There has been a lot of talk since the All Star break about Jose Fernandez and rightly so. The 21 year old Cuban right hander has been one of the few bright spots for a very bad Marlins team. What I wanted to do was to find some context among all of the Baseball Tonight and MLB Network hits leading up to the day he pitches and then in the immediate aftermath. Fernandez has impressed but there haven’t been many comparisons from the national media to other great rookie pitching seasons. I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to figure out how Fernandez’ rookie season has been in context in recent MLB history and in Marlins franchise history. I chose the arbitrary date of 1980 as a cut off of comparison of Fernandez season. Mainly in order to be able to insert Fernando Valenzuela‘s “Fernandomania” season.
Below is a scatter plot of the most relevant rookie pitching seasons since 1980. The Y-Axis is defined by WAR and the X-Axis is FIP- the size of the bubbles depends on the player’s WPA. There were too many players on the list to name them all. There is a mainline of pitchers who had more or less impressive of rookie seasons. I highlighted for our discussion the component stats for Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, Hideo Nomo, Kerry Wood, Yu Darvish and our man Jose Fernandez. Gooden’s 1986 season is a complete outlier and can’t be very easily accounted for and is most definitely the best rookie season in my period of inquiry. Gooden racked a 49 FIP-; a .4 WAR and a 4.35 WPA score, a freakish rookie season most likely never to be copied.
The cluster below Gooden is where many other notable rookie seasons in recent baseball memory. Nomo in 1995, Kerry Wood in 1998, Valenzuela in 1980, Darvish in 2012 and Fernandez in 2013. While these pitcher didn’t have seasons that lived up to Gooden’s 1986 gem, they are notable for having the best rookie seasons ever. Fernandez for his age 20 season is most definitely in good company to be listed amongst the names above. A successful rookie season is no guarantee of future success but it can also be enough of a pointer to what maybe a very long and productive career; there is no way to ascertain what the future will bring.
FIP is probably the best way to reach the answer of what pitchers are best at their job, run prevention, K/9 is an important component of FIP and the chart below, shows among what company Jose Fernandez can count himself in rookie K/9 and FIP. As far as can be shown Jose is in the same company as many of the same pitchers above as well as Matt Moore, Lance Lynn, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Kaz Ishii. Again there is no guarantee of anything in the future – especially as it relates to injuries – but many of these players would go on to have long careers after their impressive rookie years.
Check out the link for the graph.
Jose Fernandez has been one of the best rookies in the game since Fernando’s 1980 season. He is as good if not better than many of the pitchers that have had similarly impressive rookie years, like Hideo Nomo, Kerry Wood, Yu Darvish and Fernando himself. What I want to do in my next article is to compare Fernandez 2013 to some of the great rookie seasons in Marlins history