Orioles

Felix Hernandez has a simple motivation late in his career

Orioles

When it comes to his motivation in continuing to pitch in 2021, new Orioles pitcher Felix Hernandez puts it simply: "The Hall of Fame."

As spring training gets underway, "King Felix" held court with Orioles reporters Thursday to discuss his signing in Baltimore and his goals for the season. He made it clear that the biggest draw to the Orioles, in his eyes, was the opportunity they offered him to earn a spot in the starting rotation.

Hernandez also explained that he still has fun on the mound when he is healthy. He suffered through injuries at the end of his tenure in Seattle, and while he points out he's still only 34, his arm has had a lot of miles on it for his age.

Hernandez's early start - he made his big league debut at the age of 19, a rarity in this day and age - is both the thing that helps his Hall-of-Fame case and hurts his chances to add to his numbers now. Starting to accumulate stats so young gave him a leg up on his peers, but it also put a strain on his arm that may prevent him from reaching the numbers he wants.

The former Cy Young winner has a strong resume, with 2,524 strikeouts and 169 wins in his career, but he wants to reach a couple of rounder numbers to boost his Hall of Fame credentials. Reaching 3,000 strikeouts is just a matter of durability at this point in his career, but it won't be easy.

 

Just 18 pitchers in baseball history have reached that mark, 14 of whom are in the Hall of Fame. The only exceptions are Roger Clemens (steroids) and Curt Schilling (controversial comments), who are out for off-field reasons, and CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, who are not yet eligible.

200 wins is a more attainable goal historically - 118 pitchers have reached that total - but it might be more difficult for Hernandez. The Orioles aren't likely to provide many opportunities for wins this season, something he is all too familiar with after his time in Seattle.

Hernandez's prime being wasted on several bad Mariners teams was one of the sparks for the evolution of how baseball fans measure pitchers - his 13 wins in 2010 was the lowest in MLB history for any Cy Young winner, a recognition of the value he provided despite receiving little to no help from his teammates.

The Orioles' lack of winning opportunities isn't the only thing going against his pursuit of 200 wins. The modern era of baseball rewards pitchers with fewer wins, but it also give them fewer chances. Starting pitchers are being pulled from games earlier and earlier, and an analytically-driven front office led by Mike Elias isn't likely to push the envelope with a 34-year old well past his prime.

As it is, Hernandez may have done enough already to earn his enshrinement. He has accrued over 50 career WAR according to Baseball-Reference and has an ERA of 3.42. His body of work presents an interesting case, considering his elite peak from 2009-15, but his lack of longevity.

In his eyes, his best chance is to just keep pitching to try to add some more counting stats to the back of his baseball card. And the Orioles were the team that gave him the best opportunity to do just that.