José Fernández’ impact on the Marlins went well beyond South Florida.
Only two players in the annals of Marlins’ history had more of a positive impact per-plate-appearance than did José Fernández.
For comparison’s sake, yesterday’s honoree, Cliff Floyd, was worth .00658 bWAR per plate appearance, Fernández averaged .00694 per batter faced, and tomorrow’s Marlin, at number two overall, averaged .00712. The final 128 players in the countdown have totaled at least 800 plate appearances or batters faced while entrenched with the franchise.
José Fernández was a six-foot-three right-handed pitcher native to Santa Clara, Cuba. Born on July 31, 1992, the Marlins chose him in the first round in 2011 out of Braulio Alonso HS, in Tampa with the 14th overall choice.
Fernández’ only full season in the minors was 2012, when he compiled a 14-1 record, a 1.75 ERA, a 0.925 WHIP, and 158 K’s in 134 innings between the Single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers and the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads. Against the popular opinion at the time, the Marlins’ front office had Fernández make his major league debut in the sixth game of the 2013 season, a start against the New York Mets. Fernández whiffed eight and earned no decision, allowing a walk and three hits in an eventual 4-3 Marlins loss.
Prevailing wisdom at the time was that the FO should have kept Fernández in the minors a little longer, so they could keep another year of eligibility on the back end of his first years in the majors. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad deal. Fernández was positively electric right from the beginning, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide. He also earned a spot on the All-Star team and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award vote. He also hit a home run that one time.
Besides that homer, all Fernández did that first year was lead the majors with 5.8 H/9, with 187 whiffs in 172 2⁄3 innings, a 0.98 WHIP, a 12-6 record, and a 2.19 ERA across 28 starts. Four times he topped double-digits in strikeouts, including a masterful 14 K performance in a 10-0 win against the Cleveland Indians. He walked one, allowed three hits, and put 75-of-108 pitches over the plate over eight innings. Opponents managed to slash just .182/.257/.265 off him, and as good as he was on the road, he was nearly untouchable at home. He was 9-0 with a 1.19 ERA at Marlins Park, with an opposing OPS of .454. Just ridiculous.
Between 2014 and 2015, Fernández managed to start only 19 games due to Tommy John Surgery. His numbers were still very impressive: 10-3 with a 2.71 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and 149 K’s in 116 1⁄3 innings. He continued his mastery at home as well, going 8-0 during that time in the friendly confines of Marlins Park.
In his final season, 2016, Fernández was showing every sign of improving even upon his already impressive skill set. He struck out a career-high 12.5 batters per nine innings, striking out 253 in 182 1⁄3 innings. Opponents collected a 1.12 WHIP and hit just .224/.288/.324 against him. Fernández put 65 percent of his pitches over the plate during his four season major league career.
In Fernández’ final contest, on September 20, he struck out a dozen Nationals and earned a 1-0 victory, allowing three hits and no walks on 111 pitches over eight innings of work. He was undoubtedly on a Hall of Fame trajectory when he met his untimely end, leaving Marlins country with only questions. If it’s any consolation, the Fish Stripes community elected him to our own Marlins HOF on the first ballot.
Thanks for reading. Tune in later today for the number two player on the list.