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The Rise and Fall of King Felix Hernandez

From 2009 to 2015, Felix Hernandez was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. During that time, he made six All-Star teams, won two ERA titles, and won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award. It seemed as if he would be a slam-dunk for the Hall of Fame. However, King Felix had a below-standards 2016, which was only the beginning of his catastrophic downfall.

The Rise

Felix Hernandez broke into the bigs with the Mariners as a 19-year-old in the summer of 2005. That year, he posted a 4-4 record with a 2.67 ERA/2.85 FIP and 77 strikeouts in 84.1 innings pitched. After an unspectacular 2006 season that saw his ERA jump to 4.52, Hernandez had two solid seasons in 2007 and 2008, going a combined 23-18 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. Then came his 2009 season, when he fully broke out. Hernandez was locked in all year, going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 238.2 innings pitched. He earned his first ever All-Star Game appearance during this season. After a rough month of May, he won AL Pitcher of the Month in June. Hernandez finished in second place in the AL Cy Young voting, only behind the Royals’ Zack Greinke.

The 2010 season saw Hernandez get off to another fast start, but he struggled to a 4.79 ERA during May. In addition, the Mariners were struggling to score runs for him, which led to a lot of tough-luck losses. Nevertheless, Felix recovered from that month of May nicely and dazzled during the rest of the season. He had a dominant 1.53 ERA after the All-Star Break, giving him an MLB best 2.27 ERA for the season. Additionally, he had 232 strikeouts, a 1.06 WHIP, and threw a Major League leading 249.2 innings. Despite having only a 13-12 record, Hernandez’s dominance earned him the AL Cy Young Award.

Continued Dominance

After winning the Cy Young, Hernandez continued his dominance of the league. He made five consecutive All-Star Game appearances from 2011 to 2015. In 2011, the Mariners even gave him his own section of the ballpark called King’s Court, which was packed with fans every time he started. On August 15, 2012, Felix threw the first perfect game in Mariners history. He finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2012. To this day, that is still the last perfect game thrown in the Majors.

In February of 2013, the Mariners rewarded Felix with a record-setting extension of seven years and $175-million. In 2014, he was selected to start the All-Star Game and led the AL in ERA and WHIP at 2.14 and 0.92 respectively. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting that season, narrowly missing out to the Indians’ Corey Kluber.

From 2009-2015, Felix’s total numbers were a 104-65 record with a 2.83 ERA/2.99 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, and 1549 strikeouts in 1596 innings pitched (8.7 K/9). He accumulated an impressive 38.0 bWAR during that time as well. Additionally, Felix was incredibly durable during this stretch, pitching in over 200 innings during each season. During a period where the Mariners struggled to win games, Hernandez was a beacon of light for the franchise.

The Fall

Felix endured a below-standards year in 2016 where he battled a calf injury and failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since 2007. He still had an above average 106 ERA+, but his 3.82 ERA and 4.63 FIP indicated that he had started to slow down. The 2017 season saw him only make 16 starts and pitch in only 86.2 innings. The once durable Hernandez had to make two trips to the disabled list due to shoulder problems. Additionally, Hernandez’s had a 4.36 ERA, marking the first time his ERA was over 4.00 since 2006, and he was tagged for 17 homers (1.8 HR/9). All signs were pointing in the wrong direction for King Felix.

The 2018 season marked a new low for Hernandez. He was forced to make a trip to the disabled list for the third straight season. On August 7th, Felix was tagged for 11 runs (seven earned) by the Texas Rangers, raising his season ERA to a career-worst 5.73. After this start, he was removed from the starting rotation for the first time in his career. He finished the season with an ugly 5.55 ERA (74 ERA+) and 1.40 WHIP in 155.2 innings pitched. His -1.2 bWAR marked the first time he’d dipped below 0.0 bWAR in his career.

Felix once again battled shoulder injuries in 2019. When healthy though, he got torched by opposing hitters. In 66.2 innings pitched, he had a 1-7 record with a 6.51 ERA (68 ERA+), 1.52 WHIP, and 16 homers allowed (2.2 HR/9). After being one of the best pitchers in baseball just a few years earlier, Hernandez had one of the worst stat-lines in the league. With his contract set to expire after the 2019 season, Hernandez is likely done pitching in Seattle.

Felix’s Legacy In Seattle

Felix never saw the postseason in Seattle, but he did his best to try to bring the team closer to glory. He holds Mariners franchise records in wins, innings pitched, ERA, games started, and bWAR for pitchers. He has been a part of the Mariners organization for over half of his life, from the time he was 16 to when he was 33.

King Felix will take the mound on Thursday for what might be his final time pitching for the Seattle Mariners. He has had a great run, but it might be time for the Mariners to say goodbye to their hero, King Felix. His chances of being enshrined in Cooperstown may have taken a hit, but Felix will definitely one day be enshrined in Seattle as the greatest pitcher in franchise history.

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