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Behind the Numbers: Jose Fernandez and Home Dominance


There is nothing more depressing in sports than seeing a great player being wasted on a terrible team. Instead of getting to see him showcase his talents in the biggest stages, we are limited to regular-season greatness, maybe a few individual awards, and an ultimate feeling of letdown. More so than in other sports, baseball can give us a lot of these situations, especially as one single player can’t really represent that big a difference over a full season. Think of Alex Rodriguez winning MVP’s for a last-place Texas team, or the decade-long Felix Hernandez show in Seattle – in the end, we are only left with the potential of superstars playing elsewhere and fulfilling their destiny.

As with King Felix, the tragedy of a superb starting pitcher on a bad team can be an even bigger injustice. While position players can make us accustomed to their every-day greatness, a starting hurler can only show his worth once every 5 days, thus only giving his fans a rare glimmer of hope in what are otherwise lousy seasons. Even as the home crowd can turn every start into an event, and fantasy owners are happy regardless, there is still an empty feeling when said pitcher steps off the mound and we have to wait a few days for his next turn.

One of the most recent victims of this terrible fate has been the young Cuban ace Jose Fernandez, who endured some of the most extreme circumstances before arriving in the United States, only to end up signing with the Miami Marlins (which tends to be an ordeal in itself). Fernandez’s story in the majors has been well documented, as he made the team as a precocious 20-year old in 2013, only to become an almost instant ace that won the Rookie of the Year and finished third in the Cy Young voting. He then had to go through Tommy John surgery in 2014, and recently made his return to the big leagues in the midst of another lost season in Miami.

The dichotomy between Fernandez and his team as a whole during this span has been mystifying. In his 42 starts as a major leaguer, Fernandez has gone 20-8 by himself, while the Marlins are 28-14 during his starts as a whole. This translates to a very nice .667 winning percentage. On the other hand, the Marlins as team are 182-250 (through August 5th), which compiles to a very lousy .421 winning percentage. If we discount Fernandez’s starts, the record drops to 154-236 (.394), which roughly translates to a 64-win team over a full season. In short, without Fernandez, the Marlins are essentially the same as the Phillies.

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The sad thing about the Marlins is just how bland they’ve become. Regardless of seeming hopeless or looking like a sexy pick to contend behind their young core, they have made it a habit of underwhelming every preconceived notion. The franchise still awaits for its first playoff berth since 2003, all after another lost season that brought upon a mini fire sale that leaves 2016 and beyond as another mystery.

But let’s get back to Fernandez. After all, he is the focal point of this analysis – notably, his utter dominance at home. Even with all the disappointment brought to Miami fans, at least they know that going to the stadium when Fernandez starts is almost a guarantee of a Marlins win. To wit, here are Fernandez’s stats over 24 career starts at home:

24 Games, 15-0, 157.2 IP, 1.14 ERA, 0.875 WHIP, 183 K

The Marlins are 21-3 in those starts, with the only losses coming due to bullpen implosions that had little to do with Fernandez. Among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched at home since 2013, Fernandez ranks first in ERA by a half run over Clayton Kershaw, and has allowed the lowest opponent average and wOBA by a considerable margin. Fernandez also owns the lowest HR rate, and his WHIP and strikeout rate rank third over this span.

While you could argue that he gets a lot of help from pitching at spacious Marlins Park, the stadium hasn’t played out as an extreme pitcher’s heaven. According to ESPN park factors, here is how Marlins Park has played out in comparison to other parks since 2013. It is all measured based on a 1 score, where 1 is average and anything below is under the league average.

Marlins Park. Park Factors 2013-2015

Year

Runs (Rank)

Homeruns (Rank)

2013

1.030 (11th)

0.636 (30th)

2014

1.014 (t-11th)

0.788 (26th)

2015

0.975 (16th)

0.677 (29th)


So, while it makes sense that Marlins park does suppress homeruns to an extreme extent (unless you are Giancarlo Stanton), it has played out as neutral-to-better when it comes to overall scoring. And yet, Jose Fernandez has continued to be completely dominant despite the tough transitions he’s had to endure in his young career.

He went his rookie season and the short stint in 2014 without allowing more than 2 runs in any of his home starts. That streak was broken in his first start after Tommy John surgery, but it was still a 3-run game that the Marlins and Fernandez eventually won. He has also thrown six double-digit strikeout games during this span, and the Marlins have enjoyed much larger home crowds on days in which Fernandez pitches.

On the other hand, his road stats are decent but not nearly as noteworthy:

18 Games, 5-8, 104.2 IP, 3.87 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, 121 K

The strikeout rate is identical, but the success has been elusive for Fernandez when he is away from Marlins Park. Still, it will be interesting to see how long the unbeaten streak can last, and how long the Marlins can go without supporting Fernandez with a proper roster around him. What is still astounding is to consider that Fernandez has just turned 23, and is providing these numbers at rookie-contract prices.

He will begin to earn significant raises in arbitration as soon as next year, but will still be a way undervalued asset for a franchise that pinches every penny it can. As long as he continues to win and do awesome things like this, the fans in Miami will be happy and pack the park for his starts, but there may be a time when Fernandez is freed to fulfill his potential in a better situation.

For now, let’s just enjoy this amazing start to his young career and be amazed by what he does at home, where he has become the league’s most automatic win in a while.



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