Kinsella has long been home to fine pitchers such as Darren Chance, Felipe Tejada, Ozzie Percival, Patrick Rivera, and Jeff Bollea, but one of the league’s top young guns may have established a new standard for single season excellence.
The New York Mets’ Walt Hernandez, after leading his club to a World Series appearance in Season Eight and inking a five-year, 44 million dollar deal during the offseason, turned in arguably the finest season any Kinsella pitcher has ever had.
The 29 year-old lefty posted a 21-4 record in 29 starts and established a new all-time low ERA of 1.52, a mark nearly .5 better than the previous record held by Pittsburgh’s Orlando Guerrero. Hernandez fanned 239 opposing batters, the second highest single-season total ever; walked just 62 hitters and held opponents to a .179 batting average against. His WHIP of .94 was also good enough for second all-time, only bested by his Season Seven tally of .94.
And what of those four losses? Three came against eventual playoff squads (Montreal, San Francisco, and Atlanta) and all four opponents were held to three earned runs or less. In fact, Hernandez was so dominant that no team scored more than three earned runs against him all season and 21 of his 29 outings were quality starts.
So where does the Mets’ lefty rank among all-time single season efforts?
Darren Chance, Season Five, Philadelphia Phillies
In his first full season with the Phillies Chance was nearly unhittable, posting a 17-7 mark in 34 starts. The then 34 year-old finished the season with a 2.04 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while fanning 209 and walking just 61.
Felipe Tejada, Season Two, Arizona Diamondbacks
During the heart of the steroid era no National League pitcher was more feared than Tejada, who won 22 games for the D-Backs in Season Two. Kinsella’s career leader in complete games finished 11 of his 35 starts that year, posting a 2.11 ERA and 22 wins while holding opposing batters to a paltry .191 batting average. Tejada struck out a career-high 219 batters that season and posted a WHIP of 1.00.
Patrick Rivera, Season Seven, New York Yankees
A year after spurning Kansas City for the bright lights and big money of New York City, Rivera dominated the American League en route to his only Cy Young award. He won 24 games for the eventual World Champs while posting a 2.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 221 strikeouts in 34 starts.
Ozzie Percival, Season Six, New York Yankees
Following a midseason trade from Washington during Season Five, Percival embarked on one of the most prolific stretches in Kinsella history, winning 36 games and posting a 2.55 ERA over the next year and a half. During Season Six, however, the right-hander put up his best effort. In that season he posted a 2.52 ERA and a 24-3 record in 221 innings, but did walk a career-high 79 batters and finish with a pedestrian 146 strikeouts.
Of course there are other hurlers that deserve recognition for seasons of excellence throughout the history of Kinsella, but each of the four above have long been recognized as the premier talent at the position. The point is not that Walt Hernandez has earned a right to be mentioned with them, but that it would be impossible not to mention him before them. Prognosticators had long labeled the lefty as the future, yet few would have predicted this level of dominance.
Here are Hernandez’ career totals through 184 starts, with his career rank in parentheses:
76 Wins (NR)
2.58 ERA (1)
1.05 WHIP (1)
8.88 K/9 (1)
.205 OAV (1)
2.71 OBP (1)
3.08 SLG (1)