Felix Hernandez is undoubtedly a Cy Young award candidate. With something resembling a Major League offense supporting him, he might be running away with the award. Voting for a starting pitcher with such a pedestrian win-loss record would be unprecedented.
Lots of words are being written about how Felix might have a chance in today's baseball climate, despite so few victories. One factor isn't getting as much publicity as I think it should be though.
The voting system.
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), the folks who vote on the Cy Young award, changed the ballots in the off-season. Since 1970, each ballot named a top three. First place votes received five points, second three points, and third only one point. Starting this year, the ballot now has a top five. Each place receives seven, four, three, two, and one points, respectively.
The inclusion of two new slots might be a big deal for Felix.
CC Sabathia has already hit the magical 20-win benchmark. David Price and Jon Lester both have chances to reach it. Many other pitchers will get more wins than Felix this year, but there is something significant about 20 wins. Moreover, any BBWAA member not considering Felix strongly for their top slot has to be doing it based on win totals. If three guys hit 20 victories, in the old system, their might be voters that would leave Felix off of their ballot altogether.
There won't be a quintet of 20-game winners in the American League though. Voters will have to look at a larger pool of candidates, because they have more slots to fill. Doesn't Felix make whatever initial cut that every voter makes? With only a top three, I'm not sure. With a top five, I'm pretty sure.
Furthermore, it's tougher to create a pecking order with a larger group, which naturally forces a voter to take a deeper look to try to draw their conclusions. If a voter is trying to split hairs, as they might be forced to do more with the new voting system, Felix should stand out. In general, his performance is harder and harder to ignore the more that someone studies it. The expanded voting more or less forces voters to look closer than before.
The BBWAA will have to vote differently than they ever have before to give Felix the Cy Young award. That's why his candidacy is such a big deal. However, they are already guaranteed to vote differently than ever before because the ballot changed. Maybe it won't end up being much of a factor, but it can only help.