Despite posting just a 13-12 record, Hernandez finished well ahead of the Rays' David Price and Yankees 21-game winner CC Sabathia in the voting results released Thursday by the BBWAA.
While there were 17 AL pitchers with more victories this season, Hernandez impressed voters who looked deeper into his dominant season for a 61-101 Mariners club that scored the fewest runs per game of any Major League team since the designated hitter was introduced to the AL in 1973.
King Felix received 21 of a possible 28 first-place votes and finished with 167 voting points. Price, who went 19-6 for Tampa Bay, received four first-place votes and 111 points. Sabathia was named first on three ballots and garnered 102 points. Boston's Jon Lester and the Angels' Jered Weaver finished a distant fourth and fifth, respectively.
Hernandez is the second native of Venezuela to win a Cy Young, joining Johan Santana, who won in 2004 and 2006 while with the Twins.
AL Cy Young voting
|Felix Hernandez, Mariners||21||2||3||1||1||167|
|David Price, Rays||4||15||7||1||111|
|CC Sabathia, Yankees||3||10||12||2||1||102|
|Jon Lester, Red Sox||1||9||12||33|
|Jered Weaver, Angels||1||2||6||2||24|
|Clay Buchholz, Red Sox||2||5||4||20|
|Cliff Lee, Mariners/Rangers||1||1||1||6|
|Rafael Soriano, Rays||1||3||5|
|Trevor Cahill, Athletics||1||2||4|
|Joakim Soria, Royals||1||2|
|Francisco Liriano, Twins||1||1|
|Justin Verlander, Tigers||1||1|
"I don't have any words to explain how it feels," Hernandez said in a conference call with reporters from his home in Venezuela. "When I first heard, my mind was like, 'Really, really?' I had to ask again, 'Did I win the Cy Young?' And then I started crying and jumping around the house. It was a great, great, great, great, amazing thing."
Hernandez led the AL in ERA (2.27) and innings pitched (249 2/3) and struck out 232 batters, one behind Weaver for most in the league. Since the advent of the Cy Young Award in 1956, only 10 pitchers have led their league in those three categories. All 10 won Cy Youngs.
By virtually every statistical category, whether traditional or sabermatic, Hernandez had an incredible season. Yet his won-loss record created an interesting debate for the 28 Cy Young voters, two writers from each AL city.
No starting pitcher had ever won an AL Cy Young Award with fewer than 16 wins. Fernando Valenzuela captured the National League Cy Young Award with a 13-7 record in 1981, but that was a strike-shortened season in which teams played about 110 games.
Tim Lincecum's 15-7 record last year represented the lowest victory total by a starting pitcher who won the NL Cy Young in a full 162-game season.
It was a reversal of fortunes for Hernandez, who finished second to Kansas City's Zack Greinke in the '09 AL Cy Young voting, outscored, 134-80, in that balloting as Greinke garnered 25 first-place votes to two for Hernandez.
In that case, it was Greinke who won despite a 16-8 record (compared to Hernandez's 19-5 mark) in large part because he posted league-leading ERA and WHIP numbers and a higher strikeout total than Hernandez.
Hernandez said he was hurt by not winning the award last season, so he kept his expectations low this time. But he felt he'd done enough to capture the voters' attention.
"I started to believe after the season when I looked at my numbers and said, 'Wow,'" he said.
"For me, the Cy Young has to be for the more dominant pitcher in the league, not for the one who won 19 or 20 or 21 games," Hernandez said. "I had great numbers last year and didn't get it. I had better numbers this year than the last year. I was not [thinking] I should get it. But I think I deserve it."
Hernandez, 24, was fighting more than just the low win totals and lack of run production from his team. The young Venezuelan wasn't even among the 18 pitchers named to the AL All-Star team in July. Since All-Star rosters began expanding in 1998, only one pitcher -- Santana in 2004 -- won a Cy Young after being left out of that year's Midsummer Classic.
Hernandez was 6-5 with a 3.03 ERA heading into July, then dominated in the second half, posting a 1.53 ERA in his final 15 starts, tying for the third-lowest post-All-Star ERA in the AL in the past 25 years.
"We are all proud of Felix for achieving this tremendous honor," Mariners executive vice president and general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He is the ultimate competitor and a great teammate. I know I speak for our entire organization, our fans and the entire Northwest when I say that this is an honor that is well-deserved."
Sabathia put up an AL-leading 21 victories for the Yankees and was second to Hernandez in innings pitched at 237 2/3, but was sixth in strikeouts (197), seventh in ERA (3.18) and 10th in WHIP (1.19).
Price was second to Sabathia in wins with his 19-6 record for the Rays. He ranked third in ERA (2.72), eighth in strikeouts (188), 11th in WHIP (1.19) and 15th in innings pitched (208 2/3).
Hernandez finished first in innings, first in ERA (2.27), second in strikeouts and second in WHIP (1.06). He was 18th in wins.
Hernandez's 30 quality starts (in 34 appearances) were the most by an AL pitcher since Bret Saberhagen posted the same total in 1989 while winning his second Cy Young for Kansas City.
How little help did Hernandez receive from his club? The Mariners scored more than four runs in just seven of his 34 starts. The Yankees scored more than four runs in 23 of Sabathia's 34 starts.
Hernandez said he loved his Mariners teammates and recognized how hard they were working to try to support him.
"[Wins] are important to every pitcher," he said. "But it's not in your hands. In baseball, we work as a team. Baseball is kind of weird. We had great expectations this year to win the AL West. We didn't get it. That's baseball. We're getting ready for next year. "
The only previous Mariners pitcher to win a Cy Young Award was Randy Johnson in 1995, and Seattle hadn't captured any of the BBWAA honors since 2001, when Ichiro Suzuki took the AL MVP and AL Rookie of the Year and Lou Piniella was AL Manager of the Year.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohns1 as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.