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May 13, 2014

Skewed Left

How Much Losing Jose Fernandez Hurts

by Zachary Levine

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Yesterday was a sad day down at headquarters.

Jose Fernandez is hurt, and in the BP cafeteria, the lights are a little dimmer, the music a little quieter, and the cake a little drier. We loved Jose Fernandez, and his baseball funeral was probably the saddest for anyone who was presumed to be out for the year. It was sadder than Matt Harvey’s. It was sadder than Stephen Strasburg’s. And it was sadder than the rest of the dozens (seriously, dozens) of pitchers whose fate likely awaits Fernandez with Tommy John Surgery presumed pending.

If you had asked around the Baseball Internet—and those are capital letters for a reason—yesterday morning whom its citizens would have been the saddest to see out for the season, it very well might have been Fernandez. It’s so much more than just the fact that he’s a good baseball player and we like watching those.

  • Fernandez is a cool story and we’re sad for him. He overcame so much in fleeing from Cuba, and we tend to root for guys like that—even more so when we’re not beaten over the head with the narrative, and the Fernandez narrative has been fairly quiet.

  • He’s ours. Jose Fernandez isn’t in big-airplay commercials. He isn’t all that recognizable outside of the serious or at least, with a Rookie of the Year Award, the semi-serious baseball community. The word “hipster” is used way too much by people who don’t know what it means, but there’s some element of his still belonging to us and not yet the world.

  • He’s young, and we like young players. Matt Holliday is a perennial All-Star, but we wouldn’t be one tenth this sad if we didn’t have Matt Holliday to watch tomorrow. We’re done with him. Until he hits 40 and becomes cool again—a Sam Miller theory, I believe—we have no more need for Matt Holliday.

  • We’re worried about his future. Tommy John Surgery isn’t perfect, and if you take Jose Fernandez away from us forever…

  • He’s the enemy of the enemy. The only thing that could get you more street cred and positive coverage among Baseball Twitter than fighting Brian McCann is taking performance-enhancing drugs. The internet doesn’t forget stuff like that. You’re always cool here, Jose.

  • He does cool things and is .gifable. And we’ll miss that.

Add it all up, and the baseball deities have taken away perhaps our must-est of the must-watch TV attractions, and we’re kinda pissed. Is Fernandez the answer to that question of whom the baseball internet would be saddest to see go down with an injury? I’m not sure either way, but here’s how I probably would have ranked the top 10.

Honorable mentions: Jose Abreu, Andrew Cashner, Bryce Harper, Joey Votto

10. Clayton Kershaw
If this were Opening Day, he’d be top two or three. He’s down the list because we’ve already been prepared for it. We’ve made it through a few weeks without Kershaw, and most of us are still here. But let’s still try not to, OK?

9. Bartolo Colon
Not so much because of the drugs boost but because of the .gifs. As with Fernandez, there’s a good chance you’ll see something new when he takes the mound—or more accurately, the batter’s box. If this were out of my life today, I’d be devastated.

8. Derek Jeter
That’s enough, Dad. Get away from my computer.

Okay, fine, this one is my pick. It’s the one where there would be the greatest difference between where I and the baseball internet would rank a player. In creating this list, I had originally thought about who would make the more casual fan the saddest if he were to get hurt. It would be Jeter if this is really the end, but he doesn’t have a lot of competition. I don’t think it’s Albert Pujols or David Ortiz. It might just be the most talented guys, like Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Kershaw.

But Jeter belongs on this list. For everything that he’s not, there aren’t any other players with 3,348 hits and five championships retiring at the end of the year. A great player—one of the greatest of all time—who deserves not to have his exit taken away from him.

7a. Troy Tulowitzki
7b. Buster Posey

These are lumped together because they’d just be sad. Two of the best players in the game when healthy, the former on an MVP run for an unlikely contender. They deserve a little bit of good health.

6. Stephen Strasburg
As with Fernandez, the pitching porn in our lives would be greatly decreased if Strasburg had to cool off for another year. Add to that the extra sadness of watching a potential once-in-a-generation guy having to struggle back from a second Tommy John and all the hot takes that would harken back to The Decision. This is probably a conservative ranking. This would be awful.

5. Yasiel Puig
And by the way, the fact that Yoenis Cespedes and his beautiful bat flips are nowhere near the top 10 show just how fragile our use for you is.

4. Giancarlo Stanton
At 24, he’s the old man of the top four, but without him, a game that has been drained of so much of its power would lose even more. His place in the sport and its highlights right now is much more important than it would have been 5-10 years ago. The Strasburg-Fernandez porn thing applies on the other side of the ball.

3. Yordano Ventura
As an individual, would we miss him more than Stanton? Probably not. But he’s no. 3 for what he represents. If one 100 mph man can’t even make it past 10 career starts without Tommy John—and you have to imagine it’s coming at some point anyway—we should probably just pack this thing up and head home now. Ventura is the healthy, exciting guy still standing. His TJ would be a blow to hope.

2. Jose Fernandez
RIP. Come back stronger.

1. Mike Trout
He’s ours. He’s young. He does the amazing. He’s .gifable. He’s the best player in baseball. If he went away tomorrow, he wouldn’t just be depriving us of all those things, but the conversation as a GOAT candidate that will be so intriguing over the next 20 years changes instantly. Does the speed come back? Is he still a center fielder? Wait, why are you even mentioning Matt Kemp? Stop that right now.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Jose Fernandez,  Injuries

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