Posted September 12, 2013

Sparks fly in Jose Fernandez’s season finale as he caps impressive rookie year

Atlanta Braves, Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez (right) and Brian McCann had some words for each other after the pitcher's home run. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Jose Fernandez (right) and Brian McCann had some words for each other after the pitcher’s home run. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Jose Fernandez put an exclamation point on his stellar rookie season on Wednesday night — and cleared both benches in the process. Making his final start of the year before being shut down due to an innings limit, the 21-year-old Marlins phenom not only kept the Braves offense at bay for seven innings, he also clouted a solo homer and drew the opposition’s ire for admiring it.

Fernandez had cruised through his first five innings without allowing a run while the Marlins built up a 4-0 lead against Mike Minor, with Giancarlo Stanton driving in three runs, including two on a long homer to dead centerfield. Evan Gattis put the Braves on the board by hammering Fernandez’s first pitch of the sixth inning, a 96 mph fastball, to leftfield for a towering solo homer, after which he took a long moment to admire it. Fernandez could be seen shaking his head and mouthing the word “Wow!” after the shot, though whether it was due to its emphatic nature or to Gattis’ slow exit from the box was unclear.

Fernandez went on to retire Brian McCann, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons on seven pitches to complete the inning. After inducing Johnson into a long flyout to deep left center, the Braves third baseman could be seen exchanging words with the pitcher. Fernandez was animated and visibly agitated enough as he returned to the dugout that, according to the Braves’ television feed, manager Mike Redmond took him down to the tunnel for a moment to cool off.

Though the Marlins had backed off their initial plan to limit Fernandez to six innings in each of their last two starts — he went seven and allowed one hit against the Nationals on September 6 — it nonetheless came as a minor surprise that Redmond let Fernandez hit for himself with a three-run lead and two outs in the bottom of the sixth. That said, his pitch count was at just 86, and he was hardly laboring. So Fernandez stepped into the box against Minor and, after taking a ball, hammered an 84 mph changeup to deep left-center for his first major league homer, and took his own sweet time to watch. Here’s the video from MLB.com:

As he trotted around the bases, Fernandez racheted tensions up a notch when he appeared to spit in the direction of third base while Johnson watched. When he got to home plate, McCann began jawing with him. As home plate umpire Sam Holbrook moved to separate the two players before hostilities escalated, Johnson charged into the fray… then courageously hid behind the umpire. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and there appeared to be a fair bit of shouting and shoving but no punches thrown, warranting warnings to both benches but no ejections. Even after the crowd dissipated, Johnson could still be seen shouting.

With nothing really on the line as far as playoff implications are concerned, it was all silly stuff triggered largely by the actions of an exuberant 21-year-old. Doubtless there will be a handful of fun police columns questioning Fernandez’s conduct and maturity, similar to those which Yasiel Puig has been subjected to in recent weeks. Such people should be sentenced to watching the Marlins play out the string without their star rookie.

In any event, Fernandez returned to the mound and pitched a scoreless seventh inning, striking out Justin Upton on an 83 mph curveball for his fifth K of the night and his 187th of the season, then walking off the mound to a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,111.

Assuming that’s the last pitch he’s thrown for the year, Fernandez has made a strong case for NL Rookie of the Year honors even among a strong rookie class that includes Shelby Miller, Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu. He could receive Cy Young support as well. At this writing, his 2.19 ERA trails only Clayton Kershaw’s 1.92, though the Dodgers’ southpaw has 44 2/3 more innings at the moment (216 to 172 2/3) and still has a few turns left. Fernandez leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings (9.75) by a narrow margin and hits per nine (5.8) by a wide one while his home run rate (0.5 per nine) ranks fourth; Gattis’ homer was just the 10th he’s allowed all season. He entered the night ranked third among NL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, with 5.9 to Jhoulys Chacin’s 6.5 and Kershaw’s 6.8, and certainly drew closer with his seven-inning, one run performance.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Fernandez’s rookie campaign is the rapid in-season improvement that elevated him into the discussion as one of the game’s elite. Through the end of May, a period covering his first 10 starts, he put up a respectable 3.78 ERA and struck out 23.4 percent of all hitters. Since the beginning of June, he’s flat-out dominated, dipping to a 1.50 ERA while striking out 29.4 percent of hitters. He delivered 16 quality starts in his last 18 turns, and only twice allowed more than two runs during that stretch.

Even without considering the remarkable back story of Fernandez’s defection from Cuba at age 15 or his jump from A-ball directly to the majors this year in order to generate positive publicity for a team desperately in need of some good buzz, his season ranks among the most impressive showings for a rookie pitcher or one in his age 20 season. Here’s the top 15 among players through their age 20 seasons (Fernandez didn’t turn 21 until July 31, so he qualifies) according to Baseball-Reference.com’s version of WAR, keeping in mind that the player in question’s final tally will move up once the overnight numbers are crunched:

Rk  Player  Year  Age  Tm  IP  SO/9 ERA  ERA+  WAR
1 Dwight Gooden 1985 20 Mets 276.7 8.7 1.53 229 12.1
2 Bob Feller 1939 20 Indians 296.7 7.5 2.85 154 9.3
3 Christy Mathewson 1901 20 Giants 336.0 5.9 2.41 138 9.1
4 Bert Blyleven 1971 20 Twins 278.3 7.2 2.81 126 6.4
5 Gary Nolan 1967 19 Reds 226.7 8.2 2.58 147 6.3
6 Don Drysdale 1957 20 Dodgers 221.0 6.0 2.69 153 6.1
7 Jose Fernandez 2013 20 Marlins 172.7 9.8 2.19 177 5.9+
8 Dave Rozema 1977 20 Tigers 218.3 3.8 3.09 139 5.7
9 Harry Krause 1909 20 A’s 213.0 5.9 1.39 174 5.6
10 Dwight Gooden 1984 19 Mets 218.0 11.4 2.60 137 5.5
11 Dennis Eckersley 1975 20 Indians 186.7 7.3 2.60 144 5.3
12 Bob Feller 1938 19 Indians 277.7 7.8 4.08 113 5.1
13 Walter Johnson 1908 20 Senators 256.3 5.6 1.65 138 5.1
14 Fernando Valenzuela 1981 20 Dodgers 192.3 8.4 2.48 135 4.8
15 Frank Tanana 1974 20 Angels 268.7 6.0 3.12 110 4.7

That’s a fun list, featuring no fewer than six Hall of Famers (Blyleven, Drysdale, Eckersley, Feller, Johnson and Mathewson) as well as sensations such as Gooden and Valenzuela who burned brightly but ran into roadblocks on the way to Cooperstown. That Fernandez threw far fewer innings than any of them is a sign of the times, as the Marlins take precautions to protect his arm. That he ranks right in the middle of that esteemed company is a sign that he’s only getting started in a career that should be very special.

11 comments
OK
OK

Jaffe,

"That’s a fun list, featuring no fewer than six Hall of Famers (Blyleven, Drysdale, Eckersley, Feller, Johnson and Mathewson) ..."

Me thinks No. 11 on your WAR list also has a spot in Cooperstown - and he didn't get it just by closing doors in Oakland.

C'mon, Jaffe, you're better than this, especially after you're great catch on the Johnson histrionics. But that's a Peter King Mistake - sloppy and unprofessional.

Also, show a little respect to Frank Tanana. Guy started as a pure flamethrower in California, blew out his arm, and then taught himself to be one hell of a control pitcher with 240 career wins in his resume.

OK
OK

Jose Fernandez violated The Crash Davis Rule: Don't show up my pitcher. Brian McCann stood up for his pitcher. Nothing wrong with McCann.

But Chris Johnson's act is complete BS. Watch the entire video. Johnson goes back to third base and he's still dropping F- bombs and talking about fighting with Fernandez right now. Looks legit.

However, at the end of the video, the replay shows Johnson running in from third base when McCann confronted Fernandez ... and standing BEHIND the home plate umpire before running his mouth.

Johnson didn't want to fight. Johnson wanted to look tough.

Fernandez was wrong.

McCann called him on it.

And Johnson acted like a complete chicken bleep.

KevinDoucette
KevinDoucette

Baseball players have to be the biggest babies in all of sport. He watched his first home go out.  Who cares. Ball players do stuff like this all the time. It must really hurt their feelings when stuff like this happens. Poor guys. I love baseball except when garbage like this happens.

Could you imagine what they would do if they were in the NFL and a guy did the First Down signal after a great catch. Both benches would clear and a brawl would break out. Hilarious.

Baconpizza
Baconpizza

Time for a new rule:

If you're not fighting, you aren't allowed to leave the bench.  These games play out like soap operas to interrupt the sheer boredom that is regular season baseball.  Either take a swing at someone or stay on the bench chewing sunflower seeds.

weir6
weir6

Jay, I know you'd like to follow this guy into the locker room and get a good deep whiff of his jock and all, but he spit on third base.  I get that he's a kid, and that he always talks and giggles/grins to opposing teams.. it's cute.  But you don't do that kind of stuff, especially when your team is a National joke.  He may be 21, but he needs to elevate his professionalism a little bit now that he's on the big stage.  Gattis didn't gawk at his bomb - the kid sure did though.  Go gum on hit nutsac

train805
train805

I have always like chris johnson. However, he needs to give it a rest. Fast forward to the end of the video, and watch where chris johnson runs to, as he's barking at fernandez even more. He runs directly behind the umpire. He had every opportunity to get right in jose's face, and he went immediately behind the ump. Typical baseball passive aggressive nothingness. Mccann had it handled, and johnson took it to the next level, while at the same time, ensuring nothing more would happen. If youre gonna run your mouth off at someone, at least have the balls to do it right in his grill.

And give the kid a break. Hes probably never hit a ball that far in his life. And its not like the Upton brothers are guilty of the same thing on a regular basis. Well, at least it used to be a regular basis. Not so much now. Heck, not even sure if BJ has hit an hr this year yet!

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

Much ado about nothing...the kid deserved to be a kid & admire his homer. (And I'm a life-long Braves fan...)

Semantics
Semantics

The unwritten ethics rules that permeate MLB play are so ludicrous. In every other sports league, we see teams running up the score, showboating, and exuberance, and if a player finds any of it offensive, he uses the playing field to show his displeasure. This peacock act that MLBers pull when trying to maintain this mystical "integrity of the game" is completely laughable.

moose311
moose311

@OK #11 is Eckersley, right?  He's listed between Drysdale and Feller in the text you pasted.

OK
OK

@train805  

Nice catch, Train. I saw the same thing with Johnson. I'm not standing up for Fernandez (he was bush) and I am backing McCann (he just backed his pitcher).

But Johnson's tough talk looks like bleep when the video shows him run BEHIND the home plate umpire and then run his mouth.