I can't believe we have witnessed the entire rise and fall of Felix Hernandez's career without the Mariners ever being good enough to get him into the post-season. Seattle hasn't made the playoffs since their 116 win season in 2001, and it's a shame baseball never got to see this guy pitch in October during his prime.
It was a prime that included a Cy Young award in 2010 despite Hernandez only winning 13 games. The rest of his numbers were so good that even the old school awards voters that still value pitcher wins couldn't pick against him. From 2009 through 2014 he finished in the top 4 of the Cy Young voting four times and won two ERA titles. He also threw an electric perfect game in 2012:
However, as good as King Felix was for all those years he has now been trending downward for several seasons. In 2016 he posted the highest walk rate of his career as well as the lowest strikeout rate. That's not a good combination for a pitcher over 30. Over the winter he bulked up from 207 pounds to 224 in an attempt to regain his velocity. So far it hasn't worked as Felix had a 4.73 ERA before going on the DL with a shoulder injury.
But while the Mariners have been dealing with injuries and are off to a slow start, their new ace James Paxton is transforming into an early Cy Young contender (yes, he's been that good). Paxton was a popular breakout candidate entering the year and was on every fantasy baseball sleeper list. The reasoning for this were some largely unnoticed leaps the lefty took last year. He changed the arm angle from which he threw and all of a sudden his fastball velocity rose from 94.2 mph in 2015 to 96.8 mph last year. Miraculously, not only did the increased velocity lead to more strikeouts, it led to fewer walks (2.8 BB/9 in 2015 to 1.8 BB/9 in 2016).
So there was upside here, but even the most optimistic Paxton truthers have to be surprised at what they've seen. Through his first five starts of the year Paxton is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 39 strikeouts, and just six walks spread across 32 1/3 innings pitched. A closer look at his career numbers (3.22 ERA) show he's been underrated even before 2017, but that he's never been able to stay healthy. Staying on the field will be key for him to continue this breakout.
Paxton's rise has been maybe the only thing that has gone right for the Mariners this year. Mitch Haniger is second among position players in WAR but he's now going to miss a month due to injury. Felix is on the DL. Drew Smyly got hurt before the year even started. And the team has a record of 11-15, which is good for last in the AL West. Despite all this Paxton looks to be the real. Some pitchers just put it all together later than others do. If he avoids the disabled list in 2017 we could be talking about him as a top ten to fifteen starting pitcher in all of baseball come September. Seattle has had a rough start to the year but compared to other slow starting teams they are from far dead.