Jose Fernandez Ready For Year Two

Jose Fernandez made the Miami Marlins watchable last season. Given that the team won just 62 games, and was without Giancarlo Stanton for some time, that’s quite a task. At age-20, Fernandez somewhat quietly turned in one of the most impressive pitching performances we’ve seen in years. On a team full of questionable talent, Fernandez emerged as a symbol of hope for the franchise. Now comes the hard part. Fernandez will have to prove that he’s capable of doing it again. While there’s always a significant risk involved in putting too much stock in young pitchers, Fernandez has already put himself on an excellent path.

What stands out the most about Fernandez’s performance is his age. In the past few years, we’ve seen 19 and 20-year-old offensive rookies take over the game almost immediately after they were called up. It’s even more rare to see a pitcher of the same age come up and dominate like Fernandez. The last pitcher to take the league by storm at age-20 was Felix Hernandez. In their first full seasons in the majors, Fernandez was actually the better pitcher.

In fact, you aren’t going to find many 20-year-old who were better than Fernandez in the past 44 years.

Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Dwight Gooden 35 276.2 8.72 2.24 0.259 1.53 2.13 8.7
Bert Blyleven 38 278.1 7.24 1.91 0.301 2.81 2.51 7.3
Fernando Valenzuela 25 192.1 8.42 2.85 0.255 2.48 2.44 4.9
Jose Fernandez 28 172.2 9.75 3.02 0.240 2.19 2.73 4.2
Ed Correa 32 202.1 8.41 5.60 0.275 4.23 3.78 3.6
Felix Hernandez 31 191.0 8.29 2.83 0.312 4.52 3.91 3.3
Dave Rozema 28 218.1 3.79 1.40 0.269 3.09 3.95 3.3
Rick Ankiel 30 175.0 9.98 4.63 0.274 3.50 4.12 3.1
Frank Tanana 35 268.2 6.03 2.58 0.281 3.12 3.49 3.0
Don Gullett 31 217.2 4.42 2.65 0.259 2.65 3.21 2.9
CC Sabathia 33 180.1 8.53 4.74 0.276 4.39 4.22 2.8
Dennis Eckersley 24 186.2 7.33 4.34 0.248 2.60 3.63 2.5
Zack Greinke 24 145.0 6.21 1.61 0.267 3.97 4.70 2.3
Terry Forster 0 100.0 9.36 3.96 0.280 2.25 1.73 2.3
Dennis Blair 22 146.0 4.68 4.44 0.229 3.27 3.74 2.0
Bret Saberhagen 18 157.2 4.17 2.05 0.245 3.48 3.64 2.0

The above chart shows the list of pitchers who posted at least a 2.0 WAR season at age-20. The entire list of pitchers who received at least 100 innings in the majors was a bit longer, and can be see here.

A few things stand out about Fernandez’s performance. First off, only three players have posted a better WAR at the same age. Two of those pitcher, Dwight Gooden and Bert Blyleven, threw significantly more innings as rookies. Fernando Valenzuela turned in a similar performance, but was a bit better. The second thing that stands out is Fernandez’s excellent strikeout rate. Only Rick Ankiel and Terry Forster struck out more batters per nine innings than Fernandez. Forster shouldn’t technically count, as he did it all out of the bullpen. That leaves Ankiel as the only player with a higher strikeout rate than Fernandez.

Any talk of Ankiel unfortunately leads to talk of young pitchers who failed to live up to their initial promise. There are plenty of players like that on this list. Gooden played at a high level through age-28, but a combination of drugs and injuries slowed his career. Valenzuela performed well through age-26, and then never put up a two win season after. Ed Correa suffered an arm injury in 1987 that forced him to retire. Rozema was just as good during his sophomore season, but was limited after. The list goes on. Of course, there are plenty of players on the list who had long, successful careers. Bret Blyleven was recently inducted into the hall of fame, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke continue to put him great numbers each year, CC Sabathia had a hell of a run during the 2000s and Frank Tanana pitched 20 seasons in the majors.

The point is, all pitchers are risky. If you sat around and dwelled on that all day, you wouldn’t draft any pitchers to your fantasy team. Fernandez exploded onto the scene with one of the finest seasons we’ve ever seen from a 20-year-old. While stuff happens, and careers don’t always go the way they should, there’s just no reason to pass up on talent like this anytime soon.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

6 Responses to “Jose Fernandez Ready For Year Two”

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  1. jerusalem_artichoke says:

    wow i had no idea he was in such rare company, reminds me of the trout/harper comparisons i read about last year. tip for rotographers– it would be helpful in these articles if you were to add a $$ amount, or round, where you think he would be worth taking. i know ranks dont come out until march, but it would be nice to know since ive seen him taken at pretty different places in drafts. even if its just a range, that would be helpful to put in context

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  2. Spud says:

    This guy was babied for about 1/2 the season. Remember the 70 pitch count limit? Ugh. I almost dropped him and many analysts in seasonal formats had no use for him. But the marlins started letting off the reigns and boy did he flourish. It makes me think he’ll be great in year 2 because he did so well the 3rd and 4th times through a lineup. Can’t forget the showcase he put on at the allstar game. He reminds me so much of Felix with his body type and delivery. If he can stay healthy like Felix it should be quite a ride. Let’s hope the marlins can give him a chance to win; the mariners sure haven’t for Felix…

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  3. dudley says:

    is a long-term concern that he relies so heavily on his slider?

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  4. Jim Rouse says:

    Would you trade Evan Longoria for Fernandez in a keeper league, where players can be kept forever? We keep 7, and I have Goldschmidt, Cano, Longoria, Trout, Myers, Kershaw and Scherzer. It’s not like I need another top pitcher, but if he’s too good to pass up, I could probably make the trade. His owner has always been wiling to trade youngsters for proven talent. The other option is offering Scherzer straight up…

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  5. Kerry D Anderson says:

    I think you need to check your K/9 rates. Fernandez was better than Forster according to your chart.

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