The tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez has devastated the baseball world. Fernandez, 24, was killed in a boating accident Sunday morning. The Marlins canceled their game against the Atlanta Braves following the news.
Fernandez’s death is still fresh. Many are still processing how a player with so much talent and love for the game could be taken away so early. On the field, Fernandez’s ability was undeniable. Fernandez was well on his way to posting another phenomenal season with the Marlins. The 24-year-old posted a 2.86 ERA, with an incredible 253 strikeouts, in just 182 1/3 innings.
That performance put him squarely in the middle of the Cy Young race in the National League.
Depending on what stats you prefer, there’s an argument to be made that Fernandez could be the first player to ever win the Cy Young award posthumously.
The best case begins with Fangraphs’ version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement). His 6.2 WAR, according to Fangraphs, leads all pitchers this season. If you are a huge believer in advanced stats, there’s already a case to be made that Fernandez should be the favorite for the award.
It’s not that simple, though. Baseball-Reference has its own version of WAR, which is calculated differently. Baseball-Reference’s version (bWAR) places a much greater emphasis on runs allowed, while fWAR is built around FIP. That difference is the main reason Fernandez is not among the top-5 NL pitchers in bWAR.
Of course, both versions of WAR are supposed to be used as a framework. Neither is the definitive stat, but both give an idea of a player’s value. By both measures, he’s at least in the conversation for the Cy Young award.
If that’s the framework, a look at Fernandez’s traditional stats should help paint a better picture of his candidacy. His 2.86 ERA ranks eighth, his 2.29 FIP ranks first and his 253 strikeouts rank second in the NL.
Ultimately, though, the case for Fernandez comes down to innings pitched. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the group that votes on end-of-season awards, values number of games played highly. In fact, it’s the second thing voters are told to weigh when voting on the MVP award.
That’s where Fernandez’s candidacy falls short. Fernandez’s 182 1/3 innings pale in comparison to Madison Bumgarner’s 219 1/3 innings pitched, which leads the NL. Given that Bumgarner, Max Scherzer and Johnny Cueto, to name a few, have similar cases from a statistical standpoint but have thrown more innings, Fernandez will likely be a runner-up for the award.
While Fernandez winning the award would make for a great story — and some voters may be tempted to elevate Fernandez due to his tragic death — voters aren’t supposed to cast their ballots based on narrative. Yes, “general character, disposition, loyalty and effort” are considered in the voting process. And you could easily make the case Fernandez excelled in each of those areas. But on-field performance is weighed more highly in the voting.
That doesn’t mean baseball can’t figure out a way to properly honor Fernandez’s legacy.
That seems like a good place to start. Fernandez personified so much of what fans love about the game. While his numbers and performance will be remembered, Fernandez’s spirit and personality will be the defining aspect of his legacy.
A player like that deserves to live on forever. Major League Baseball can still make that happen.
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