The progression of Jose Fernandez

Steve Mitchell

The promotion of phenom Jose Fernandez to begin the season was one that many around baseball questioned. Now, Fernandez is making the decision look better with each passing day.

When the news of Jose Fernandez's promotion to the big leagues before the start of this season, there were several reasons to believe that the 20-year-old's call-up was too hasty and perhaps not in the best long-term interests of the organization (insert every possible Marlins joke here). It's rare when a team possesses a prospect in their system with the talent and maturity of Jose Fernandez, and every decision that team makes regarding their top prospect will be looked at under a microscope.

Well, folks, we're three months into the Jose Fernandez "Experiment" and it's safe to say that Fernandez has left little doubt as to whether or not he belongs in the major leagues. So long, minor league bus rides. Jose Fernandez is here to stay.

Fernandez, like all rookies (and heck, all players in general), has had his ups and downs this season, but what is remarkable is that hitters aren't figuring out Fernandez as the season has worn on. Fernandez is figuring out the hitters. And his numbers reflect that.

Here's a breakdown of Fernandez's ERA by month thus far in his big league career:

March/April: 4.50
May: 3.18
June: 1.67
July: 0.00 (yes, it's one start but it's fun to type those zeroes when referencing ERA)

It doesn't take a math major (and I'm definitely not one) to figure out that Fernandez has been improving, and drastically so, from month to month this season.

In fact, Fernandez was tied with Jeff Locke for the best ERA by any starter in baseball for the month of June. Locke, however, also walked more batters and struck out fewer so I'll give the edge to Fernandez there because I make the rules.

Most of the predictions for Fernandez to start the season were impressive when compared with other rookies, but I'm not sure any of us could have foreseen Fernandez developing into not only one of the best rookie starters, but one of the best starters in baseball, period.

Fernandez's stuff and confidence on the mound have been huge factors in his success and could indicate he won't deviate too far off this level of success for the rest of the season. One striking example of this has been his ability to rebound after a poor start. Following his shortest outing of the season against Tampa Bay on May 27th, Fernandez threw seven shutout innings against the Mets, striking out eight. Oh yeah, he also went 2-for-3 at the plate and drove in a run. After a four-inning outing against those same Mets back in April, Fernandez followed it up with a seven-inning shutout performance in Philadelphia. That's something that's not easy to do, especially for a player with less than 150 innings in the minor leagues under his belt.

Fernandez's BABIP of .247 indicates that there may be some room for regression but with the way he has been pitching of late, we may see that number dip even further before it starts to creep back up toward the norm.

In addition to the aforementioned mound confidence, Fernandez has also been able to miss plenty of bats with his tremendous stuff. His swinging-strike rate of 8.8 percent is just a shade below that of Cliff Lee, Gio Gonzalez, and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller. His 9.13 strikeouts per nine innings is fifth-best in the National League.

More than likely, Jose Fernandez will be the Marlins' All-Star representative at Citi Field in a couple of weeks and it'll give the world an even better chance to see what the phenom has to offer. It's difficult to comprehend that just one year ago, Fernandez was blowing hitters away in the Futures Game. Now, he's proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he can do the same thing to major league hitters.

Even with all these wonderful numbers, let's also not forget that Fernandez will, as he should, be closely monitored from now until he gets close to the organizationally-imposed innings limit that was set at the beginning of the season. He's showed no signs of slowing down so far, but don't be surprised if the Fish shut him down for the year if any signs of wear and tear start to show up. Sure, the Marlins are 14-7 in their last 21 games but the fact is there isn't going to be a pennant run for this year's club.

We all wondered if the hype surrounding Jose Fernandez was justified and whether his unexpected promotion would do him more harm than good. Now, there is not much left to wonder about. Jose Fernandez is developing into an ace right before our eyes.

Finally, I'll leave you with this tidbit, presented without comment, from ESPN's Dave Schonfield (full article here) about just how good the kid's latest start against the San Diego Padres really was:

8. Fernandez's Game Score: 87. The last 20-year-old pitcher with a higher one? Kerry Wood's famous 20-strikeout game in 1998. Umm.

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