MLB Notebook: Fernandez joined elites in rookie year
Six phenomenal outings put Marlins right-hander in class with several all-time greats
During the 2013 season, Major League pitchers produced 198 starts in which a hurler completed at least seven innings pitched and allowed no more than three hits and no runs. No pitcher had more such outings than Miami's Jose Fernandez, whose six not only topped the Majors in 2013, but placed the first-year phenom in a tiny club.
Dating back to 1920, only seven other pitchers have had a season with at least six such lines, and only one of those seven had more -- Sandy Koufax, with eight in 1963. And even among this group, Fernandez sits apart; for the live-ball era has never seen a pitcher collect this many starts so quickly out of the gate. The first of Fernandez's six came in his sixth Major League appearance, and then his 11th, 16th, 21st, 23rd and 27th outings also aligned this way. And just like that, the rookie had a foundation for one of the most flattering young-pitcher lines the game has seen.
Fernandez's fast start
When he wasn't completing an outing within these specifications, Fernandez could still produce thunder. There was his 13-strikeout, no-walk gem on July 28 against Pittsburgh, a seven-inning, four-hit blanking against the league's second-highest run-scoring team (Colorado) on August 24 and a 10-strikeout game against the eventual National League pennant winners (St. Louis) on June 14. And like that game against Pittsburgh (when he became the fifth-youngest pitcher since 1916 to notch at least 13 K's and issue no walks), the final season numbers -- when backlit against age and experience -- made Fernandez something of a jaw-dropping, shout-inducing and hurrah-proclaiming sensation.
Entering the final month of the 2013 season, Fernandez stood with 158 2/3 innings under his belt. And with his campaign winding down, his stock continued to rise as the newly minted All-Star took on a pair of NL East foes (the Nationals and Braves) in his final two starts, and unleashed a combined performance that included 14 innings, six hits, one run, five walks and 14 strikeouts. And so, before the NL Rookie of the Year Award, before the third-place NL Cy Young Award finish, it was time to dig into history and see how Fernandez's stunning season measured against more than a century's worth of achievements. The results and conclusions were equally startling; among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, his numbers allowed for these statements.
Fernandez's 2.19 ERA
• For a pitcher younger than 21, it is the sixth lowest since 1893, behind marks from Harry Krause in 1909, Dwight Gooden in '85, Walter Johnson in '08 and Smoky Joe Wood in '10 and '09.
• For first-year pitchers, it is the 11th lowest since 1893, with all 10 of the better marks produced between 1902-13, in the heart of the dead-ball era.
Fernandez's 176 ERA+
• For a pitcher younger than 21, it works out to be the second highest since 1893, behind Gooden's 229 in 1985.
• For first-year pitchers, it is calculated as the third best since 1893, behind marks from Ed Reulbach in 1905 and Vean Gregg in '11.
Fernandez's 0.979 WHIP
• For a pitcher younger than 21, it is the fourth lowest since 1893, behind marks from Krause (1909), Walter Johnson ('08) and Gooden ('85).
• For first-year pitchers, it is the third lowest since 1893, behind marks from Bill Burns in 1908 and Reulbach in '05.
Fernandez's 5.79 hits/9
• For a pitcher younger than 21, it is the lowest since 1893, beating out Krause's 6.38 in 1909.
• For first-year pitchers, it is the lowest since 1893, beating out Hideo Nomo's 5.83 in 1995.
Fernandez's 9.75 K/9
• For a pitcher younger than 21, it is the third highest since 1893, behind marks from Gooden (1984) and Rick Ankiel (2000).
• For first-year pitchers: it is the fifth highest since 1893, behind marks from Kerry Wood (1998), Gooden ('84), Nomo ('95) and Yu Darvish (2012).
Many of the pitchers referenced aside Fernandez -- Johnson, the two Woods (Joe and Kerry), Gooden and Nomo -- resonate within the collective baseball consciousness, pinning to the spectacular, the historic and the what could have been. In the case of Krause -- a slight southpaw who erupted like few before or after while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1909 -- the decades since his transcendent performance may have dulled the imprint, but his own remarkable standing among the game's elite young and inexperienced pitchers -- at least statistically -- remains intact.
After a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings in his first season in 1908, Krause returned to Connie Mack's team as a 20-year-old in '09, and pitching alongside future Hall of Famers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, he assembled a season that offers any number of virtues.
Composing seven shutouts (tied for the fourth most since 1893 for a rookie and the third most since '93 for a pitcher under 21), Krause also assembled a rookie standard for ERA (1.39) since 1893, with an ERA+ (adjusted for league and ballpark) of 174 that just trails Fernandez's mark in 2013. Both of those earned run marks were the best in the American League in 1909, with his ERA trailing the numbers from a pair of future Hall of Famers in the NL, Christy Mathewson and Three Finger Brown.
With a 0.939 WHIP that was only bettered in the AL by another future Hall of Famer in Ed Walsh, Krause's number in that category is the third lowest since 1893 for a rookie, and as stated earlier, the lowest on record since '93 for a pitcher younger than 21. He began the year 10-0, finished 18-8, and as Bill James once noted, probably had more than a little something to do with the fact that the A's increased their attendance to a level that would not be surpassed until Lefty Grove's first season in 1925. In a game in which young pitchers hold a special allure for an audience, Krause's 1909 campaign stands as one of the truly exceptional performances ever witnessed.
Krause -- the curveballing wonder from 1909 -- would never again approach the heights he reached in that overwhelming season. The remainder of his MLB career featured a mere 17 wins against 17 defeats, a (poor for the era) 3.31 ERA and half as many shutouts as he produced in his comet-like campaign. Brilliance at such a young age doesn't mean much for what follows, but for one year, Krause -- like Fernandez more than a century later -- lit up the baseball world like few ever have. And in a way, that's more than enough.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.