- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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With Felix Hernandez and the Mariners reportedly close last week to signing a $175 million contract that would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the game, Buster Olney is now reporting that the extension is not close to being finished, with a source citing an "elbow issue."
I'm not exactly sure what that means. Hernandez has never missed a start and you could say that every pitcher has a potential elbow or shoulder issue. That's what happens to pitchers; most of them get hurt eventually. Hernandez has pulled out of the World Baseball Classic, but said that's because he didn't wish to participate while still negotiating. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told MLB.com on Sunday that he's seen Hernandez throwing at Safeco Field and "he's his normal self."
OK, aside from all that, Hernandez has pitched a lot of innings at a young age. Since 1950, only nine pitchers threw more innings through their age-26 seasons since Hernandez, and since 1980, only Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden, both of whom got hurt -- Gooden before turning 27, Valenzuela at age 27. But that was a little different generation and especially in Valenzuela's case, he threw a lot of innings while also throwing a lot of pitches (he walked 99-plus batters four times). If we look at the past 10 seasons, here are the 10 pitchers besides Felix with the most innings at age 26 ... and then their innings the following season:
Roy Halladay, 2003 Blue Jays: 266 (133)
CC Sabathia, 2007 Indians: 241 (253)
Justin Verlander, 2009 Tigers: 240 (224.1)
Roy Oswalt, 2004 Astros: 237 (241.2)
Mark Buehrle, 2005 White Sox: 236.2 (204)
Felix Hernandez, 2012 Mariners: 232 (???)
Johan Santana, 2005 Twins: 231.2 (233.2)
Javier Vazquez, 2003 Expos: 230.2 (198)
Joe Blanton, 2007 A's: 230 (197.2)
Brandon Webb, 2005 Diamondbacks: 229 (235)
Mark Mulder, 2004 A's: 225.2 (205)
All except Halladay made 30 starts the following year, although as you can see some eventually broke down -- Santana, Webb and Mulder (his age-27 season was his last full year). Again, you can take any group of 10 pitchers and some of them are going to break down. This just reaffirms that any big-ticket pitching contract is a big risk.
OK, the over/under question: Basically, we're asking if you think Hernandez will remain healthy and make 30-plus starts for the eighth consecutive season. He's averaged 238 innings the past four seasons, so let's set the over/under at 225 innings.
3dJim Caple, ESPN Senior Writer