Anytime a sports piece starts making claims that so and so is the best player ever, it’s best to check assumptions being made. And the sooner those assumptions are made, the better. So let’s get the big assumption out of the way early.
Felix now has a legitimate claim to being the best Mariner pitcher ever. Considering that he has 8 full seasons under his belt and 2 half seasons, all the while sitting atop the Mariner rotation, this claim hardly seems surprising, but for one thing…
Randy Johnson pitched 8 full seasons and 2 half seasons for the Mariners, too.
And for anyone following baseball during the 1990’s, it’s hard to believe any pitcher could usurp the title of best ever from the Big Unit, whose left arm terrified hitters, as a Mariner, from 1989 to 1998. Nevertheless, here we are:
Johnson has very few peers, through history, in his ability to strike out hitters. But it’s clear that Felix is proportionally better than the Unit in his ability to limit base on balls. Felix’s superior FIP is mostly a function of playing his home games at Safeco while Johnson had to pitch in the hitter friendly Kingdome. As WAR is park-adjusted, we can see that Felix has come to match Johnson’s 45 WAR accumulation, as of this date. From this point on in Felix’s career, his WAR total will likely increase beyond Randy’s static Mariner total of 45, and probably rapidly so.
One could take the position that Randy’s playoff totals in 1995 and 1997 still keep him ahead of Felix. But that would be crediting Randy’s better supporting cast for having gotten him to that position in the first place. Hardly an individual achievement.
The amazing thing about Felix is he’s putting up performances that are the best of his career. Felix came into his own by winning the Cy Young Award in 2010. He followed up that season in 2011 by essentially matching those award winning stats. His encore has been to better the stats in each successive year, to where he’s matching his best K-rate and beating his best BB-rate, ever, in 2014.
And in case you were wondering, here’s where Felix ranks for pitchers between the ages of 16 and 28, over the last 50 years:
And by the way, if you’re curious who Felix will need to measure up to for the rest of his career, from his age 29 season onward; well, there’s really only one name: Randy Johnson, who accumulated 101.2 WAR, from the age of 29 to 45.
As a long-time Mariners fan, I never thought I’d see the likes of Randy Johnson, ever again.
Then came the King.