Is the King still the King for the Seattle Mariners?
Felix Hernandez has been Seattle’s ace pitcher for more than a decade. He’s the Mariners’ all-time leader in starts (364), wins (156), innings pitched (2,442.1) and strikeouts (2,286). King’s Court in left field at Safeco Field is still packed every time Hernandez takes the mound, fans all clad in yellow shirts and waving “K” placards.
But is it still accurate to describe Hernandez as Seattle’s ace, or has James Paxton snatched that designation away?
Hernandez’s numbers have been on the decline the past couple seasons, and he currently finds himself on the disabled list because of bursitis in his right shoulder, making this the second straight year the normally-durable Hernandez has spent significant time on the sidelines. His numbers so far this season are a less-than-kingly 2-2 with a 4.83 ERA. His strikeout rate (7.43 per nine innings) remains toward the low end of his career, as does his average fastball velocity (91.1 mph).
Meanwhile, Paxton’s star continues to rise. The Canadian left-hander was one of the majors’ best pitchers over the first month of the season, going 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA and 39-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 32.1 innings. According to FanGraphs.com his average fastball velocity (95.8) ranks fifth among all starting pitchers. These results are a continuation of what he did during the latter parts of last season, following a stint in triple-A when he lowered his arm slot and gained five mph. Paxton also came up with the definitive ace moment last Wednesday, throwing seven shutout innings in an 8-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers to ease the sting of an ugly 19-9 loss the previous night that also saw Hernandez and right fielder Mitch Haniger go down with injuries.
Hernandez has too many innings under his belt as an elite pitcher to write him off, and Paxton has too few innings pitching at a high level to anoint him as a member of the elite class just yet. But it’s not too early to wonder whether their roles have begun to reverse.
So is the King still the ace? Is Paxton now the No. 1? Or is it someone else entirely? What do you think?
POLL: Who is the Mariners' current ace pitcher? Full context here: https://t.co/ypUtphlj97
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) May 1, 2017