting.

Kershaw, however, does have a chance of topping him, if he stays healthy. He won’t turn 26 until 2014.

Joe Girardi won’t use Masahiro Tanaka in Game 7

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The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.

Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.

Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.

Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.