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Felix Hernandez: MLB’s best young pitcher in 20 years

Aug 15, 2012, 8:49 PM EDT

Felix Hernandez Getty Images

That’s pretty defensible, right. Felix Hernandez debuted at 19, and while he wasn’t great right away — in fact, he was pretty disappointing his first three years — he’s provided a ton of value to the Mariners in going 96-72 with a 3.17 ERA in 230 career starts to date. Baseball-reference WAR rates him as the game’s most valuable pitcher through age 26 since a certain late-80s trio.

Here’s the top 10, according to bWAR, since the expansion era started in 1961:

47.2 – Bert Blyleven – 1970-77
34.7 – Tom Seaver – 1967-71
34.5 – Dwight Gooden – 1984-91
34.1 – Roger Clemens – 1984-89
33.9 – Bret Saberhagen – 1984-90
32.5 – Frank Tanana – 1973-80
31.8 – Dave Stieb – 1979-84
30.7 – Felix Hernandez – 2005-12
30.0 – Fernando Valenzuela – 1980-87
29.3 – Pedro Martinez – 1992-98

Yes, Saberhagen really was that good. He won Cy Young Awards for the Royals at ages 21 and 25, and he ranks fifth here despite missing time with arm problems and going 5-9 with a 3.27 ERA in his age-26 season.

Hernandez’s total doesn’t include today’s perfect game, which will inch him closer to Stieb. He should pass Stieb, and he might have a crack at Tanana before his age-26 campaign wraps up next month.

The next best active pitchers rate well behind Hernandez here. Most simply didn’t have a chance to throw so many innings before age 26.

25.7 – Matt Cain – 2005-11
25.7 – Carlos Zambrano – 2001-07
24.8 – Zack Greinke – 2004-10
24.0 – CC Sabathia – 2001-07
22.0 – Barry Zito – 2000-04
22.0 – Johan Santana – 2000-05
21.5 – Mark Buehrle – 2000-05
20.9 – Clayton Kershaw – 2008-12
19.8 – Tim Lincecum – 2007-10

Lincecum, for instance, made just 122 starts before turning 27. Santana made 108, plus 76 relief appearances. Hernandez is at 230 starts and counting.

Kershaw, however, does have a chance of topping him, if he stays healthy. He won’t turn 26 until 2014.

  1. mordecofe - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    If only the Mariners had even an average offense, he’d be on track for 300 wins. Of course, you never know when injury will strike, but still.

  2. El Bravo - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    nee

  3. yahmule - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    Hernandez has lived up to the enormous hype that attends one who wore the title of King before he ever threw a Major League pitch. If I were starting a team and could select any pitcher to be the ace of my staff, he would receive strong consideration. Ultimately, I would choose Clayton Kershaw.

    • Reflex - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:31 AM

      Just think, the M’s could have had Kershaw as their #2, but instead Bill Bavasi drafted…Brandon Morrow. Who has a cumulative bWAR of 6.6 to this point and gained most of it with the Blue Jays.

      • yahmule - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:21 AM

        The Dodgers got pretty lucky. The pitchers who went ahead of him in 2006 were Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Morrow and Anthony Miller.

      • yahmule - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:22 AM

        Make that Andrew Miller.

  4. polegojim - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    Congrats to Felix… what an AMAZING feat!!!

  5. cornfedhonky - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    Fuck “King” Felix. Seriously, to hell with this guy.

    • stlouis1baseball - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:38 AM

      Really? Your handle says it all.
      In fact, does us all a favor and remove “cornfed” and just go with honky.
      You are embarassing Midwesterners.
      On second thought…
      I am having trouble even believing you are from the Midwest with the type of crap you are spewing.

  6. lapsncaps - Aug 16, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    I could see Dylan Bundy being somewhere on the list, if he starts next year with the big club, that will be 7 full seasons at the ages of 20-26. Granted, that will be the year 2020.

    …Which reminds me, one of my favorite baseball video games…Super Baseball 2020, by then will they really be allowing women and robots to play? Well, to Bundy’s defense, he is a machine, so all is possible.

  7. AlohaMrHand - Aug 16, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    King Felix would look great in a Dodger uniform

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