Marlins 2014 Key Questions: What to expect from Jose Fernandez?

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are banking on a follow-up to Jose Fernandez's Rookie of the Year performance. What can the team expect in 2014?

The Miami Marlins have to answer quite a few questions in 2014 if they want to have marginal success next season. One of them is the question of Giancarlo Stanton's bounce back. But an equally important question is the return of Jose Fernandez to 2013 form. Fernandez won the National League Rookie of the Year award for his spectacular 2013 season, but how much of a return to that kind of play could we expect?

Joe Frisaro of MLB.com listed this as one of the Marlins' nine important questions heading into 2014. Here is what he had to say about Fernandez.

2. What can fans expect from Fernandez? The reigning NL Rookie of the Year may have been a feel-good story in 2013. Next year, he won't be a secret. The league is well-aware of his talents. Now, it is up to the 21-year-old to take the necessary steps to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump." There also is a question about how many innings Fernandez will throw. Although it is expected to go up from the 172 2/3 he threw as a rookie, it is unclear if he will be pushed to as many as 200 innings. Perhaps he will be, but the Marlins again will handle their young star with care.

The Marlins are likely to try and push Fernandez up to 200 innings after they artificially limited his innings last season as a precaution and slow workup. It was the right move last season, though it is questionable whether it will help injury outcomes in the long run.

The rest of the performance questions are a matter of the unavoidable regression to the mean versus the talent level of an elite player. Rotographs' Chris Cwik mentioned this table of all the pitchers at age 20 who put up two or more FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement as starters.

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

This is a hugely impressive group of players. Without getting into the specifics of Fernandez, let's use this group to compare how Fernandez would perform going forward. I looked at this group's subsequent three seasons to see just how well they performed, excluding Terry Forster as he was a reliever.

Player, Ages 21-23 GS IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP ERA FIP fWAR
Dwight Gooden 92 678 6.9 2.5 .284 3.07 2.84 15.4
Bert Blyleven 115 893 1/3 7.4 2.1 .287 2.63 2.44 25.1
Fernando Valenzuela 106 803 7.0 3.2 .289 3.21 2.99 15.4
Ed Correa 15 70 7.8 6.6 .322 7.59 6.69 -0.6
Felix Hernandez 95 629 2/3 8.0 2.9 .309 3.23 3.52 13.4
Dave Rozema 57 451 1/3 2.8 2.4 .270 3.47 4.09 4.9
Rick Ankiel 6 24 10.1 9.4 .290 7.13 8.09 -0.6
Frank Tanana 98 787 8.4 2.4 .270 2.53 2.74 18.1
Don Gullett 81 606 6.4 3.0 .261 3.42 3.44 6.8
CC Sabathia 93 595 2/3 6.5 3.4 .287 4.03 4.00 10.5
Dennis Eckersley 98 715 7.0 2.6 .267 3.30 3.38 13.0
Zack Greinke 47 311 1/3 6.5 2.7 .330 4.94 4.21 5.1
Dennis Blair 31 179 4.6 5.9 .273 3.82 4.71 0.3
Bret Saberhagen 90 648 1/3 6.0 1.7 .282 3.37 3.27 15.7
Average 73 528 3.98 4.03 10.2

The list over the next three seasons has a combination of questionable numbers and overall acceptable performances. Many of these numbers, including the average ERA and FIP, are at least somewhat affected by scoring environments of those time periods. They are also straight averages of the players, in order to compensate for the fact that at least three of those pitchers flamed out entirely within the next year or two.

Overall, one would expect an ERA of 4.00, but given the different run environments of the last 44 years, let's examine just the fWAR average. That mark is at 10.2 WAR over three years, or 3.4 WAR per season. One could argue that Fernandez's year should not be compared to lesser pitchers, but many of the pitchers at the top of the list threw for a lot of innings in their heyday. Even if you limit yourself to the top five pitchers on that list, Ed Correa's flameout career averages the rest of the crew out to 3.3 WAR per 200 innings rate.

Fernandez put up a four-plus win season according to FanGraphs. Last year, players like Mike Minor, Justin Masterson, and C.J. Wilson put up 3.3 or 3.4-win seasons. Could you see Fernandez dropping down to that level? If you truly think he is comparable to a player like Gooden or Frank Tanana, know that even the best pitchers of the last 44 years only averaged around 4.5 wins per 200 innings, with Bert Blyleven topping the list at 5.6 wins per 200 innings.

Essentially, if you think Fernandez is Felix Hernandez or Bret Saberhagen, you expect him to be worth about 4.5 wins a year over the next three years. If you think there is a modicum of risk for Fernandez not becoming a star (and we all should have that thought in mind given injuries and the fickle nature of pitching), then your cautious estimate is closer to 3.5 wins a year. That means that Fernandez's encore season could be just good, but not great.

At this stage, the Marlins may take that. Neither the Steamer nor Oliver projection systems are expecting a huge bust-out campaign from Fernandez, as they pegged him around 3.5 to four wins for the year. Given our historical context, that looks about right. Let's see if Fernandez can surpass history.

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