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Eric Roseberry, who writes for our fantasy team, hosts a podcast called On Baseball Writing. Counterintuitively, the topic is writing about baseball. I’m not writing this to plug the podcast (though it’s really good!), but to point out that in January, Eric interviewed Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs. He asked Carson one of his standard questions about how to get started in baseball writing, to which Carson replied: “Start your own dumb blog.”

I’ve put off reading about Jose Fernandez for seven months. He was special to me. I started my dumb blog (nope, not linking to it) in July of 2013, Fernandez’s rookie season. My 108 posts were dominated by three young players: Manny Machado (his first full season), Billy Hamilton (who stole 13 bases as a September call-up), and Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. I always held a special place for him in my heart. I tried not to miss any of his starts. For me, the numbing news of last September 25 was especially horrible.

I decided to finally revisit that day. I started with Emma Baccellieri’s excellent Marlins team essay in this year’s BP Annual. The articles written on this site by Mauricio Rubio, Cat Garcia, Matthew Trueblood, and Meg Rowleyhere, here, here, and here—capture what Fernandez entailed and the pain of his passing. Ben Lindbergh wrote movingly of him at The Ringer. FanGraphs posted a staff tribute and Dave Cameron compiled several great memories. Someday, when I feel I can handle it, I’ll watch the September 26 Marlins game.

But I didn’t write this to make you feel as sad as I do right now. Rather, I wanted to address the 2017 Marlins. They’re 12-17 through Saturday night’s game, compared to 16-13 at the same point last year. Going into the season, the biggest question was how the team would replace its best player. (Yes, I know, Giancarlo Stanton. Fernandez’s WARP, from 2013-2016, was 15.6. Stanton’s was 20.3. But Fernandez didn’t pitch from May 9, 2014 until July 2, 2015. Very, very roughly, Fernandez averaged 5.2 WARP over three seasons, Stanton 5.1 over four.)

The team added Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, and Jeff Locke to the rotation and Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to the bullpen during the offseason. How has that worked out? To answer that question, I’m going to compare April 2017 to April 2016 for the Marlins' pitching staff. (Yes, I’m doing this after telling you last month not to trust April statistics. And after telling you the same thing last year. So sue me.)

I’m going to look at six measures. I assume you know ERA, FIP, and OPS allowed. I’m also going to adjust for park effects and run environment (there were 4.24 runs per team per game in April 2016 compared to 4.42 this year) by presenting ERA-, FIP-, and OPS+ as well. (The former two are from FanGraphs, the latter’s called sOPS on Baseball-Reference.) They’re all scaled to an average of 100.

Anyway, here’s how the Marlins compare. First, 2016:

Pitcher

Starts

IP

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

OPS

OPS+

Wei-Yin Chen

5

31.7

4.26

104

3.84

96

.698

92

Adam Conley

5

27.0

3.67

89

3.85

96

.695

92

Jose Fernandez

5

28.7

4.08

99

2.38

60

.629

77

Tom Koehler

4

20.0

4.50

110

4.25

106

.795

122

Jarred Cosart

3

14.7

7.98

194

5.12

128

.776

120

Justin Nicolino

1

7.3

0.00

0

3.42

86

.247

-28

TEAM TOTAL

23

129.3

4.31

105

3.70

93

.689

90

And this year:

Pitcher

Starts

IP

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

OPS

OPS+

Tom Koehler

5

25.0

5.40

128

6.40

157

.936

156

Dan Straily

5

26.0

4.15

99

3.81

95

.627

74

Edinson Volquez

5

24.3

4.44

105

4.48

111

.846

134

Wei-Yin Chen

4

21.0

4.71

112

4.52

112

.721

99

Adam Conley

4

18.7

6.75

160

4.60

114

.797

119

TEAM TOTAL

23

115.0

5.01

119

4.78

118

.781

113

So, yeah, the Marlins' starters have been worse this year. And that’s put more pressure on the bullpen. Marlins relievers made 80 appearances in April last year, pitching 76 2/3 innings. The team used the same number of relievers this year, but they pitched 94 innings.

Let’s focus on the rotation. Conley and Koehler have been a good deal worse. Chen’s been a bit worse. Straily’s pitched pretty well; Volquez hasn’t. As a staff, only Reds starters had a higher ERA and FIP during April, and only Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Colorado starters surrendered a higher OPS.

But the April 2016 Marlins rotation wasn’t fantastic, either. Its 4.31 ERA ranked exactly in the middle of the 15-team National League, slightly worse than the league-average starter ERA of 4.26. And, as you can see, Fernandez’s 4.08 ERA was nothing special in April.

Of course, Fernandez's .629 OPS allowed was quite a bit better. Only 20 National League pitchers with four or more starts in the month posted a lower figure. And given that FIP is a better predictor of future ERA than ERA is, his 2.38 April FIP would appear to be a better indicator of where his season was headed than his lackluster ERA.

And it was. After a mediocre start on May 4 (5 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 3 R, all earned) that brought his seasonal ERA to 4.28, Fernandez became Fernandez the rest of the season: 23 starts, 148 2/3 innings pitched, 2.54 ERA, .221/.277/.333 slash line allowed, 5.3 K/BB, 35 percent strikeout rate, 6.6 percent walk rate. He finished seventh in the league in ERA, second in FIP, first in cFIP, and first in DRA. He was a deserving Cy Young candidate—I would’ve voted for him—on merit, not on sentiment.

So while the 2016 Marlins' rotation had a mediocre April, there were signs that it would get better, if for no other reason than that its most prominent member’s peripherals indicated that considerably better days were ahead. And they were. In 2017, the statistics underlying a worse rotation isn’t exactly whispering “favorable regression to the mean” in anyone’s ear.

Fernandez’s death was a punch to the gut for all of us, far more so for his teammates. They will acutely feel his absence for the rest of the season and in the coming years. For the Marlins on the field, that absence affected the club in April. It’ll affect it even more over the rest of the season, compared to last season, given how Fernandez’s last season unfolded.

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