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Player Profile: What Can We Except of the Fantasy Value of Jose Fernandez in 2014?

Ah, shoot!

I dropped my 2013 Marlins team pack and the cards got all mixed up. Was Jose Fernandez flipped for prospects or not? Oh, he still plays for the Marlins? Man, that’s too bad…

But it doesn’t mean that he won’t be one of fantasy’s best pitchers for 2014!

Here are his shiny 2013 numbers that won him the NL Rookie of the Year award:

Jose Fernandez20172122.190.981879.73.22

On top of all that I watched this video about you being reunited with your grandma and…there are simply no words…

Jose, should you need one, I’ll gladly be your best friend. In fact, had you not won the ROY hardware I was prepared to forge you a trophy. Or whittle you one. Whatever. With fantasy numbers like that on top of a love for Grammy, it’s whatever you need, Jose, whatever you need.

I wrote about Fernandez shortly before his debut and cautioned that rookies tend to be grossly overhyped. Man, we didn’t hype him enough! It’s hard to believe that Jose Fernandez did’t get the attention he deserved, but he had a historically great season.

In order to get the best comparisons it’s important to remember that Jose Fernandez was only 20-years-old last year and it’s helpful to compare him to other pitchers in their age 20 season:

Jose Fernandez20131722.
Dwight Gooden19852761.538.72.20.97
Bert Blyleven19712782.817.21.91.17
Fernando Valenzuela19811922.488.42.91.05
Walter Johnson19082561.655.61.90.96
Felix Hernandez20061914.528.32.81.34
CC Sabathia20011804.398.54.71.35
Clayton Kershaw20081074.
Zack Greinke20041453.976.21.61.17
Madison Bumgarner20101113.

Yes, it was a historically great season. Savor it and appreciate it, because a season like Jose Fernandez had in 2013 doesn’t happen very often. He was one of the best 20-year-old starters the game has ever seen.

But you can also spot some other interesting factoids in the above table. One, I didn’t list wins, which is something we’ll get to later because it hurts Jose Fernandez’s fantasy value. Two, I cherry picked seasons mainly from the modern era. Christy Mathewson pitched like a rock star in 1901, logging 336(!) innings. That’s just not the way it works today, folks, and it’s something else we need to talk about when we’re exploring Jose’s 2014 fantasy value.

Jose Fernandez in 2014

The first question I’d ask when a young pitcher rockets out of the gates is what happens when he logs enough innings for the rest of the league to get the book on him. Will hitters adjust to him and start to knock him around?

Jose Fernandez got better as he went along.

His strikeout rate in March-April was 22.6% but climbed steadily to over 32% in August. Meanwhile his walk rate steadily improved to just under 7.5%. As the season wore on, Fernandez just got stronger as if he was powered by the sun.

And he doesn’t just throw, at age 20 he already has learned how to pitch. Jose Fernandez was 6th in the majors in pitches in the strike zone, behind only “postage stamp” pitchers like Cliff Lee and Bartolo Colon. While he’ll come in with a 57% fastball rate, he’ll also mix in enough sliders and change ups to keep hitters honest. But really it’s his 21% curveball rate – 6th highest in the league – that will buckle a hitters knees.

Fernandez pitches with a confidence that’s almost a dare. It’s almost as if he’s thinking ‘I went through heck to defect from Cuba, I jumped off a raft to save my mom from sharks in the sea, I’m big, I’m strong, I’m talented, I have my Grammy in my corner, so I’m going to give you my best pitch with every pitch and you can suck on that.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t exercise some reason in 2014. You may not be able to see, taste or touch regression, but I assure you that it does exist. Us silly humans simply love to extrapolate things. We think, “Hmmm. He had a 2.19 ERA and struck out 187 at age 20. He’ll get better so he’ll have 1.9 ERA and strike out 215 in 2014. Then in 2015 he’ll be even better and have a 1.5 ERA and…” That’s when the reality of regression slaps us in the keister and reminds us that simply extrapolating data leads inevitably to world-bending negative ERA and infinite strikeouts.

The funny thing about historically good seasons is that at very best they can repeat themselves, but it’s more likely we see some slight regression in ERA and WHIP, even though strikeouts could increase with an increase of innings pitched.

Couple that with the fact that his win totals will be low. Like it or not, wins is a category used for fantasy, so you need to have them. It’s hard to lose 100 games with a pitching staff that’s above average, but the Marlins hitters are so abysmal that they did that that. The Marlins offense will again hit so poorly it caps Fernandez’s wins at 12-14.

So let’s end with innings pitched. Strict inning and pitch counts are simply a fact of today’s modern pitching game. Young pitchers rarely exceed 100 pitches per start, meaning they don’t pitch deep into games like they used to back in the day. They also rarely jump by more than 30 innings pitched season-over-season.

That said, we’re looking at around 200 innings for Jose Fernandez in 2014. I’d take that, wouldn’t you? Sure, you won’t get the 230 you’ve come to expect from Clayton Kershaw, but what’s 30 innings between friends? Moving forward, I can’t find a reason to think Fernandez won’t be an absolute workhorse. He’s thick and has the body frame that clearly doesn’t tire, and his work ethic is known to be among the best in the league.

It seems ridiculous to think that a pitcher who won’t approach 15 wins and will most likely be capped at 200 innings could be ranked as 2014’s second  fantasy pitcher after Clayton Kershaw, but I’m starting to think there isn’t anything that Jose Fernandez can’t do.

Tags: Jose Fernandez Miami Marlins

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