Fantasy Baseball 2012: Where Should Felix Hernandez Rank Among Starting Pitchers

Eric StashinSenior Writer IJanuary 12, 2012

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 12:  Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the New York Yankees at Safeco Field on September 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It may seem a little bit odd to discuss a pitcher we all know is among the best in the game, but exactly how to value Felix Hernandez is something that fantasy owners need to question.  He clearly has elite upside, but unfortunately that isn’t always enough.  First of all, let’s look at his numbers from 2011:

14 Wins
233.2 Innings
3.47 ERA
1.22 WHIP
222 Strikeouts (8.55 K/9)
67 Walks (2.58 BB/9)
.307 BABIP

The ERA and WHIP were obviously higher than we have become accustomed to.  Over the previous two seasons he had posted ERAs of 2.49 or better and WHIPs of 1.14 or better (including a 1.06 in 2010).  It’s easy to pinpoint why those numbers regressed in 2011, and it all centered on the luck metrics.

His BABIP was his worst since 2008.  His strand rate, which was at 72.7 percent for the season, was his worst since 2006.  He has long proven to have the skills to produce better numbers in that regard, and we should expect him to return to his previous levels in 2012.

That’s not the issue, nor is his ability to produce strikeouts or ability to take the mound.  He has posted three straight seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and 230-plus innings (six straight seasons of over 190 innings and 30 starts).

Off the cuff you would think that he’s a near lock to be a top-five option, but that, unfortunately, isn’t the case.  While we generally don’t look at wins, due to them being impossible to predict, it is something that can’t be overlooked when it comes to King Felix.  Barring a surprising season, does anyone expect him to surpass 14 or 15 wins?  Before you answer that, keep in mind that he has won more than 14 games in a season just once in his career (19 in 2009).

The fact of the matter is that the Seattle Mariners just aren’t that good and they aren’t going to score many runs (barring a surprising signing of Prince Fielder).  That means, even if Hernandez allows two runs in seven innings of work, there’s a good chance he doesn’t leave in position to win (or, even if he does, it is no lock that Brandon League can hold down the win).

When you are looking at some of the best pitchers in the game, win potential suddenly becomes a defining factor.  While Hernandez's skills could put him on the same level as the Roy Halladays, Clayton Kershaws and Justin Verlanders of the world, his potential for victories does not.  You can say the same thing about CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.  Heck, even Tim Lincecum likely will have a better chance to win games (though that one could be debated).

All the pitchers I mentioned above have similar skill to Hernandez.  All have the potential to strike out over 200 batters with ERAs under 3.00 and WHIPs under 1.20.  The difference is those six can all easily end the year with 17-plus victories (or, in Lincecum’s case, he pitches against easier lineups in the National League).  For Hernandez, that’s just not the case.

We may love Hernandez's potential, but in yearly formats it’s impossible for me to rank him better than the seventh best pitcher on my draft board.  It wouldn’t even surprise me to see him lower than that, but consider his ceiling entering the year.

What are your thoughts on Hernandez?  Where would you rank him entering the season?  Is he a pitcher you would want to own?

Make sure to check out our 2012 projections: