By Gary Hill
On Saturday, Felix Hernandez emphatically pronounced his Cy Young candidacy with a dominating two-hit, complete-game shutout over the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium. It was a spectacular performance that saw The King slice and dice the fourth highest scoring offense in MLB that had hit a home run in 21 straight home games.
The 2010 Cy Young Award winner has surged to the forefront of the conversation this year with a sensational stretch of pitching. Since June 17, Felix is 6-0 with a 1.41 ERA to go with 75 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings pitched. He is averaging over 7 innings a start during the run and he has only yielded 14 bases on balls and one homer. His entire wicked arsenal of front-line pitches has been at his disposal. The term "changeup" does not accurately describe what he throws to the plate. His changeup is one of the single best pitches in all of baseball. His pitch is something out of science fiction with so much movement AL batters have petitioned that a GPS tracker be attached so it can be located. It regularly dives into the dirt like a marble tumbling off of a table top.
In New York, his fastball reached 94 mph and he has long put to bed the early season whispers of concern regarding velocity. The two-seamer and four-seamer dance with the graceful movement of a world-class ballerina. His devastating slider can buckle the knees of the most feared hitters in the game. His sweeping curve is reminiscent of a lion hunting a gazelle on the Serengeti. Much like the lion, his curveball silently stalks its prey until it unexpectedly strikes and subdues its struggling victim before they ever knew how much danger they were actually in.
He has used this devastating array of pitches to again propel him into the top stratosphere of big league pitchers. Felix is tied for third in the AL with a 2.63 ERA. He has pitched more innings than anyone else in all of baseball (164). He leads the American League in punchouts with 159. Hitters are managing just a .231 average against him, which is 10th in the AL. His WHIP is fifth best at 1.11 and he has only given up 10 homers this year. He is also tied for the American League lead in shutouts with three. It should be noted that Felix has provided 12 percent of the shutouts thrown in the AL this year.
With two months to go in the 2012 campaign Felix will have to fend off several worthy candidates to earn the title of the best pitcher in the American League. Here are the candidates in no particular order:
Jered Weaver, LAA
Weaver has a shiny 14-1 record that will appeal to many voters. He also leads the AL in ERA (2.29) and WHIP (0.95) and is second in batting average against at .202. He also has a no-hitter to his credit this year. However, he has only thrown 122 innings, which is a full 42 innings behind Felix. Weaver has only managed 92 strikeouts, which is 28th in the AL and only one ahead of Kansas City's Bruce Chen.
David Price, TB
Price has the fifth best ERA in the AL (2.64). He has racked up 140 innings, which is 10th in the league, and he has fanned the sixth most in the AL (141). Opponents are batting .229 (seventh) and his WHIP sits at 1.16 (seventh). His 14-4 record will also appeal to many voters.
Justin Verlander, DET
Verlander has the third best ERA in baseball with Felix at 2.63. He is second in innings pitched behind Felix at 160 2/3. He is second in strikeouts behind Felix with 152. He is second in WHIP at 0.98, which is three spots better than Hernandez, and opponents are only hitting .201 against him, which is tops.
The numbers will certainly change as the 2012 Major League Baseball season steamrolls through August and September. The top pitchers in the AL will move up and down the statistical ladder depending on their last start. Nevertheless, when the dust settles on the 2012 season there is a good chance that once again Felix Hernandez is left standing as the best pitcher in the American League.