Felix Hernandez: Greatest Mariners pitcher of all time?

Felix or Randy? That is the ?

Amongst a treacherous slide for the once-hot Seattle Mariners, a positive thought crossed my mind.

Once a week we get to see one of the greatest pitchers of all time go out there and throw the ball.

I’m talking about Aaron Harang, of course. Haha! What a joke.

But seriously, the generation of baseball fans that have come to truly appreciate the M’s in the late 90’s and 2000’s have been very spoiled with their pitching staff’s talent.

We got to see the great Randy Johnson throw Mr. Snappy right past batters on a regular basis – as well as Felix Hernandez hold court every start out on the mound.

Both players are almost guaranteed spots in the Hall of Fame. Both have sweet nicknames – The Big Unit and The King – and both had/have excellent careers in Seattle.

But which was the more impressive Mariner? Many are quick to say Johnson. But should they? Let’s dig a little deeper…

Early Years – The Big Unit

Coming out of USC – where he also played 2 years of basketball, mind you – Randy was selected by the Montreal Expos in 1985 at the age of 22. He made his major league debut in 1988 and pitched 11 games for the Expos – going 4-4.

Upon the trade to Seattle in ’89, Johnson was well-feared around the league – on account of his tall frame, energetic presence on the mound, crucial mullet/stache combo and the fact that he threw 100 mph without a clue of where it would wind up.

As a result of this inaccuracy, Johnson led the AL in walks from 1990-92, as well as hit-batters from ’92-93.

Randy Johnson Mariners png

Randy Johnson “The Big Unit.” (Photo:

Against the Brewers in 1991, Johnson allowed 4 runs on 1 hit – thanks to 10 walked batters in 4 innings. A feat he would repeat in ’92.

He showed glimpses of his potential, but couldn’t find the strike zone and reach that elite level. Until Nolan Ryan stepped in.

Late in the 1992 season, Ryan held a private session with Randy to go over his delivery. He was quoted saying that he appreciated Randy’s talent and he didn’t want to see him take as long to figure certain things out as he had.

A simple adjustment of footwork – landing on the ball of his foot rather than heel upon delivery – and Randy’s accuracy drastically improved.

From then on, Randy became the elite ace Seattle had never seen before.

Early Years – King Felix

The story of Felix’s discovery is incredible. He was noticed by Mariners‘ scout Luis Fuenmayor at age 14 in a tournament near Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Luis recommended Felix to fellow scouts on account that the 14-year-old Felix was already throwing 90 MPH!

Simple to say that once Felix reached the age of 16, he was offered a contract by the Mariners organization. After graduating high school, he signed his first professional contract on July 4, 2002.

Although other teams offered more money – such as the Braves and Yankees – Felix chose Seattle to follow in the footsteps of his favorite player, Freddy Garcia.

Since then Felix has been sensational.

Whether he was shredding the minor leagues at age 19, or averaging the fastest fastball of all major league starters in 2006 at 95.2 mph – Felix has been a dominant righty from the get-go and has established his name in the major leagues for years now.

Breaking Down the Stats

The stats are a rather rough comparison when you consider that Felix had his first full season at the age of 20 and Randy had his at 26. But we will use major league experience as the indicator, as that is the only true way to analyze production.

Randy Johnson in his first 8 seasons:

    • Innings: 1,492.9
    • K’s: 1,684
    • Walks: 773
    • ERA: 3.60
    • 4x All-Star (’90, ’93, ’94, ’95), 1 No-Hitter (June 2, 1990) and 1 Cy Young Award (1995)

Felix Hernandez in his first 8 seasons:

    • Innings: 1,618
    • K’s: 1,487
    • Walks: 480
    • ERA: 3.23
    • 3x All-Star (2009, 2011, 2012), Immaculate Inning (June 17, 2008), 1 Perfect Game (August 15, 2012) and 1 Cy Young Award (2010)

A few things jump off the page at your first glance.

First off, I refrained from using the W-L stat. Why? Because it is the most overrated statistic in sports.

Wins and losses are completely out of the pitcher’s hands, and do not by any means give an idea of the pitcher’s ability. Look at Felix’s lineup compared to Randy’s. LITTLE bit of a difference.

Felix Hernandez Felixing

“The King” Felix Hernandez

Second, the K’s for Randy and the ERA for Felix. Both stats truly show each player’s best attributes.

Final Analysis

When thinking back on Randy Johnson, I just remember him being so fun to watch.

Every batter was afraid to face him, every time he took the mound in the Kingdome you just knew the electricity was going to be wild – but some of this entertainment was due to the knowledge that at any point in time a high fastball could fly out of the strike zone and decapitate the opposing batter.

Thinking back on Felix and watching him now, the transition in style this young man has made in his pitching style is like no other I have seen.

He came into the league throwing HEAT. He now dominates in the league with a low-90’s fastball that opponents claim is “invisible.”

He also generated the nastiest change up in the game. His style isn’t as flashy as it once was, but has adapted to be more efficient and gives his arm the durability to complete games.


Drum roll please…

I’m going with The King!

I know Randy was a piece of the Mariners’ golden age, was arguably the best strike-out pitcher of all time, AND has 5 Cy Young’s to his name. I KNOW.

But I am speaking strictly of their tenures in Seattle. At that 8-year mark, Felix has shown more than Randy. All the while being 6 years younger.

This is just something that has been brewing in my head for years now, and I figured the Mariner fan base needs something to cheer them up during a stretch such as this one.

So hey, keep that chin up. You have the greatest Mariner pitcher of ALL TIME to watch every week. Consider yourselves fortunate!!!

Go Mariners!!!


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About Jordin Ereth

Reigning from the Palouse, an avid Cougar and Seahawks fan who still sheds a tear at the name drop of our lost Sonics. A recent graduate from Washington State University with a degree in Broadcasting Productions and Sports Media. Go Cougs! Connect w/ Jordin today!
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