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 Morgan is asking Hall of Fame voters to keep PED users out

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has never equivocated on his belief that users of performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Whenever he has been interviewed on the subject he has been steadfast in his stance that PED users are not worthy of induction.

This week he has taken a further step: he has sent a letter to all of the Hall of Fame voters, asking them to keep PED users out.

In his letter — the entirety of which you can read over at Joe Posnanski’s blog — Morgan says “if steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.” By “we,” he’s clearly referring to Hall of Fame members. While he does not name any player he would like to see voters keep out, he spends a lot of time talking about how PEDs are bad for baseball, PED users cheated the game and how he and many other Hall of Famers do not want to see them elected. He invokes “youngsters” and refers to the Hall of Fame as “special” and speaks to the “sanctity” of election. It’s the moral argument against PED use we’ve been hearing for a good 15 years or so.

It’s also hopelessly naive and comes far too late in the game to be a useful plea.

As we’ve noted many, many times, there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame. Amphetamine users to be sure, but even if you want to give them a pass, there are steroid and/or HGH users too. In case you forgot about that, allow me to remind you about the time Hall of Fame voter Thomas Boswell appeared in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary update “The Tenth Inning” and explicitly said that he personally witnessed a current Hall of Famer drink a PED-laden shake:

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”

Boswell tends to keep pretty silent about that come Hall of Fame voting time in December, but he has never backed off the claim either.

Less reliable, but still never refuted, were the stories of Patty Blyleven, former wife of Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who said that she knows of a Hall of Famer who took PEDs as well, and who continues to nonetheless publicly rail against PED use. There are likewise other Hall of Famers of whom baseball writers are strongly convinced — or know for a fact — took PEDs but about whom they’ve never reported because no one would go on the record about it or corroborate it in a way that satisfies prevailing journalistic standards. Go ask a BBWAA member about why it took Jeff Bagwell so long to get into the Hall of Fame. Or simply go back and read what they said about him a few years ago.

Going beyond those cases are the cases of a host of players — players who have been on the ballot for years —  about which we’ll never, ever know. Do we know for sure that any of the guys currently on the ballot who played before drug testing never took PEDs? Of course not. In light of that all Morgan can ask is for voters to keep players of an entire era out. Which is a completely unreasonable and unfair request.

In the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball, BBWAA voters were somewhat inconsistent with alleged PED users for a time, but they’re beginning to coalesce around a set of rough standards:

  • If you tested positive for PEDs or were disciplined for PEDs after the testing program was fully online like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro did, you’re not getting in. Figure Alex Rodriguez will fall in this group one day too;
  • If you were strongly and convincingly associated with PEDs in the pre-testing era like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the road you have to go down is going to be pretty bumpy, but you may, possibly, get in one day if you were an overwhelmingly great player;
  • If you were seen as one-dimensional like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa and either admitted to PED use or were suspected of it, welp, sorry. We’ll leave why Sosa is suspected of it to another post.

All of this is will likely change slightly over time. Bonds and Clemens have recently gotten over the 50% voting threshold and could gain some steam with the voters. Alex Rodriguez was good enough and his post-career image rehabilitation has been such that he may get more support than most post-testing PED guys one day. Maybe McGwire and Sosa will get new looks down the road by some iteration of the Veteran’s Committee. After that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are seriously in the Hall of Fame discussion with credible PED claims against them.

Which is to say that history is sorting itself out, for better or for worse. Sorting itself out in a way that renders Morgan’s views on the matter — whether you consider them well-founded or otherwise — too little, too late and, given what we know and do not know about PED users, rather useless.