Between May 18-Aug. 11, Felix Hernandez created a remarkable entry in the major league record book: 16 consecutive starts in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs. Since no other pitcher in more than 100 years ever had a run of more than 13 such starts (Tom Seaver, 1971), it’s fair to describe Hernandez’s streak as astounding.
Dicing it up, over the 16, King Felix posted a 9-2 record and 1.41 ERA with 134 strikeouts and 20 walks, setting himself up as the overwhelming favorite to win the American League Cy Young award.
Since his last victory, 11-1 over Toronto at Safeco Field three weeks ago, Hernandez has not had a single “Happy Felix Day.” Gassed, he lasted five innings in a 92-pitch, 4-2 setback at Detroit Aug. 16, after which he offered a positive spin on the end of his record-breaking streak.
“I’ll just have to begin a new streak,” Hernandez said confidently post-game.
He has, but this one is trending south. At Boston Aug. 22, Hernandez labored through 5.2 innings, throwing 116 pitches in a no-decision. Friday, he lasted seven innings, but coughed up a career-high four home runs while striking out one. Never in his career had Hernandez pitched seven innings without recording more than one strikeout. Worse, he suffered an 8-3 loss to Washington after the Mariners scored twice in the first inning.
That marked the first time since Sept. 11, 2005 (his rookie year) against Baltimore that Hernandez had been staked to a lead of two or more runs in the first inning and couldn’t hold it. His record in such starts between Sept. 11, 2005 and Friday: 20-0.
So after his brilliant, 16-start streak from May 18-Aug. 11, Hernandez is 0-2 with one no decision and 13 earned runs allowed — as many as he yielded in 13 previous starts. His ERA: 5.09, dealing his Cy Young chances a severe hit.
If the trend – or drain swirl — doesn’t change in September, this will become the fourth consecutive year that Hernandez has experienced a late-season swoon.
In 2011, he ended the season with three consecutive defeats. In 2012, he had four losses and two no-decisions in his final six starts, costing him a chance at his second Cy Young. Last year, spanning the latter part of August and all of September, he had five losses without a victory. That, too, cost him a chance at the Cy.
Hernandez hasn’t won a game in the last month of a season since Sept. 6, 2011, when he defeated the Angels 2-1 at Anaheim, placing his career September splits in this condition:
Hernandez’s last three rank among the worst three consecutive Septembers ever posted by a Mariners starter. Opponents batted .313 against him in Septembers 2011, 2012 and 2013, the highest average yielded over such a span. Felix’s 5.54 ERA in those three Septembers is exceeded only by Rick Honeycutt’s 5.57 from 1977-79. And only Dave Fleming, with a 1.573, had a higher WHIP than Felix’s 1.559.
Question: Which Mariners starter was the easiest to hit over any three consecutive Septembers? We used a minimum of 12 starts and 70 innings pitched and sorted the results according to opponent batting average.
The .313 batting average against Hernandez during the last three Septembers is also tied for second worst in the majors over that span, his 5.54 ERA is second worst, and the .902 OPS against him is the worst by quite some.
|Liam Hendricks||2 teams||4-1||77.1||55||1.668||6.40||.902||.323|
|Tommy Milone||2 teams||5-1||70.0||28||1.414||3.60||.817||.313|
|Edwin Jackson||3 teams||4-6||89.0||51||1.562||5.16||.823||.304|
It could be that Hernandez has experienced fades because all September games for the Mariners from 2011-13 were meaningless and he failed to bring his usual focus to his starts with his team out of the race. But that doesn’t explain the meaningless September games Hernandez threw from 2005-10 with a cumulative 2.98 ERA.
Could it be that that Hernandez has, for whatever reason, hit an “innings pitched wall” the last three Septembers?
In 2012, Felix started going south after pitching 174 innings. Last year, he began to crash after reaching 175. When Hernandez completed his fabulous 16-start streak Aug. 11 by beating Toronto, he had thrown 180.1 innings. He’s 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA and only 11 strikeouts since.
Since 1980, three pitchers, Hernandez (2005-14), Fernando Valenzuela (1980-89) and Dwight Gooden (1984-93) reached 2,000 career innings pitched during an age-28 season. Felix turned 28 April 8 and passed 2,000 late last month.
Valenzuela spent eight more years in the majors after reaching 2,000 innings at age 28, but went 47-62 over that span and had only one winning year (13-8 in 1996). Gooden had 119 of his 194 career victories through age 28 and never made another All-Star team after reaching 2,000 innings.
Many pitchers have thrown more than 4,000 innings effectively, including the aforementioned Seaver. But is too much too early a good thing?
Don’t know, but the widespread assumption is that Mariners will be a dangerous playoff team – should they reach the postseason – because of the Hernandez-Hisashi Iwakuma-Chris Young trio that has registered some historically great numbers this season.
That assumes, first and foremost, that Hernandez is pitching at a level that has inspired thousands each season to pack the “King’s Court.” But based on his last three Septembers and his last three outings of August, we can’t even assume Hernandez is a “September pitcher,” much less a postseason one, until he re-establishes the fact.
His first chance comes Wednesday afternoon in Oakland in what will be the first meaningful September game Hernandez has pitched.