Numbers don't lie: Felix Hernandez is unluckiest pitcher of all time

Felix Hernandez did a bunch of Felix Hernandez things for the Seattle Mariners on Sunday: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 10 strikeouts.

Much like on Opening Day, he wasn't lighting up the radar gun, with an average of 89.8 mph on his fastball, topping out at 91.7. His changeup, however, though thrown just a few miles per hour less than his fastball, proved a lethal weapon, with eight of his 10 K's coming on that pitch.

Nonetheless, after seven innings, 99 pitches and a slim 1-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics, manager Scott Servais turned the game over to the Seattle bullpen.

"We discussed it, kind of where he was at going into the game, pitch-wise, and if he had enough to get through the next inning, but at that point, it was probably best to go with somebody else," Servais told reporters after the game.

Hernandez agreed with the decision and said he didn't want to throw 115 pitches in his second start of the seasons.

The Mariners relievers blew the game. The A's hit home runs in the eighth and 10th to pull off a 2-1 victory. No win for King Felix -- something he and Mariners fans are all too used to in his career.

It was the 45th start in which Hernandez allowed zero runs or one run and didn't get credit for a win. That ties him with Zack Greinke for the most such starts among active pitchers. With years of inept offenses -- the Mariners have finished better than 11th in runs scored just once in his tenure, back in 2007, when they ranked seventh -- you wonder: Is Hernandez the unluckiest pitcher of all time? Those 45 winless games account for 13.4 percent of his career starts.

Greinke's 45 games account for a slightly higher percentage of his career starts, at 13.8 percent. King Felix, however, has pitched a little better in his games. He has thrown 317 innings with a 0.88 ERA, compared to Greinke's 288.2 innings and 0.90 ERA. Hernandez's average Game Score is 72.5 versus Greinke's 67.0.

How do those two compare to other bad-luck hurlers? Sticking to this one idea of "bad luck," Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information reports that over the past 100 years (getting us past most of the dead-ball era, in which 1-0 and 2-1 games were common), only six other pitchers have had more winless games when allowing one run or zero runs: Nolan Ryan, Tom Glavine, Don Sutton, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tommy John. That's good company, with four Hall of Famers, a would-be Hall of Famer and a guy who won 288 games. Let's see how those six compare.

Note that fewer losses mean more bad luck because you can't lose if you allow no runs. Hernandez and Greinke are well ahead of the others in percentage of career starts that ended with these types of no-decisions. Hernandez has the highest average Game Score -- to be fair, he has pitched in an era with more strikeouts, which is part of the Game Score formula -- but notice as well that only Sutton averaged more innings per start.

That's important because one reason starters don't get as many wins these days is they don't pitch as deep into games. That's not the reason Hernandez isn't winning, however; he's pitching deep into games but not getting any run support.

One name I was surprised to not see on the list was Bert Blyleven. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame, one of the arguments that helped get him elected was his bad luck and poor run support in his career. Although he did lose a lot of low-scoring games, he had only 34 of these no-win games.

Ryan's ledger is a little unique because it includes 11 outings of fewer than three innings. I suspect he tried to pitch through injuries and couldn't do it or, in a few cases, was removed after walking too many guys. His ERA is lower than Hernandez's and some others', due to a high number of unearned runs, which might have been his fault in part (he made more errors than any other pitcher). Ryan also benefited from pitching most of his career in Anaheim and Houston in two great pitcher's parks that were conducive to low-scoring baseball.

Maybe you can make a case for Maddux as the unluckiest, given his low ERA and much of his career coming during the high-scoring steroids era. Maddux had 18 games in which he allowed zero runs and didn't get the win. Only Ryan, with 19, has more in the past 100 years. Maddux pitched 19 more innings than Ryan in those games, a reflection of those early departures for Ryan. Hernandez has 11 games with no runs and no victory (Greinke has 14 but has pitched 81.1 innings in those games, compared to 78 for Hernandez).

In the end, Hernandez's percentage of great starts with no wins is much higher than Maddux's, and that's the kicker that has made Hernandez so unlucky. The numbers seem to validate what Mariners fans already know: King Felix has been supported by a lineup of serfs.

Thanks to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index for invaluable research help.