The Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award after recording just 13 victories, the lowest in history for a full-season starter who was picked as his league’s top pitcher.
Hernandez, who led the AL with a 2.27 earned run average and 249 2/3 innings pitched as he compiled a 13-12 record, received 21 of 28 first-place votes and a total of 167 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I think I deserve it,” Hernandez said on a conference call with reporters. “I think the Cy Young’s got to be for the more dominant pitcher in the league, not for the one who won 20 games or 21 games.”
The Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price was the runner-up, receiving four first-place votes and 111 points. The New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, the 2007 Cy Young winner who led the league in wins with a 21-7 record this year, was third with three first-place votes and 102 points.
Pitchers get seven points for first-place votes, four for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth in the balloting that was completed prior to Major League Baseball’s postseason.
The previous low in victories for a Cy Young-winning starter in a full season was 15 for the San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum, who went 15-7 last year to win the NL award for the second straight time.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela won it after going 13-7 in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Eight relief pitchers, four in each league, have won the award with 13 or fewer wins. Eric Gagne had the lowest victory total for a Cy Young winner, going 2-3 with 55 saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003.
Hernandez, 24, got little offensive support this year from a Mariners’ team that had the worst record in the AL, going 61-101 to finish 29 games behind the AL West-winning Texas Rangers.
The right-hander was second in the AL with 232 strikeouts and first in wins above replacement, or WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com. WAR is a metric that considers how many runs a pitcher allowed versus how many runs a replacement, such as someone just above Triple-A status, would allow in the same circumstances.
“The first time when I heard that I won the Cy Young my mind was, ‘Really? Really?’” Hernandez said. “I asked one more time, ‘I win the Cy Young?’”
With confirmation came tears, he said, as Hernandez embraced family and friends who were awaiting word with him in his native Venezuela.
Hernandez went 19-5 in 2009 and finished second in Cy Young voting to the Kansas City Royals’ Zack Greinke.
“I started believing after the season when I look at my numbers and I said, ‘Wow, what great numbers I put up this season. Better than last year,’” Hernandez said.
The only other Mariner to claim the Cy Young was Randy Johnson, who won it in 1995 before moving to the National League and winning it every season from 1999 to 2002 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay won the NL Cy Young two days ago in a unanimous vote.
Today was the third time a Venezuelan was given the honor. Johan Santana won in 2004 and 2006 for the Minnesota Twins.
Hernadez said there was nothing he can do in future seasons to improve.
“I have to do the same thing that I did this year and the year before,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do better than that.”