By Brent Stecker
With the steroid era over, pitchers have taken over Major League Baseball. And according to ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian, the Mariners' resident King, Felix Hernandez, is at the forefront of the game's sea change.
Felix Hernandez's numbers in 2013 have been outstanding, including a 5-2 record and an AL-best 1.53 ERA. (AP)
While joining 710 ESPN Seattle's "Bob and Groz," Kurkjian explained that the 27-year-old Hernandez is in elite company for his age.
"(With) this many innings pitched, this many wins ... this many strikeouts, this many dominant games, when you start looking at guys at this age that have accomplished this much, you start thinking two things -- he's going to the Hall of Fame if he keeps this up for any significant length of time from here, and he's got an outside, outside chance at winning 300 games," Kurkjian said.
That's high praise considering Kurkjian believes the days of 300-game winners may be over.
"We get asked all the time, 'Will anyone win 300 again?' My answer probably is no, but I think the best shot at it is Felix Hernandez, who throws this hard still, his stuff is still this dominant, and that's a lot of innings in there," said Kurkjian. "He's not Roy Halladay innings, but he's 10 years behind him (in age) and his arm is still going really, really well here, and that's an encouraging sign for the Mariners."
Hernandez has arguably been the best pitcher in the American League this year, as he sports a 5-2 record, a league-leading 1.53 ERA, 0.90 walks-hits per inning, 56 strikeouts and just eight walks. With his performance, he's helping set the bar during a historically dominant season for pitchers, who are striking out batters at an all-time high.
"It is really hard to hit these days. The pitching today is unlike any time that's I've seen in the 33 years that I have covered. We have more guys throwing in the mid-90s, more guys with not just one quality secondary pitch but two," Kurkjian said. "(Current Texas Ranger) Lance Berkman told me last year, 'Every night someone comes out of the bullpen throwing 95 miles-per-hour, and I've never even heard of him.' That's how many young, hard throwers we have. We used to just have hard-throwing right-handed starting pitchers. Now we have left-handed relievers, lefty starters who are in the mid-90s. That was unheard of to have this many or even close to this 30 years ago. Now they're everywhere."
Kurkjian said the combination of pitchers evolving and bad approaches by hitters are contributing to the dominant pitching numbers.
"Pitchers have just decided, 'Look, we can't do this anymore. We have to come up with something else.' I was talking to a pitching coach the other day who said that's where the cutter came from. So many pitchers were getting their brains beat out every night, because in the steroid era there were so many big, strong hitters, they said, 'OK, we gotta come up with something else.' Not necessarily something new, but different pitches have been perfected.
"The hitters aren't helping things by going up there saying I'm gonna swing as hard as I can on every pitch, or I'm gonna really work a deep count here. (They) try to draw a walk and before you know it they're 0-2 and the other guy has three pitches that they can't hit. And that's why the strikeout rate is at an all-time high right now."