Is Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez already the best pitcher in baseball?
One of the hot topics this past week was the surging Most Valuable Player candidacy of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has broken away from the National League Cy Young pack in the second half and without a clear MVP pick among NL hitters and the Dodgers now tied with the Tigers and Pirates for the second-best record in baseball, momentum is building behind Kershaw to win both awards.
Kershaw, of course, won the 2011 NL Cy Young award, was as deserving of that award last year as actual winner R.A. Dickey, and could rather easily be said to have been the best pitcher in baseball over the last three seasons combined. He has led the majors in ERA in each of the last two seasons and is doing so again this year, has led the majors in adjusted ERA+ with a 168 mark since the start of the 2011 season (Justin Verlander is a distant second at 148), and is second in innings over that span (just 3 2/3 behind Verlander).
However, over the last three months, a challenger has emerged -- not necessarily to Kershaw's award hopes this season, but to his title of best pitcher in baseball. That challenger is a 21-year-old rookie who had never thrown a pitch above High-A ball prior to making his major league debut this April.
The Marlins' Jose Fernandez turned in another gem Saturday night, holding the Rockies to three singles and a double across seven scoreless, walk-less innings, while striking out eight. He improved to 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA on the season, the latter mark ranking third among qualified pitchers in either league behind Kershaw's insane 1.72 and Matt Harvey's 2.27. Fernandez and Kershaw have now both made 15 starts since the calendar flipped to June. Here are their numbers from those starts:
With the exception of walks and innings, the latter of which have been artificially suppressed by the Marlins (who have let Fernandez reach 100 pitches in just seven of his last 15 starts and never let him reach 110, likely keeping him from completing at least one shutout in the process), Fernandez has out-pitched Kershaw over the last three months and has done it while working in a less favorable home ballpark.
Fernandez isn't a threat to win the MVP or Cy Young awards for a variety of reasons, the primary one being the limit of approximately 170 innings the Marlins are expected to put on his season, which could result in his being shut down after just two more starts. But he's putting the Rookie of the Year award away early, and if this is how he pitches as a raw rookie after having just two months to adjust to making the leap from High-A to the majors, how good is he going to be next year? One possible answer is that he's going to be the best pitcher in baseball -- if he isn't already.