Jose Fernandez: #1 Starting Pitcher in 2014?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ray profiles Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and wonders if he can be the #1 starting pitcher in baseball in 2014.

Fernandez had a simply dominant rookie season, the kind that we haven't seen in quite awhile. He was a surprise addition to the Marlins Opening Day roster last season, but looked like he belonged from the word go. Fernandez made 28 starts, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 3.08 xFIP, a 0.98 WHIP and a 27.5% strikeout rate in 172.2 innings.

Most young pitchers struggle as the season gets longer, but not Fernandez. He pitched well in the first half, after struggling through a rocky April, where he put up a 4.50 ERA with a 23-11 strikeout to walk rate in 24 innings. He was a little better in May, where he put up a 3.18 ERA with a 29-10 strikeout to walk rate in 28.1 innings. But from that point on, he was simply dominant.

Here is a breakdown of his performance from June through early September:

June: 1.67 ERA, 32-11 K-BB, 32.1 IP, .167-.240-.184

July: 2.06 ERA, 40-10 K-BB, 35 IP, .168-.248-.270

August: 1.15 ERA, 49-11 K-BB, 39 IP, .158-.225-.216

September: 0.64 ERA, 14-5 K-BB, 14 IP, .128-.212-.234

So, from the beginning of June through his last start in early September, his ERA was a miniscule 1.50, with a 135-37 strikeout to walk rate in 120.33 innings of work. Over those 120 innings, he gave up just 20 runs on 67 hits, 17 of which went for extra bases, and only four home runs.

Here are his first and second half splits according to Baseball-Reference:

Split G AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
1st Half 18 373 36 73 9 1 7 40 103 2.58 .196 .278 .282 .559 105 .247
2nd Half 10 238 11 38 8 1 3 18 84 4.67 .160 .222 .239 .461 57 .232
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/3/2014.

As the 2013 season wore on, Fernandez was more and more dominant, limiting hitters to a .239 slugging percentage and raising his K/BB rate from a solid 2.58 to an elite 4.67. Granted, the second half performance is limited to just ten starts, but showed that he got better later in the season. The most startling stat for me was that he allowed just 57 total bases in those ten starts.

Here is another breakdown of his first and second half performance, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

I Split W L ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1st Half 5 5 2.75 18 104.2 73 32 7 40 103 1.080 8.9 2.58
2nd Half 7 1 1.32 10 68.0 38 10 3 18 84 0.824 11.1 4.67
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/3/2014.

Most pitchers perform well at home, but Fernandez was on another level last season, as he limited hitters to a slash line of .162-.228-.225 with a 1.19 ERA in 98 innings of work. 1.19!! That's Bob Gibson-like. Below is a breakdown of his performance at home and on the road last season, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

I Split W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Home 9 0 1.19 15 98.0 56 15 13 4 28 2 108 0.857 9.9 3.86
Away 3 6 3.50 13 74.2 55 32 29 6 30 3 79 1.138 9.5 2.63
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/3/2014.

Fernandez went 9-0 in his 15 starts at home last season, with a ridiculous 1.19 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP, striking out 108 and walking 28 in 98 innings. He wasn't bad on the road, either, going 3-6 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

Fernandez is one of the best young pitchers in the game, with a slight chance, make that a good chance, that he could become the best pitcher in the game. Last season, he struck out just under ten batters per nine innings while walking just over three batters per nine, with a 45% ground ball, so if he can continue to pitch like this, you can count on him to put up another sub 3.00 ERA in 2014.

Recently, Fernandez was quoted saying that his goal is to have an ERA of 1.85 this season. That is Clayton Kershaw territory, and is not something you see every year. But, if there is one pitcher in baseball capable of putting up a 1.85 ERA, besides Kershaw, Fernandez is a name at the top of the list, as he has the benefit of pitching in an extreme pitchers park. Marlins Park increases run scoring by about 3% (ranking 20th in baseball in 2013) per ESPN ball park factors, but reduces home runs by 36%. Marlins Park was the worst home run park in baseball in 2013.

He is currently the fourth starting pitcher taken in the NFBC drafts according to the NFBC ADP rankings. His ADP of 32.62 indicates he is being taken in the second round of 15 team drafts. In the LABR NL only auction draft last night, he was auctioned off at $27, tying Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg as the second most expensive starting pitcher drafted, ranking behind Kershaw who went for $35.

Yes, Jose Fernandez could be the #1 fantasy starting pitcher in 2014.

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