Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hail to the King

So alot is being said lately about the star power of the phenom that Mariners' fans know simply as "The King". Of course, referring to 19-year-old righthander, Felix Hernandez.

With a special talent like Hernandez's, it is truly difficult to predict what exactly he will do throughout his career. News services such as Fox Sports and CBS Sportsline have had such rave reviews as, "M’s fans can savor every pitch from Felix Hernandez—one of the best pitching prospects in the annals of the game." and "The reason to go see Seattle play, of course, is Felix Hernandez — the greatest pitching prospect the game has seen in a very long time." These types of reviews are not thrown out very often, and are a sure indication that King Felix Hernandez has the stuff, the makeup and the ability to become that special player that all of Mariner Nation hopes he can become.

With tremendous upside also comes the huge expectations, and so many times, a failure to launch into superstardom. All one has to do is look over at the lowly Chicago Cub's roster to see a prime example of how huge arms can quickly become a major hindrance to the franchise.

Kerry Wood, who burst onto the scene in 1998 becoming one of only two pitchers at the time to strike out 20 batters in a single game... and he did it as a rookie. Yes, things were looking up for Kerry Wood in '98, but what has happened since then? A multitude of injuries, re-aggravations of injuries, and other setbacks has derailed the train that once seemed destined to drive Kerry Wood right to the top of the list of all-time greats.

Right behind Wood on the list of potential "once in a generation" arms is fellow Cubs righty, Mark Prior. Prior joined the major league club in 2002 when he started 19 games for the Cubs, the next season, Prior started 30 games for the Cub's as it looked like they were finally starting to take care of their young pitchers. However, towards the end of the 2003 season, Prior began to come up with elbow problems. In spring training for the 2004 season, Prior once again was forced out of action due to elbow problems as well as a lingering leg injury. Spring training 2005? Yep, injuries forced Prior to miss significant time. This just serves as a constant reminder that you can never truly get too high on a player just by looking at what he has done early in his career. Whew, that was long.

Now, for the fun stuff. Felix Hernandez, King Felix or K-K-K-K-King Felix looks ready to absolutely explode onto the baseball scene in Seattle and may just become the savior to a Seattle franchise that is in desperate need of one. Last season, Hernandez only started 12 games for the Mariners, but in those 12 games something magical happened. If you look below to the post on VORP to see exactly what that means, then this number will mean something very special to you... In those 12 starts, the VORP for Hernandez, a staggering 28.1. I will let you take a moment to let that sink in. Ok. 28.1 VORP for Hernandez in only 12 starts, if you prorate that number out to an average year of 35 starts, the full season VORP for Hernandez is an 82, compare that with the Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon of the Angels who had a VORP of 49.1 in 33 starts. Chris Carpenter, the Cy Young winner in the National League? His VORP was a 67.8 in 33 starts as well.

Keeping with the stat-head mentality, I offer to you one more nugget of fun information on Hernandez. Baseball Prospectus, the organization that comes up with the formula for many of the statistics that I use here, has another interesting way of rating players. This system is called "similarity index". Similarity index is described as "a gauge of a player's historical uniqueness", basically it assigns a number for a player that describes the ability to compare him to past players in baseball. The lower the number, the more extraordinary the talent of that player. Baseball Prospectus says a number below 20 is historically unusual. Albert Pujols, one of the best young hitters in all of baseball has a similarity index of 16. Randy Johnson, one of the premier pitchers throughout his career has a similarity index of 4... Impressive huh? Well, looking at the similarity index of Hernandez is enough to send chills down the spine of any baseball historian. 1. That is not a typo, it is a ONE! No explanation of that is necessary except to say that Hernandez is without a doubt a once in a lifetime type of talent.

It is truly difficult to get very excited about the talent that Hernandez has, just for the sheer fact that the Seattle franchise has had very little luck in the last few years with talented pitchers. However, I am encouraged with how management is handling this young pitcher in particular. From limits on the innings he will pitch this year (his age multiplied by 10 which equals 190) in both spring training and the full season combined, to the way they handle small injuries such as Hernandez's shin splints which have caused him now to miss his last start of spring.

It may be time to usher in a new era of Mariner baseball, and I for one am ready to "Hail to the King" and welcome Felix Hernandez with open arms to the hall of future greats in Major League Baseball. If statistics, details and makeup of this 19-year-old phenom have anything to say, Hernandez may be ready to enter that hall with no delay.


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