Last weeks column was about a Hernandez that brought grief and shame to the Latino community, but this week we applaud Felix Hernandez, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Appropriately dubbed “King Felix” by his followers, his career was glorious and quiet while he wasted his talents pitching for an inept franchise. Felix is still a beloved member of the Mariners, but it is clear he is no longer the royalty he once was.
Felix Hernandez is pitching in his 13th season with the Mariners; a professional baseball career that he began at the age of 19. After his debut season, he joined the pitching corps at the age of 20 as a full timer, and thus began his string of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 30 starts, 190 innings, and 165 strikeouts. During his prime he was a guaranteed 200 inning/strikeout guy, with an ERA in the 2’s. Every season he would go out to the mound 30+ times, perform, dominate, and win baseball games 2-1. His team gave him minimal run support and he never complained. Contending teams would call the Mariners seeking a trade to acquire King Felix, and the Mariners would blow them off. In his 13 years, Hernandez has never played in the playoffs.
Now Hernandez has been sent to the disabled list with what is being referred to as “dead arm”. His numbers this year are not on par with his career averages, but they are keeping pace with his career decline the past two years. While fighting injuries last year, his strikeout rate fell to 7.2/9 innings, the lowest rate of his career and the first time it had been in the 7’s since he was 22 years old. While his strikeouts fell, his walks increased to 3.8/9 innings, the highest rate of his career. He also gave up 1.1 home runs per 9 innings, tied for the most since his age 20 season on 2006. In 2014 Hernandez’s ERA was 2.14, but since then his yearly average has been: 3.53, 3.83, and 4.73 this year. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) has risen into the high 4’s for the second consecutive season when prior to last year his high was 3.9. It’s obvious that his “dead arm” has died from exhaustion and what his body needs now is rest; no more baseball for King Felix.
Hernandez was one of the best pitchers of his generation. His consistency and willingness to stay with the Mariners out of pure loyalty to the team that signed him when he first came over from Venezuela is admirable. He never complained to the media, never demanded a trade, just showed up to work, worked his butt off, took his check, and went home. Someday his number will be retired in Safeco field, he might even have a bust in the hall of fame, but for now we must bow down and applaud the King as he tries to push through another season while his body falls apart.