Miami Marlins rookie right hander Jose Fernandez makes his debut against the New York Mets on Sunday at the age of 20. The Marlins 2011 first round draft pick pitched all of last season, his only full minor league year, in single A. He was outstanding, dominating hitters to the tune of a 14-1 record and a miniscule 1.75 ERA, but with such limited experience the Marlins are taking a big risk in thinking he is ready to face major league hitters. The team has already announced that they expect to keep Fernandez on the big club all season while limiting his innings to somewhere between 150 and 170.
If Fernandez is able to pitch 100 innings this season he will join a pretty impressive list of pitchers who have accomplished the feat as 20-year-olds since 1970. The list includes Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Bert Blyleven and six Cy Young Award winners. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how some of these pitchers fared in their 20-year-old seasons to see if we can get a clue of what to expect from Fernandez this season. For the sake of relevancy (and so that I have time to actually finish this post before the season ends), I will concentrate on the seven members of the list who made their MLB debuts since 2000. Here is a listing of that season’s statistics for those seven pitchers:
This is a diverse and impressive set of pitchers that includes four left handers and three right handers. Rick Porcello and Jeremy Bonderman would be considered groundball specialists while the rest are more classic power pitchers which is more Fernandez’s style. Their performances are also diverse as several had surprising success while others struggled. The group includes 3 Cy Young Award winners and an excellent young starter in Madison Bumgarner. Rick Ankiel ranked fourth in the major leagues in K/9 in 2000, it is easy to forget how good of a pitcher he was. Bonderman ranked second in the majors in losses in 2003 thanks to playing on one of the worst teams in history, losers of 119 games. To determine which hurlers Jose Fernandez will emulate why don’t we take a look at the stat for their final minor league seasons and compare them to his season last year:
One thing that immediately sticks out about these stats is the dominance of Jose Fernandez’s season, he has the best W-L record on the list, the best ERA, second in K/9, and second in HR/9. The other thing to note though is that he did it against single A hitters while most of the others faced tougher competition. In fact, the two pitchers who jumped from single A to the majors were Bonderman and Porcello which to this point in their careers would be considered the least successful of the group. Comparing the minor league numbers for these pitchers to the major league ones we can see that ERA generally jumps by at least a run and with Fernandez coming from single A I would even expect a two run jump which would put him in the high 3′s. We also see varying drops in K/9 rates with the more successful ones, Ankiel, C.C. Sabathia, being able to maintain elevated levels so this will be something to look for with Fernandez. If his stuff is good enough stay close to the 9′s as far as K/9 rate then this should lead him to some success. The other stat to watch is HR/9 as the group all seemed to give up more home runs upon reaching the majors, if he can keep it close to 1.0 it will again help him find success.
The Win Loss record will probably not be good due to the talent surrounding Fernandez, but his season will need to be measured by the peripheral stats. I would expect an ERA in the 3.90 range and reports are that his stuff his good enough to get swinging misses at the MLB level so I would suspect he will be able to keep close to that 9.0 K/9 rate. Home runs allowed will be helped by playing home games at Marlins Park. The challenge will be in trusting his stuff enough to go after major league hitters by throwing strikes and avoiding the walks.
How do you think Jose Fernandez’s season as a 20-Year-Old will turn out?