Felix Hernandez and the limited perspective of a fan

By Jason Wojciechowski on September 7, 2012 at 11:40 PM

Felix Hernandez pitched tonight against the Oakland A's, and he did it poorly. Felix Hernandez pitched the fourth game of the season and he did that poorly, too. Due to the weirdness of the schedule of the Japan games and the A's being in the same division as the Mariners and just luck of the draw, Felix has also pitched three other games against the A's in which he pitched quite well.

But here's the thing: by runs allowed, Felix has had just one worse start all season (May 16th in Cleveland). This means the A's have put the second- and third-worst hurtin's on Felix Hernandez all year. It also means, necessarily, that no other team this crooked a number on him more than once.

Now let's look at what Felix has done over the course of the year, not counting tonight's start: 2.51 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 191 Ks in 204 IP with just 48 walks, 11 homers, and an above-average groundball rate. (He's also just 26 years old, but that's not material. I just think it bears noting as a larger scale "my god he's still got a lot of baseball left" point.)

So there's a bit of a mismatch between what Felix has done all year and what he's done in two of his five games against the A's. If we only knew about A's games, we'd think that Felix pitches well in three of every five games and in the other two, he stinks. In reality, he's stunk in (depending on your definition) three or five games out of 29.

In my head, and I'd bet in a lot of your heads as well, if you're at all like me, Felix is having a good season but not a great one. It might come as a surprise when you open his stats page or a leader board and you realize that the AL Cy Young race is basically a two-man contest between Felix and Justin Verlander. The guy that we've seen not once but twice get whomped could very well take home the hardware as the best pitcher in the league.

For those of us who are content to be fans, to root for our team to win and to be sad when it loses, to cheer the good guys and boo the bad, this isn't a big deal. So we think Felix is just OK. So what? In the end, all that matter is whether the A's won, and because they did in two games, we were happy for those two games.

But for those of us who are bloggers or analysts or who like discussing baseball with our friends on Twitter or in bars or on message boards (and given that you are reading an A's blog right this moment, I'd venture a guess that you're in this group), it does matter. If you don't want any other Mariners games this year besides the ones when they're playing the A's (and, honestly, why would you? Have you seen their lineup?), you have a mental picture of Felix Hernandez that, unless you are a religious viewer of Baseball Reference or FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus or what have you, or unless you are a devoted reader of national baseball stories on ESPN or any number of other websites or even print (!) publications, that mental picture is likely difficult to erase. I know intellectually that Felix is having a fantastic year, a year that by Baseball Prospectus's Fair Run Average, actually, is far and away his best year, but I can't shake the feeling that he hasn't been quite as good as the stats say.

And there's no justification for this! He's been exactly as good as the stats say. It's just my own inability to de-emphasize my personal experiences of his play in favor of the objective facts that's causing this, not anything that Felix himself has actually done. One wonders how many writers voting for awards have been afflicted by the same issue (which can happen in a positive way, too, of course — if Max Scherzer throws three shutouts against the A's, I'll probably vote for him for Cy Young without looking back).

(Interesting note: Angels fans might have an even more extreme version of this fan-based myopia given that Hernandez has allowed 13 runs in 20 1/3 innings against them this year. In three starts, he went 6, 7, and 7 1/3 innings and allowed 5, 4, and 4 runs. He had no disaster starts, but neither did he have one that could even remotely be termed "good," at least as a runs-allowed matter.)