Felix, Better than Ever, and the Best Ever

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:

Seasons IP FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WAR
Randy Johnson 1989-1998 1838 3.34 10.6 4.3 0.8 45
Felix Hernandez 2005-2014 1931 3.16 8.5 2.5 0.7 45

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.

Years IP FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Felix Hernandez 2010 249.2 3.04 8.36 2.52 0.61
2011 233.2 3.13 8.55 2.58 0.73
2012 232 2.84 8.65 2.17 0.54
2013 204.1 2.61 9.51 2.03 0.66
2014 106.1 1.96 9.48 1.61 0.25

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:

Player FIP WAR
Bert Blyleven 2.80 63.3
Roger Clemens 2.68 56.0
Pedro Martinez 2.81 50.6
Dwight Gooden 2.73 50.6
Tom Seaver 2.58 48.6
Felix Hernandez 3.16 45.1
Fergie Jenkins 2.77 44.1
Greg Maddux 3.13 42.8
CC Sabathia 3.59 42.7
Sam McDowell 2.89 42.3

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.

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Both guys are horses with strong talented arms, but the biggest difference between King Felix and the Big Unit is that Johnson needed several years to lock down his mechanics and overcome his early control issues. Hernandez had good control coming right out of the gate.

Seaver passed the torch to Clemens as the game’s most reliably excellent RHP. So far in his career, Felix has been Clemens’s successor for that same title.


It’s hard in my mind to say that Clemens was demonstrably better than Maddux. Both were incredible pitchers, but Clemens was a power pitcher in a power pitcher’s era. Maddux was a control freak, a genius of the game, a pitcher type that was out of place. Clemens did accumulate more WAR, but both were so ridiculously good. In my mind, Maddux would be the guy I wanted on the mound in any game. His run from 1992-1998 was so crazy – I don’t know that we’ll see another run like it (Pedro’s run from 1997-2003 was close). As a… Read more »


You really believe Maddux’s peak run was better than Pedro’s? It’s getting picky here because both were incredible pitchers, and everyone knows Maddux’s consistent success is part of what set him apart, but here are some quick numbers: Maddux ’92-98: 1675 IP, 6.91 K/9, 1.45 BB/9, 4.76 K/BB, 2.15 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 52.7 WAR Pedro ’97-03: 1408 IP, 11.26 K/9, 2.01 BB/9, 5.60 K/BB, 2.20 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 58.3 WAR Even with a seasons worth of fewering innings Pedro accumulated more WAR. Not the end-all, be-all, but if you extend his sample another year (to ’96) he’s up to 63.4… Read more »