Why are the Miami Marlins trying to stretch Jose Fernandez's 2013 season?

Marc Serota

The Miami Marlins are interested in having Jose Fernandez pitch deeper into the year. But why is the team trying to jump through hurdles to get Fernandez starts in mid-September?

As we reported earlier today, the Miami Marlins are trying to stretch rookie ace Jose Fernandez and his starts into mid-September while maintaining his team-imposed season limit. I determined that the Fish can pull this off by going to a six-man rotation and, if their goal is get Fernandez as close to the end of the season as possible, skipping his last August start. The team certainly has the personnel to pull off such a move, as the Marlins have numerous young starters in the minors who could be promoted for a September cup of coffee. Currently, Brian Flynn stands to be the one stepping into the rotation in such a scenario.

But the question for the Marlins is not how they can stretch out Fernandez's year, but rather why. If the Marlins are looking to keep Fernandez to four starts the rest of the way anyway, why does it matter if they occur now or in mid-September? Here's a blurb from the original MLB.com article.

Fernandez is gaining steam in the National League Rookie of the Year Award race, and he's garnering more attention. He's also inspiring an upstart Miami squad. Also working in Fernandez's favor is he's showing no signs of slowing down.

"This is not an easy decision. He's pitched so well," [manager Mike Redmond] said. "I think we all hoped he would have this much success, but I don't think any of us thought that he would pitch as deep into games as he has, which is great. Believe me, that is pressure on us that's good pressure."

This illustrates a little of why the Marlins are so hesitant to shut down Fernandez for an entire month. The Fish have some incentives, but ultimately they all seem to fall to the argument that, despite getting him into the latter part of the season, he is still pitching four more games only.

Reason 1: He's playing well

There is absolutely no doubt that Fernandez is playing well. The Marlins seem to think that because he has been so fantastic, they would be hard-pressed to have him sitting around for an entire month not doing anything. He could be out there helping out the team more if he were playing!

Except that he won't be playing any more than four starts anyway. Fernandez will be sitting the same amount of time regardless of when those starts occur, so he will also be playing and affecting the team's chances of winning the same amount of time His play can only affect them on the field, and he is spending the same amount of time on the field.

Reason 2: Home games

I thought that perhaps the Marlins wanted Fernandez to make some extra home starts in an attempt to garner some better attendance figures at home. With his excellent play and Cuban heritage, surely the Marlins could get a few more people in the seats because of him, right? Under the current five-man rotation, Fernandez would make two home and two road starts to end the year at most (there is a chance he only makes three starts). If the Marlins went with the plan I suggested, he would skip a road start against the Atlanta Braves and get an extra one against the Braves at the end of a seven-game home stand.

The problem with that theory is that Fernandez has not drawn significantly better than the Marlins usually do. In 12 home starts, the average attendance for a Fernandez start was 18,031. The team's overall average attendance is 18,638, slightly higher than Fernandez's tally. He has only had four games in which the Fish have drawn more than 20,000, though three of those were in his last four starts against admittedly interesting teams.

Reason 3: Rookie of the Year race

This one perhaps seems the most plausible of all the reasons. Right now, I think most pundits would actually have Fernandez ahead of the Rookie of the Year race, especially with the spectacular performance he put up against fellow competitors Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig on Monday night. But if Miami shuts down Fernandez in early September, that may give him time to fade away from the minds of the media and allow Puig and company to override Fernandez's awesome numbers.

But again, the "same playing time" argument plays a role here. No matter how Miami manipulates the timing of those starts, those are the only ones left for Fernandez. He will still end at around 170 innings, and that will still make him look worse in the eyes of the voters. The only thing it does is keep him in their minds longer. Is that enough to assure a Rookie of the Year win with good performance?

The Marlins may be hoping for all that and more. but it seems a lot of this is the Fish trying to have it both ways. The only logical reason to do this and disrupt the rhythm these pitchers have built up is to keep Fernandez fresh in the minds of voters. Is it all really worth it? We will find out what the Marlins think in the next week.

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