Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez #34
25 years old; Experience: seven years
Felix Hernandez aka King Felix is the only reason watching a Mariners game in recent years has had any storyline, person to cheer for, or flat-out redeeming baseball quality. Which is a shame really, because the Mariners found a God in King Felix and have him signed to a great contract. But notice up there -- Felix is only 25 years old -- the man will hit the spoils fit for a king on his next contract. Will that be with Seattle? The Yankees? I care, but I know that King Felix doesn't care. King Felix is all about business when he takes the mound, and that means he is all about the Mariners business, which is attempting to ensure that they win.
I won't say that the rest of the world wasn't aware of who King Felix was, but he definitely resonated with a bunch of no nonsense New York Yankee fan buffoons when he won his first Cy Young award in 2010. The argument against King Felix - he only had 13 wins. CC Sabathia had 21. The argument for King Felix - in virtually every single pitching metric alive King Felix was better than Sabathia - and then some. So right now, that is King Felix's claim to fame, he is the Cy Young winner with the least amount of wins the year he won it. Apparently the only measurable way to determine a pitcher's success is whether he wins the game or not. If we played in the NL, I would guarantee King Felix would actually pitch a two hit shutout and then bat in his team's only run to win the game. He is that much of a competitor.
The Mariners will be relying even heavier on King Felix this year. Last year King Felix had a great year that was quality of an ace on the staff, but it wasn't Cy Young worthy. That is the problem with pitchers who win the Cy Young. King Felix is now expected to be Cy Young worthy every year. With Michael Pineda traded to the Yankees in the offseason, the Mariners will need King Felix to step up each and every start and give the Mariners a credible chance and scoring two runs to win the game. Jason Vargas steps to the mound after King Felix. Vargas is a quality pitcher who is probably a good guy to, and on any other team he would be a bit further down in the rotation. The Mariners have some really good prospects coming into town, most likely very soon, but very soon isn't now. So for now, all the Mariners have is King Felix. That is a good feeling, because by having King Felix, it means that other teams can't have King Felix, at least for another few years. The Mariners have him locked up until 2015.
Last year, King Felix relied on his fastball quite a bit less than in previous years and through his change-up into the mix more often. We know that King Felix is capable of pitching himself out of every conceivable jam (as seen in 2010), and looking at his statistics it looks like players just hit the ball against him a little bit better last year. That happens. His strikeouts per nine innings actually went up from 2010 to 2011 (8.36 to 8.55) and his strikeout percentage still hovered around 23%. The one key increase was King Felix went from 0.61 HRs per nine innings to 0.73. Hitters hit a whopping .245 off of him last year instead of .210 as they did in 2010. Most of King Felix's numbers last year were more along the lines of his career averages, but he had been working those career averages down (or up - whatever the positive may be) in setting new career stats in both 2009 and 2010. Most analysts are pegging for a return to 2010 form for King Felix - a sub 3.00 ERA, a lower WHIP while leaving most of his other numbers intact. This means at the end of the year, King Felix could very possibly be left in the conversation of the Cy Young award - and once again for him to win it, he'll need the help of the voters remembering that wins don't mean everything.