He led the league in ERA. He led the league in strikeouts. He even led the league in batting average against.
A dominant season, sure. But not one worthy of a Cy Young.
And Nolan Ryan didn't win one in 1987, just as Seattle's Felix Hernandez should not have won one Thursday.
According to baseball's new math -- and 21 of the 28 Cy Young voters -- Hernandez was the best pitcher in the American League. He led the AL in ERA (2.27) and innings (2492Ú3), was second in strikeouts (232) and held opponents to the lowest batting average (.212) in the AL. He also led the league in sabermetricians' favorite stat, wins above replacement (5.8).
But Hernandez also finished with a 13-12 record, the fewest victories for a Cy Young starter in a full season. Fernando Valenzuela, who won the award with a 13-7 mark in the strike-shortened 1981 season, previously owned the mark for the fewest games over .500 for any Cy Young starter. Those who voted for the right-hander point to the Mariners' inability to score -- Seattle was shut out or held to one run in 10 of his starts -- as the major reason he wasn't accountable for the poor win-loss mark.
Yet Hernandez's season wasn't much different from Ryan's 23 years ago -- and in some respects wasn't as good. Ryan's ERA was 2.76, more than a quarter-point better than the next best pitcher in the league. Hernandez, it should be noted, was only 0.06 ahead of Boston's Clay Buckholz. Ryan had 11 starts in which he received one or no runs of support. Batters hit just .200 against him, the best mark in the league. Sure, he was only fifth in WAR, but at 5.5 the drop-off from Hernandez isn't statistically significant. But Ryan finished fifth in the voting because he went 8-16 on an Astros team that finished 10 games under .500.
What does this mean? Wins just aren't valued the same way as they were a quarter-century ago, and that's a shame. In 1987, there were at least 16 occasions when Ryan wasn't the best pitcher in the ballpark because he lost. And in 2010, there were at least 12 times Hernandez wasn't either. In a lot of ways, that seems like it should be the deciding factor in a game in which winning is all that matters.