It was quite the surprise to the baseball world when the Marlins announced that 20-year-old phenom Jose Fernandez would begin the season in the big league rotation. This was the same Jose Fernandez that had not pitched a single inning above Double-A in his professional career. Many questioned the move for a number of reasons, and although we may never know the full reasoning behind the organization's decision, after a month and a half we've learned that Fernandez can more than hold his own at the major league level.
Injuries have decimated the Marlins' roster this season and it became the primary explanation by the organization (though some weren't buying it) that Fernandez was able to break camp with the Fish. Even though the arguments about starting the clock on the youngster's service time are completely accurate, it'd be foolish to say that the presence of Fernandez in the Marlins' rotation this season hasn't been a huge asset. Alongside Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Slowey, Fernandez has added more depth to the Fish rotation that was seen as one of the weakest areas of the club coming into the season. With Jacob Turner still toiling away in New Orleans and the injury setback of Nathan Eovaldi, plugging the 20-year-old Fernandez into the starting rotation has proved to be one of the few roster moves to pay dividends for the Fish this season.
Moving past speaking in generalities when praising the work of Fernandez this season, he also has the chance to enjoy one of the best seasons by a rookie starting pitcher in recent memory.
According to Fangraphs, the five best rookie seasons from a starting pitcher from 2000, based on fWAR, belong to the following:
2012 Yu Darvish (Rangers) - 4.9 WAR
2012 Wade Miley (Diamondbacks) - 4.7
2003 Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks) - 4.4
2001 Roy Oswalt (Astros) - 4.0
2005 Chris Young (Diamondbacks) - 3.8
I'm not really sure what the significance of three Diamondbacks being on this list is, but if someone could explain it to me I'd greatly appreciate it.
As you can see, all five of the players at the top of the WAR leaderboard had big impacts on their clubs for their rookie season, similar to what Fernandez has done this year for the Fish. Through his seven starts, Fernandez has an fWAR of 0.7 and even though his impact may not reach Yu Darvish levels, he has a good chance of finishing the year with the best fWAR of any pitcher on the club, an incredible feat for any pitcher in his rookie season.
One major aspect that one has to take into consideration when comparing Fernandez to the seasons of those on the list above is the innings limit that the Marlins have imposed on their youngster. The only player on the above list that threw less than 160 innings in their rookie season was Roy Oswalt, and the 150-175 innings range is where many expect Fernandez to land by the end of the year.
The numbers suggest that Fernandez will continue to have success this season and it's worth noting that with all the success he's had this season, just two of his seven starts have come at home. In his limited work at Marlins Park this season, Fernandez has been dominant and as the weather heats up and he gets a few more starts in Miami, it's not out of the question to see those numbers remain constant for rest of the season.
Because the Marlins are on pace to be one of the worst teams in baseball this season, there's the chance that Fernandez may not get as much publicity for his impressive rookie season as he deserves. Even among the players on the above list, none of them were as young as Fernandez or possessed as little big league experience (unless you count Yu Darvish on a technicality) as the 20-year-old.
The impact of Jose Fernandez on the 2013 Marlins is undeniably one of the most enjoyable topics of conversation here at Fish Stripes so let's sit back, relax, and watch a phenom keeping doing his thing.