At the beginning of the season, I took a question from a reader and turned it into a piece on Miami Marlins‘ rookie phenom Jose Fernandez. The question was simple: What kind of fantasy value does Jose Fernandez have in 2013?
I thought that my answer was pretty simple. Generally speaking, I like to stay away from rookie pitchers. But especially since he was jumping from Single-A to the show, I advised players to wait five starts, not two.
On Saturday, Fernandez made his sixth start of the year. So, we’re at the threshold where it’s time to do some evaluating. Before we do that, let’s look at what he’s done over those six starts.
|Start No.||Opponent||IP||Pitch Count||ER||H||BB||K||Decision|
All of that leads us to a total stat-line of:
Let’s take a little bit of a deeper look here:
What I like
Well, it’s pretty simple. Jose Fernandez has fantastic stuff, and it’s showing in the numbers.
Now, he’s still at a point of the season where one outing really changes the overall numbers. For example, in the start against the Phillies, his ERA dropped from 4.50. Still, it’s hard to look past those strikeout totals, which have been consistently strong through six outings.
What’s really positive is the last start. Granted, the Phillies aren’t the same vaunted lineup that they were when they won the NL East every year between 2007 and 2011, but they still have dangerous hitters, and Fernandez doesn’t seem to have any fear against them. Citizens Bank Park is a good hitter’s yard, and you can’t help but be impressed but seven one-hit innings, especially against a lineup that’s seen you before. It’s one thing to have electric stuff and dominate a lineup that’s never faced you, but it’s really impressive to be better in your second outing against a team than you were in a very good first start.
I also like the fact that he pitches in a good stadium to pitch. The outfields at Marlins Park are about as spacious as any in the league. So not only is his stuff electric, but whenever Fernandez is pitching at home, any time hitters do get a bat on the ball, it will be tough for them to do much damage against him.
What I don’t like
Fair warning. This section’s going to be a lot longer than the previous one. As a result, it will probably come off as though I’m really down on Fernandez. But truthfully, most of what works against Fernandez is out of his control. But, we’ll start with the one thing that he can control — his control.
The walks need to come down in a big way. The one walk over seven innings he had against Philly is really good, but 12 walks in 31 innings is just too high. Now, this isn’t exactly an uncommon trait for young pitchers, especially power pitchers, but it does need to change.
Getting roughed up by the Reds is one thing, though it wouldn’t have been as bad had he walked fewer hitters. But even mediocre offenses like the Twins and Mets can be rough for you when you’re walking hitters consistently. I do believe that in time Fernandez will gain better control, but until that happens, you can expect some rough starts.
Now, for everything else that isn’t in his control…
We’ll start with the obvious. The Marlins are abysmal. Right now, they’d need to up their pace to win even 50 games this year and if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet anything more than the change under the couch cushion that they’ll do that. Especially if Giancarlo Stanton misses substantial time, this could be the worst team in baseball history.
Obviously, if the team isn’t winning any games, then the pitchers on it won’t win games either. The worst team in recent memory, the 2003 Tigers, were led in wins by Mike Maroth, who pulled down nine victories. Lucas Harrell won 11 for the 55-107 Astros in 2012, so you get the point.
Also, the problem with the Marlins is that they don’t score runs. Without Stanton, that’s going to get better before it gets worse. So, their pitchers have zero margin for error. Even in the one win Fernandez had, the Marlins scored two runs. If he made even one bad pitch when one of the two men were on base, he’s looking at another no decision, or even a loss.
This is why someone like Jason Marquis has an ERA nearly a full point higher than Fernandez, but has two more wins. Remember, Marquis is on the Padres, not exactly a World Series contender in their own right. That kind of stuff is not going to change as the season gets deeper.
What scares me about young pitchers in general is that they’re on pitch counts, and Fernandez is no different. Look at what Juan C. Rodriguez, Marlins Beat Writer with the Sun Sentinel said at the beginning of the season.
#Marlins will limit Jose Fernandez to 150-170 innings. Beinfest expects him to log them all in majors.
— Juan C. Rodriguez (@JCRMarlinsbeat) March 31, 2013
That’s not likely to go up. I know comparing organization’s decisions is tricky, but remember that the Nationals put Stephen Strasburg on a similar watch in 2012, and kept it.
I know it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison, as Strasburg did have Tommy John surgery in 2010. But the Nationals were a World Series contender in 2012, and shut down their ace pitcher. Raise your hand if you think the Marlins are a World Series contender in 2013. Anyone? Anyone? Nope. A team out of contention isn’t going to extend one of their few MLB-proven bright spots to win 45 games instead of 43.
Look at the innings in those six starts, even the good ones. He’s only gotten through six innings twice, and past the sixth once. Even in his last start, he only threw 82 pitches. Mike Redmond could have easily given him the ball for the eighth inning, but didn’t. Actually, I included pitch count in the start-by-start breakdown for a reason. Look at all of those starts. He’s never thrown more than 85 pitches. When you’re on such a tight pitch count AND walk a lot of guys, you’re not going to throw many innings.
When you’re generally limited to fewer than six innings, you’re not going to win many games, even on a good team. Remember, you need to go five innings to even qualify for a win. Even if the team ends up winning the game, they need to winning at the time you’re pulled and never blow the lead for you to get a win as the starter.
It’s not just the wins. When you’re on an innings watch, your bad outings show up more on the ERA and WHIP. And if he throws 150 innings and strikes out hitters at the same rate he did in the minors (10.7 per nine innings), that’s still fewer than 180 strikeouts. That’s not a bad total, but pitchers who aren’t exactly strikeout guys are around that mark when they hit 200 or more innings, and they generally don’t walk as many guys. Yes, Fernandez has a phenomenal WHIP right now, but entered that second Philadelphia start with a 1.29 mark. Another few rough, or even so-so outings, will bring that WHIP back up to above 1.25.
So, that’s all to say this. Tight innings for a starting pitcher is bad.
Again, nothing but the walks can really be blamed on Fernandez. But regardless of whose fault those things are, his 2013 fantasy value takes a hit because of it.
What I think the future holds
Beyond 2013, I like Fernandez an awful lot. But for the rest of 2013, I’m still seeing limited value.
Again, other than his walks, none of this is really Fernandez’s fault, but the innings/pitch count is really going to hurt the fantasy value. Now, if he does strike out 180 guys this year, that’s still a good total.
I’d give you one of the following advice: Bring him in, but be careful when you start him. Maybe roster him, but only start him in better matchups. He’ll have plenty of strong outings this year, but you have to account for the rough ones. Hopefully he’s not active for you when that happens. The strikeout total will still be good and maybe he can pick up more wins than expected. Just keep the innings watch in mind and remember how quickly things can go south.
Fernandez has a great future. In a keeper league, I like him, especially in an auction setting. If I had to guess, I’d say that he’ll be quite the bargain in 2014 based on set value, but overpriced if he actually reaches an auction.
Don’t be afraid to put him on your roster. Just be careful when you do it. There are a lot of risks, and most are the worst kind. Risks that have nothing to do with Fernandez.