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Jose Fernandez: Ranking Fernandez's 2013 Marlins rookie season

The Miami Marlins and their fans may have been witness to one of the best rookie seasons in our lifetime.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins shut down Jose Fernandez after one of the most exciting and emotional starts of the season, and with that, Fernandez's year is over. And as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs said in his season review today, Fernandez's year is etched in stone and can now be compared against the best rookies history has to offer. His year was an amazing one for a rookie, especially for a Marlins one, but can he compete with history?

Marlins History

This one is a breeze: even in Fernandez's abbreviated season, he has had the best Marlins rookie season in team history!

Marlins Hitters AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR rWAR
Hanley Ramirez .292 .353 .480 .358 4.3 4.9
Dan Uggla .282 .339 .480 .350 4.2 3.0
Edgar Renteria .309 .358 .399 .338 3.5 3.3
Mark Kotsay .279 .318 .403 .316 3.4 3.9
Charles Johnson .251 .351 .410 .340 3.1 3.0

And for the pitchers.

Marlins Pitchers K% BB% ERA FIP fWAR rWAR
Jose Fernandez 27.5 8.5 2.19 2.73 4.2 6.3
Chuck Smith 23.0 10.5 3.23 3.24 3.2 2.9
Dontrelle Willis 21.3 8.7 3.30 3.45 3.1 3,9
Josh Johnson 20.2 10.3 3.10 3.99 2.3 3.8
Scott Olsen 21.8 9.9 4.04 4.33 2.2 2.2

Fernandez's only challenge from the Marlins comes from a pair of 2006 rookies who helped carry the franchise through that era. Hanley Ramirez was the 2006 Rookie of the Year, and Dan Uggla was not far off, as he placed third that season and won the Sporting News version of the award. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference are fairly certain that Uggla is worse than Fernandez, and the variance in Fernandez's numbers between the systems swings my vote favorably towards the pitcher.

Think about that for a second. It is perfectly reasonable to say that Ramirez is currently the best Marlin ever (at least by WAR accumulated while with the team), and Fernandez's rookie year beat out a season that won the Rookie of the Year award convincingly. That is an impressive feat.

Rookie Pitching History

In searching through pitchers from 1961 (the start of the "expansion" era with increasing numbers of teams) to the present, Fernandez differs in rank depending on how you want to look at his stats. His FIP, which is the basis of FanGraphs' evaluation, leaves him as tied for the 26th-best rookie season by a pitcher in this era, right next to Kerry Wood's rookie year in 1998. Dwight Gooden's classic 1984 season was the leader in this department. Other more current seasons ahead of Fernandez include Yu Darvish's 2012 campaign (3,90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 4.8 WAR) and Wade Miley's season from last year (3.34 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 4.6 WAR).

That sounds disappointing, but you have to consider that Fernandez pitched fewer innings than every pitcher in front of him on that list except for Rick Reuschel in 1972. And many of those pitchers carried workhorse-style innings counts; Mark "The Bird" Fydrich led all pitchers in this group with an astonishing 249 1/3 innings as a rookie in 1979. Fernandez's loss here is from innings counts.

You can determine that when you look at his rate stats and how they compare. As a product of this era, Fernandez naturally put up great strikeout numbers; he ranks sixth among these rookies in strikeout rate, bested by names like Gooden, Wood, Mark Prior, and Hideo Nomo. But his ERA-, a statistic that compares ERA performance to the league average, cannot be blamed on era. Among those rookies, Fernandez is sixth with an ERA- of 58, which translates to 42 percent better than the league average. His FIP- is 13th among those pitchers.

In other words, Fernandez is fairly entrenched among some of the best performances in baseball history. His ERA and FIP numbers sound as thought they leave him as around the tenth-best performance in league history, at least by rate. But Baseball-Reference WAR believes that ERA, combined with the innings, is deserving of more. The 6.3-win season according to them is second since 1961 among all rookies, only behind Fydrich's maraton season. Accounting for poor defensive play behind him, B-Ref believes Fernandez's season to be more valuable than FanGraphs has listed.

Youthful Seasons

But Fernandez is not just a rookie, but rather a 21-year-old rookie. It is extremely for pitchers to find this kind of success so early in their careers, in part because teams tend to keep them away from the majors this early. The Marlins were aggressive with their promotion of Fernandez, and while the approach was still poor from a team-control standpoint, Fernandez quickly proved the club right.

Fernandez ranks 18th in fWAR among all starter seasons with pitchers at age 21 or younger and at least 100 innings thrown, with Kerry Wood and Dennis Eckersley as company. In terms of Baseball-Reference WAR, his 2013 season ranks eighth, behind only the best seasons in league history. Dwight Gooden's 1984 and 1985 seasons, Fydrich's 1979, and Vida Blue's 1971 campaign were all out of this world, but Fernandez fit nicely in the next tier of starters like Bret Saberhagen, Frank Tanana, and Bert Blyleven.

Fernandez's rate numbers are even more impressive for such a young player. Among all these 21-and-unders, Fernandez's ERA- are behind only Gooden's once-in-a-lifetime 1985 season and Blue's 1971 campaign. In terms of FIP-, the names in front of him include Gooden, Blue, Saberhagen, and Roger Clemens, as he ranks eighth. Only three other player-seasons had higher strikeout rates than Fernandez's 2013, so Fernandez was a strikeout artist more than almost every young pitcher before him.

The youth allows us to grade on a curve when we talk about such a talent like Fernandez. Sure, he was a rookie, but when you have the double-whammy of rookie inexperience and youth, you might suspect a more middling performance. Fernandez blew out all but a few pitchers before him, and next season Marlins fans should hope to see more of the same from one of the best young starters the game has ever seen.

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