Is King Felix or Randy Johnson the Most Dominant Mariners Pitcher Ever?

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2013

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners throws against the Boston Red Sox in the 1st inning at Fenway Park on August 1, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

SB Nation's Bill Parker did us the favor of comparing Felix Hernandez and Randy Johnson based on their performances as members of the Seattle Mariners.

Just a quick glance at his findings leaves you with a burning desire to further analyze their dominance:

Whoa. Felix Hernandez: 264 GS, 1799 IP, 128 ERA+, 39.2 WAR Randy Johnson with Mariners: 266 GS, 1838 IP, 128 ERA+, 39.3 WAR

— Bill Parker (@Bill_TPA) August 23, 2013

To clarify, we're interested in more than plain effectiveness. Those stats Parker tweeted confirm that King Felix and the Big Unit were equally excellent in near-identical sample sizes.

Dominance is so much more than that. It factors in strikeout rate—taking pressure off of the defense—as well as pitch efficiency and finding the delicate balance between them. Consistency from game to game is also a huge part of the dominance equation. Complete-game efforts are ideal, but a truly dominant individual also minimizes his implosions, the forgettable outings when he puts his team at an insurmountable deficit.

Continue scrolling down as we take all of that into consideration and make the difficult choice between a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and a superstar on pace to become one.

*Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and accurate as of August 23.

 

Felix Hernandez in Seattle (2005-Present)

Hernandez debuted for the Mariners as a teenager and immediately excelled. Only 2006, his first full season, could be described as anything less than great.

He's been a four-time All-Star and barring a brutal, late-season slump, this season will mark the fourth time that he has achieved a top-five finish in American League Cy Young Award voting. The writers thankfully overlooked his modest win total in 2010 to recognize him following what was undoubtedly an award-worthy campaign.

Using the marvelous Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, we can extract all the instances in which he has imploded, defined here by surrendering at least five earned runs in four or fewer innings pitched:

DateOppIPHRERBBSOHRPitStr
2005-09-16TEX 3.08553417843
2006-05-16OAK 4.0111052429057
2006-08-23NYY 3.29774408248
2009-05-09MIN 4.06653228150
2010-05-07LAA 3.15874338448
2011-09-24TEX 3.112751206148
2012-05-16CLE 3.2108633010360
2012-09-13TOR 4.010771429061

Not so bad, actually. Felix turns in only about one of those per season, and with a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 1.00, we can infer that the ineffectiveness has more to do with well-placed balls in play, rather than his own awfulness.

That's not an excuse, however. If Hernandez's velocity wasn't quite so ordinary, perhaps he would induce more swings and misses instead of hoping that his fielders bail him out.

The Venezuelan native has never led the AL in strikeouts, although he was runner-up to Jered Weaver in 2010. Also, prior to 2013, he never managed to average more than a strikeout per inning (career 8.3 K/9).

Nonetheless, Hernandez makes a habit out of terrorizing helpless batters.

Bill James' Game Score helps us visualize this. It's a metric that grades each start on a 0-100 scale based on the innings a pitcher provides, his strikeout total and the number of runs and baserunners he allows.

Through 264 career outings, the King has recorded a Game Score of at least 80 about 11 percent of the time.

 

Randy Johnson in Seattle (1989-1998)

The wiry left-hander spent eight full seasons in the Pacific Northwest (1990-1997) and finished top three in AL Cy Young Award voting four times. He won the hardware in 1995 when he lost only two (!) decisions in 30 starts.

Johnson didn't implode often, but it was hideous when he did:

DateOppIPHRERBBSOHRPitStr
1989-08-19KCR 3.25776319253
1990-05-11NYY 3.23554207442
1991-08-24DET 3.06655528544
1991-09-01BOS 1.18882205832
1991-09-07BOS 1.23775117342
1992-06-10TEX 4.04556329243
1993-07-23CLE 1.15884105326
1994-04-10TOR 2.1811106229549
1994-05-06DET 3.277752010557
1998-04-20KCR 3.18663317943
1998-05-19TEX 3.05661215329

In nearly all of those 11 examples, his command deserted him. Johnson's pitch count would climb in a hurry as he struggled to find the strike zone, and notice the four times he departed without even completing three frames (Hernandez had no such performances).

Of course, he was practically untouchable on most occasions.

Johnson limited his opposition to a batting average at or below .216 in every season from 1990-1997. He posted a gaudy 10.6 K/9 during his Mariners career, and his total of 94 double-digit strikeout games is safely out of anybody's reach.

Remember the Game Score stat that attested to Hernandez's dominance? Well, Johnson had 43 such efforts for the Mariners, accounting for more than 16 percent of his regular-season starts with the organization.

Unlike Hernandez, he had opportunities to pitch in the postseason. In allowing fewer than one baserunner per inning during the 1995 and 1997 playoffs, and making arguably the most important relief appearance in franchise history, that certainly doesn't hurt his case.

 

So Who's the Most Dominant?

It's close, but the evidence slightly favors the retired southpaw.

Johnson was not quite as consistent as King Felix has been. Still, we stumble upon far more instances of his near invincibility.

Both of these phenoms pitched no-hitters for Seattle, and they both received their league's ultimate compliment, a Cy Young Award.

As Hernandez's seven-year, $175 million contract extension plays out, we'll have plenty of chances to revisit this career comparison.