Jose Fernandez had an absolutely outstanding rookie season. The Miami Marlins starting pitcher threw 172.2 innings, had a 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 187 strikeouts, and he edged out Yasiel Puig for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Fernandez was fantastic last season, and fantasy baseball owners who took a chance on him certainly reaped the benefits.
The rookie went mostly un-drafted in 2013 drafts, but finished seventh among starting pitchers on ESPN’s player rater. Fernandez possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and he owns arguably the filthiest curveball in baseball. PITCHf/x had it graded as the best curveball in 2013. At just 21-years old, there’s a ton to love about the pitcher moving forward.
With all that being said, I believe Fernandez is being overvalued heading into the 2014 season. Lets take back the clock and compare Fernandez to Bryce Harper one year ago from today. Harper, at just 20-years-old, was coming off of a rookie season in which he hit 22 home runs, stole 18 bases and had a .270/.340/.477 line that was unheard of for a kid young enough to be a sophomore in college.
Entering 2013, the hype had risen so much that his average draft position on ESPN was 27th overall. People were so excited about Harper’s potential that he was being drafted over guys like Adam Jones, Jay Bruce and Matt Holliday, all guys who have had much longer track records as being elite fantasy contributors.
Well guess what happened — the proven guys all lived up to their track records while Harper floundered and finished the season 39th among outfielders according to ESPN’s player rater, behind guys like Nate Mclouth, Will Venable and Alejandro De Aza.
Harper had an excellent season for a 20-year-old. He hit 20 home runs and posted a .274/.368/.486 triple-slash, showing that he owns all the tools to be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come. People see the MVP-caliber tools though and expect MVP-caliber results immediately, forgetting that the expectations for a great season from a 21-year-old are lower than the expectations for a great season from a 26-year-old. 42 combined home runs in a player’s age-19 and 20 seasons is a much more impressive feat than 42 combined home runs in their age-25 and 26 seasons.
So far in 2014, according to the people over at www.fantasypros.com, Fernandez is the seventh starting pitcher coming off of draft boards, ahead of guys like Cliff Lee, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner and David Price. Lee hasn’t had an ERA higher than 3.22 in six years and he’s struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last three seasons; Sale has 500.2 major league innings under his belt and has a career ERA of 2.97, a WHIP of 1.10 and 529 strikeouts.
Bumgarner, at 23, has pitched three full seasons and he has never had an ERA higher than 3.37, a WHIP higher than 1.21, and he has had at least 191 strikeouts in each of those seasons. Meanwhile, Price has pitched 973 career innings, has a career ERA of 3.19, a WHIP of 1.16, 876 strikeouts and is two years removed from winning a Cy Young award (and he’s in his contract year).
I think Fernandez is going to be great, but as good as he was last year, there are still some flags that read regression (his .240 BABIP is certainly a big one). I also think these guys are going to be great, with a much safer floor.
I have Fernandez projected to win 12 games with a 3.10 ERA, 198 strikeouts and a 1.18 WHIP in 180 innings, and I have him ranked 17th among starting pitchers entering 2014. I think very highly of Fernandez, but if you’re going to ask me to pick between either him or Lee for 2014, I’ll take Lee 10 times out of 10.