Locking up Hernandez solidifies Mariners as a contender
The Mariners have been one of this Hot Stove season's most compelling teams, but whatever you make of their acquisitions of
It's a great deal for Hernandez as well. With general manager
Save for brief a bit of elbow tightness in mid-2007 and fluky sprained ankle in 2008, Hernandez has shown no signs of fragility in his first five major league seasons, but any long-term pitching contract carries a significant injury risk, no matter what the pitcher's previous medical history might be. Pitching is an extremely unnatural act that places enormous stress and strain on two major joints filled with delicate ligaments, muscles, and connective tissues. Even the healthiest pitcher's arm can go pop at any time. Hernandez has proven to be durable thus far, but that has resulted in a lot of innings pitched at a very young age. Because young men's bodies are still completing the growing and maturing process in their early twenties, any pitcher under 25 is automatically an elevated injury risk. That's why an increasing number of teams have come to enforce pitch and innings limits on their young starters.
Hernandez was so good so young that he made his major league debut at 19 and has already thrown 905 major league innings at age 23, 820 2/3 of them over the last four seasons. The M's did well to keep Hernandez below 200 innings pitched in his first two full major league seasons, and he topped out at 200 2/3 innings in his third season, but his breakout 2009 season saw him throw 238 2/3 innings, which is a ton for a 23 year old. The M's have also been smart about Hernandez's pitch counts, as he's thrown 120 or more pitches in a major league game just once, that coming in his penultimate start of 2009, though, again, his pitches per start have increased annually over the last three seasons, reaching 107 in 2009.
That method of gradual increase is smart, but it might be ahead of schedule given Hernandez is still shy of his 24th birthday. Consider the early years of the two biggest workhorses in baseball today,
Of course, that sort of anecdotal approach can cut both ways. Pessimists can point to
Still, Hernandez would have to become Mark Prior for his new deal not to be a good one for the Mariners, and the M's aren't about to be as abusive of Felix as