Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jose Fernandez thus far

One of the most interesting stories in baseball this season is the Miami Marlins employing a twenty year old starting pitcher from Cuba who never pitched a game above A+ ball before this season. The Jose Fernandez story has been largely overlooked because of where the Marlins currently sit in the standings and the lack of national exposure the team gets. Now that we are nearing the halfway point in the season, how is Jose Fernandez doing?

The large answer is that he is doing just fine. That probably surprises some people who scoffed at the idea of putting the kid in the rotation at the start of the season. But it probably surprises a lot of people that the Marlins have played over .500 ball in June too. It is funny what happens when nobody is looking.

Jose Fernandez has now made fifteen starts. Seven of those have been no-decisions. That leaves his current record at 4-4, a rather nondescript number that may also lead to few probing into his season to shrug. Fernandez had a rough April and was 0-2 after that first month with an ERA of 4.50. I remember seeing some articles and tweets wondering if he should be sent to the minors. He was not sent down.

Since the end of April, Jose Fernandez has gone 4-2 and now things look a little better. He made five starts in May and went 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA. That was better. He has made five starts in June and has gone 2-1 with an ERA of 1.67. That was impressive. The progression shows in his WHIP for the three months too. In April, his WHIP was 1.292. In May it went down to 1.200. In June it is a microscopic 0.928. His overall ERA is down to 2.98 and his FIP is also impressive at 3.20. That is good pitching.

His home / road splits might make you think that his spacious home park is adding to those numbers and you may be right. In seven starts at home, he is 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA and a .231 BABIP. On the road, he has pitched eight times and is 2-4 with an ERA of 4.12 and a BABIP of .281. But I think those numbers are skewed by two bad starts on the road in April that led to both of his losses that month.

If you look at his last two road starts, you will find that he pitched 13.1 innings and gave up only six hits and three runs. One of them was a fantastic start against the Cardinals in St. Louis, a tough place for any pitcher to go. His peripherals both home and away are very similar, so look for this home / road split to stabilize as the season goes along. and PitchF/X disagree with what types of pitches Fernandez throws. PitchF/X seems to indicate that he throws a curve 31.1% of the time and a slider only 0.4% of the time. Fangraphs has him throwing a curve 23.1% of the time and a slider at 8.3%. The two pitches are nearly the same speed according to both, so it is easy to see where the confusion comes in. So let's just say that Fernandez throws four and two-seam fastballs (mostly four), curves / sliders and a change-up. He may throw four pitches or he may throw five.

The important thing is that Fangraphs rates his curves at a negative value for the season and all other pitches in the positive category. PitchF/X gives positive ratings to all of his pitches. For all intents and purposes, it does not matter what Fernandez throws, he has been effective.

Currently, Jose Fernandez is averaging 94.7 MPH on his fastball. That is fourth highest in baseball among starters behind only Strasburg, Harvey and Samardzija. That is impressive. And if you look at his velocity graph, he does not go up and down from start to start. His fastball velocity from game to game is pretty darned near flat-line. That is impressive as well. He does not yet possess some of the vertical movement that those other big arms have on their fastballs, however.

Unless he hits a wall and goes through the dead-arm thing, I do not see a lot of regression in his future. His strand rate is normal. His overall BABIP makes sense considering the success and arsenal of his pitches. His line drive rate is a little high at 22%, but he allows slightly more ground balls than fly balls and his fly balls do not go over the fence at a very high rate. His homers per nine inning rate is 0.64 and that is pretty consistent both in his big home ballpark and on the road.

Not only do I think he is not a regression candidate, I believe he will get better. His walk rate of 3.4 walks per nine innings for the season has improved in June to 3.08. I believe that will go down even more as the season progresses.

Of course, all of this does not negate some of the other consternation caused by Miami's decision to install such a young pitcher in the rotation in the first place. His success thus far proves he was not rushed. But the other argument is why speed up his "clock" for a team that is obviously not going anywhere in the short term.

I understand the argument and the economics involved. But it is an argument I hate. Personnel decisions should not be based on economics but on putting the best product on the field. The Marlins obviously felt that doing so meant installing a twenty year old pitcher into the rotation and I applaud this. The argument extends further in that Fernandez will become too expensive too soon and thus the Marlins will have to trade him away too soon. I do not buy that argument either and I believe that if Fernandez continues his successful pitching, the Marlins will take care of him the same way they took care of Stanton.

Obviously both Fernandez and Stanton need complimentary pieces for the Marlins to start getting somewhere. And perhaps those pieces will come in time. But I, for one, am glad that both are in the bigs because they are exciting and fun to watch. How is the Jose Fernandez experiment going thus far? In keeping with the team's name, the experiment is going swimmingly.

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