The Miami Marlins knew that they would not get a full season out of Jose Fernandez. After all, he was recovering from Tommy John surgery for a UCL tear and was expected to start the season at earliest in June of 2015. The Fish were fully aware that they would get at best half a season out of the electric righty, but when they were planning out their 2015 season in the offseason, they were expecting that half season to help bring them to contention.
Fast forward to Fernandez's debut on July 2 and the Marlins were already buried and more or less out of contention. Furthermore, Fernandez's return was excellent in terms of production but marred with more injury problems.
|Jose Fernandez||64 2/3||29.8||5.3||2.92||2.24||1.6|
Fernandez's debut against the defending-champion San Francisco Giants was an impressive one, as he struck out six in six innings and gave up three runs in the process in an eventual Marlins. In terms of performances, things only got better from there. Fernandez put up a 2.30 ERA and 1.79 FIP during his first seven starts, encompassing 43 innings in total. Included in that was an 11-strikeout start in just seven innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks and a ten-strikeout effort in just six innings in a win against the San Diego Padres. Fernandez was throwing the ball just as hard as he had been pre-injury and was sporting a 31 percent strikeout rate versus a 5.8 percent walk rate. They were video game numbers.
And just like that, problems came about. Fernandez was held out of his next start due to arm tightness and eventually made a stint on the disabled list for a biceps strain, missing the rest of August and early September. It was a small-grade tear injury with no surgical requirement, so in terms of severity, this was a minor injury. Still, with the way he was playing and the recent recovery from Tommy John surgery, all hands were on deck in case a more severe diagnosis was made.
Fernandez did return to the Marlins in mid-September and made four more starts, in which he struck out 27 percent of batters faced in the process. He did have one ugly start versus the Atlanta Braves, but that was the sole poor outing for the season for Fernandez, who otherwise looked like his brilliant self pre- and post-biceps injury. Pre-injury, he was averaging 96.2 mph on his fastball according to Brooks Baseball, and that actually went up to 96.8 mph on average after injury.
The other impressive part of Fernandez's repertoire in 2015 was the addition of more changeups to his resume. After only throwing it in 8.5 percent of instances in his rookie 2013 season, he bumped that percentage up to almost 13 percent this year and retained its effectiveness. The pitch averaged 89 mph and induced whiffs on nearly 30 percent of swings, which was better than it did last season. Combine that with his curveball and he has a strong one-two punch against left-handers, though those hitters did slam Fernandez in a small sample this year. Lefties hit .333/.372/.482 in 122 plate appearances, though Fernandez's strikeouts and walks against them indicate that this was a fluky small sample result.
The Defector curveball remained an elite tool as well, having induced whiffs on 43 percent of swings and landed in the strike zone consistently when not hacked at. Of note, it was interesting to see that the curve appeared more and more like a slider than a curveball, with minimal downward break typical of a 12-6 breaker. Fernandez's curveball broke downward in more of a slider fashion, but it dove hard and away from right-handers in a despicable fashion as it always has. In many ways, we are finding out more and more that the Defector is a unique, almost unclassifiable pitch that has dominated both sides.
Fernandez was awesome in 2015 when he actually played. In total, the three primary Wins Above Replacement systems averaged 1.6 wins for the season. If you prorated that out to a full year, that would be worth 4.4 wins in 180 innings. That is about the same value as pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Corey Kluber, depending on the system you ask. Those are some of the best pitchers in the game, and when healthy, Fernandez definitely belongs in the same breath as those guys. The problem, it seems, will be keeping Fernandez healthy throughout an entire year, which is something the Fish will focus on for 2016 and beyond.