Jose Fernandez's rookie season ranks among the five best by a pitcher 20 years old or younger in baseball history. (Elsa/Getty Images)
The Marlins' Jose Fernandez and the Rays' Wil Myers were named the Rookies of the Year in the National and American Leagues, respectively, on Monday evening. While Myers may have been something of a default pick in a weak AL field, for Fernandez, this award crowns what was one of the best rookie seasons by a pitcher in the game's long history.
Fernandez, who didn't turn 21 until July 31 and thus just completed his age-20 season, made Miami's rotation out of spring training in just his second full professional season despite having never pitched above High-A. He finished the year with a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 172 2/3 innings across 28 starts.
Among rookies who qualified for the ERA title in the Liveball Era (1920-present), Fernandez ranked fifth in ERA, second in WHIP and sixth in K/9, and his 176 ERA+, a stat that measures run prevention against league average and adjusts for home ballpark, was the best since 1911. Of the four seasons above his in ERA, one came in a strike-shortened season (Dave Righetti in 1981), two happened in The Year of the Pitcher (Stan Bahnsen and Jerry Koosman in 1968) and the last came during World War II (Johnny Beazley, 1942) when many players were serving in the military.
If you take Fernandez's age into account, you get another remarkable list. Among pitchers 20 or younger, only Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Rick Ankiel in 2000 posted higher strikeout rates, and only Gooden had a lower WHIP, doing so in his sophomore year of 1985, one of the greatest pitching seasons in the game's history. In the Liveball Era only Gooden's 1.53 ERA in '85 was lower than Fernandez's 2.19 this year. In fact, Fernandez is the just the sixth pitcher that age to post an ERA+ above 135 since the major leagues were integrated in 1947.
In all, Fernandez was worth 6.3 Wins Above Replacement this season, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the fifth-best season by a pitcher age 20 or younger in baseball history. Only Christy Mathewson in 1901, Bob Feller in 1939, Bert Blyleven in 1971 and Gooden in 1985 had a higher mark. Oh, by the way, the first three of those men wound up in the Hall of Fame.
Want something even more impressive? How about this: Fernandez became just the seventh qualified pitcher in major-league history to post an ERA+ of 176 or better, a WHIP of 0.98 or lower and a K/9 of 9.7 or better in the same season. Four of other six such seasons were by Pedro Martinez (1997, '99, 2000 and '02), and the other two were by Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in 2004. Four of those seasons resulted in Cy Young awards, and the other two should have. Fernandez, who, again, did those things in his age-20 season and without ever pitching in Double- or Triple-A, won't win the NL Cy Young award this year because Clayton Kershaw was even better, but he is one of the three finalists for that award.
Fernandez received 26 of the 30 first place votes for Rookie of the Year, joining Tony Oliva (AL, 1964) as the only Cuban-born players to win the award. Fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers received the other four first-place votes. Fernandez and Puig got 59 of the 60 first- and second-place votes. The other one went to Cardinals righty Shelby Miller courtesy of John Maffei of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who left Puig off his ballot entirely and listed Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who finished sixth overall, third.
As for Myers, he is the third Ray to win the Rookie of the Year award in the last six seasons, joining his batter's-box doppelganger Evan Longoria, who won in 2008, and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who won in 2011. Myers didn't make his major-league debut until June 18 and played in just 88 games this season, becoming the first hitter to win the award in either league for a season in which he played so few games since the Phillies' Ryan Howard, who also played in 88 games in 2005. No other American League hitter has won it for a season in which he played fewer than 100 games, and only the Giants' Willie McCovey (52 games in 1959) ever won it for a season in which he played fewer games than Myers and Howard.