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November 11, 2013
Internet Baseball Awards
National League Top Rookie
Jose Fernandez’s cool, collected nature may not have garnered him as many headlines or SportsCenter highlights as his animated rookie counterpart, Yasiel Puig, but the Miami hurler let his numbers speak for themselves and was named the Internet Baseball Awards Top Rookie.
With apologies to the rest of a remarkably deep NL rookie class, it became clear early during the summer that this was a two-man race for the award. Despite tailing off toward the end of the season, Yasiel Puig trailed only Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis in TAv, and Fernandez’s 3.33 FRA ranked sixth among starting pitchers.
Both Puig and Fernandez performed at extremely high levels. It’s frustrating when a performance such as Puig’s can’t be awarded top billing, given that the likes of Bobby Crosby and Jason Jennings have won in past years because they weren’t quite as bad as the other candidates.
Puig actually had Fernandez beaten in WARP despite missing the first two months of the season, but internet voters were firmly in the corner of Fernandez, who received 430 of the 565 first-place votes. Puig garnered 112 first-place votes to finish comfortably ahead of third-place finisher Shelby Miller. Rounding out the top-seven was Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Rosenthal.
Fernandez dominated the Senior Circuit down the stretch and finished the season with one of the gaudier rookie pitching stat lines in recent memory. In addition to posting a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, Fernandez held batters to a .522 OPS, the lowest mark ever by a rookie starter who qualified for the ERA title. Granted, he benefited from his ballpark and likely from some luck in balls in play, but generating strikeouts was not a problem for the fireballer, whose 27.5 percent strikeout rate ranks fifth all-time among qualified rookie starters.
Two regularly discussed comps to Fernandez’s spectacular rookie season are the first-year campaigns of Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden. All three pitchers broke into the league before they were able to take a legal drink and overpowered opposing hitters from the get-go.
Like Fernandez, Gooden made the jump from High-A ball to the big leagues when he broke through with the Mets in his age-19 season. Gooden’s 2.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 1984 were excellent on the surface, but beneath was his utter dominance when it came to missing bats. “Doc” induced 276 whiffs in 218 innings, a smidge under Yu Darvish’s pace this past season, but in a year where the league-average strikeout rate was about 70 percent of what it was in 2013.
Fernandez may have yielded better results than Gooden during his rookie campaign, but Gooden’s dominance was appropriately reflected in his 2.34 FRA. It’s difficult to stare that (and Gooden’s inning total, in a different era for starter usage) in the face and come to the conclusion that Fernandez was more valuable this past season.
Valenzuela’s 1981 campaign will likely go down as a more memorable season than Fernandez’s, given that it was paired with the BBWAA NL Cy Young award and a World Series title. The first year of Fernandomania was strike-shortened, but the southpaw managed a 2.97 FRA over 25 starts and struck out almost a batter per inning before that was a thing.
While Valenzuela and Fernandez were similarly humble and composed, their paths to extraordinary rookie seasons differed dramatically. Valenzuela was an immediate rock star in Los Angeles after winning his first eight starts, over which he pitched five shutouts and allowed just four runs total.
On the other hand, Fernandez was relatively unknown to the common fan early in the season, which is par for the course when you stumble out of the gate in front of a fan base that averages fewer than 20,000 per game. Search “Who is Jose Fernandez” on Google and you’ll get upwards of 25 million results compared to 3.5 million results for “Who is Clayton Kershaw.”
But Fernandez was nearly untouchable over the final four months of the season and turned heads with his power fastball and devastating curveball. While it’s a stretch to cast Fernandez’s season as the best ever by a rookie pitcher, the Miami right-hander clearly etched his name into elite company, especially considering his youth. With a long winter ahead of us, at least there’s the comfort of knowing that we’ll be able to enjoy more of this next season.