Jose Fernandez pitched another beauty for the Miami Marlins on Saturday when he helped the Fish pick up a shutout victory over the Washington Nationals. Fernandez struck out seven batters while walking just one and giving up no runs on two hits. This put Fernandez at a 2.06 ERA and 1.66 FIP on the season.
Those numbers are interesting because they represent a ridiculous 16-start run since Fernandez finished up his spectacular Rookie of the Year campaign.
|Fernandez, 2014-2015||IP||K%||BB%||ERA||FIP||Avg WAR|
Fernandez has averaged, between the FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus versions of Wins Above Replacement, three wins over the course of just under 100 innings in 2014 and 2015. To put that in perspective, Baseball Prospectus thinks only 22 pitchers have reached three wins over the course of this season in longer stretches of innings than the 100 that Fernandez has thrown between two campaigns. FanGraphs has 29 pitchers at that level or higher, with a few others close by. The lowest amount of innings any one of those pitchers have thrown is the 153 innings Gio Gonzalez tossed this season. In a classic 180-inning season, Fernandez would be expected to put up 5.4 wins if he kept up this crazy pace. Only four pitchers have put up that kind of year by BP's measures, and only seven have done so via FanGraphs.
All of that is to say that, even with all of the injury in between, Fernandez has put up a hell of a run over the last two seasons. In fact, it is such a run that he has even broken into the top ten in terms of WAR for pitchers in a Marlins uniform.
|Josh Johnson||916 2/3||144||20.9||25.4|
|Ricky Nolasco||1225 2/3||197||18.0||10.4|
|Dontrelle Willis||1022 2/3||162||16.9||17.1|
|A.J Burnett||853 2/3||131||15.7||12.0|
|Kevin Brown||470 1/3||65||13.2||15.0|
|Brad Penny||807 2/3||134||12.7||8.1|
|Anibal Sanchez||794 1/3||132||12.4||13.7|
|Jose Fernandez||272 1/3||44||7.6||9.2|
Fernandez is the only player on that list with less than 300 innings pitched as a Marlin. He has tossed just a paltry 44 starts as a member of the Fish, more than 20 fewer than the next-lowest candidate. Both Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown spent fewer than three seasons with the Marlins, but the rest of the guys on the top of this list represented the (admittedly unimpressive) pantheon of Marlins pitching. Fernandez is not quite at the level of Johnson or Willis, but with the rate he is putting up, how much longer will it even take? Fernandez has the greatest WAR / 180 innings pitched among these ten Marlins bests.
|Marlins, Career||IP||Avg WAR||WAR/180|
|Josh Johnson||916 2/3||23.2||4.6|
|Ricky Nolasco||1225 2/3||14.2||2.1|
|Dontrelle Willis||1022 2/3||17.0||3.0|
|A.J Burnett||853 2/3||13.9||2.9|
|Kevin Brown||470 1/3||14.1||5.4|
|Brad Penny||807 2/3||10.4||2.3|
|Anibal Sanchez||794 1/3||13.0||3.0|
|Jose Fernandez||272 1/3||8.4||5.6|
Most of the Marlins' very best pitchers were about the level of an above-average starter. Willis, Burnett, Sanchez, and Pavano qualified for that kind of rating, while Beckett was emerging as a star before being traded. Only three pitchers average All-Star-level campaigns by the end of their Marlins careers. While Johnson held the longevity that will likely keep him at the top of this list for some time, Brown and Fernandez burned brightly early and often. Brown had two workhorse ace campaigns in a Marlins uniform, and both ended with All-Star years and one second-place finish in the Cy Young. Well, in parts of three seasons, Fernandez has actually almost matched that accomplishment in a little more than half the innings. He too had a second-place finish in the Cy Young balloting in 2013, falling short of Clayton Kershaw's ridiculous season, while also putting up an All-Star year.
Fernandez's 5.6 wins per 180 innings pitched are also coming not at the prime of his career, as they did with Brown (32 years old and reaching a late peak at the time), but at the beginning of his career. One suspects that, had Fernandez not been injured, he would only get better. In fact, since returning from Tommy John surgery, he has looked better, with a sharper Defector slurve and a harder fastball than we had seen before.
The historical question now is whether he can match the elites at the top of the Marlins pantheon in terms of wins in a Fish uniform. Johnson's mark is unlikely to be touched by anyone soon, as few pitchers stick around long enough with Miami to rack up the innings and are as effective as Johnson was. However, Fernandez is probably about a full season away from passing pretty much everyone but Willis and Johnson, presuming he can replicate this broken-up success that he has found in the last two years. Another year and he will probably rush past Willis into second place.
The problems are in the words "full" and "season." Fernandez needs to prove he can maintain his health before Miami can trust him to achieve a full year in the majors. Remember, even in 2013, the Fish were rightfully careful with his innings count, so Fernandez has yet to truly pitch a full campaign in the bigs. The other problem is the amount of seasons left for him with the Fish. Fernandez will qualify for arbitration for the first time next year and will be a free agent by 2019, so he has just three years of team control left. Will the Marlins be able to lock him up long-term, or will they even want to? And if not, how many more years will he be here until the trade rumor mill starts churning about his name?
Fernandez has had a spectacular start to his career and is on pace for huge things. The Marlins can only hope those huge things come to fruition in Miami.