From the moment he arrived in the big leagues as a hard-throwing 20-year-old with an effortless delivery and a devastating curveball , Jose Fernandez was special.
The shock and heartache will linger for a while after Fernandez died early Sunday in a boating accident at age 24. The Miami ace was one of the game’s brightest young stars, his precocious talent matched by an infectious, fun-loving personality.
“My first impression of Jose was, ‘This rookie is way too comfortable.’ The first time that he pitched against us, it kind of caught you off guard because he was so animated,” Colorado manager Walt Weiss said. “The unwritten baseball rule is that’s unacceptable, but it didn’t take long before I realized that this guy just had a tremendous joy for playing the game. I was all-in shortly after that first time I saw him pitch.”
The future seemed limitless for Fernandez, who won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2013. He missed much of 2014 and 2015 because of Tommy John surgery, but even that didn’t appear to be that much of a setback, the way the right-hander was pitching this year.
“He was the guy for the Marlins who was their face. He was beloved,” said Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso, who went to college at Miami and like Fernandez was born in Cuba.
“It’s a blow to the team, to the city, to everyone. It’s a shocking thing, because he’s 24 years old. A big-time shock, for sure.”
Amid the pain of this loss, Fernandez’s career is worth celebrating. Here are some of the most illustrious stats and facts from his dazzling four years in the majors:
THAT ROOKIE SEASON: Less than two years after being drafted in the first round — and with no minor league experience above Class A — Fernandez made his big league debut in April 2013. He would go 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, beating out fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig for Rookie of the Year honors.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Fernandez’s pitching was worth 6.3 wins above replacement that year, the fifth-highest total for a pitcher in his age 20 season. Only Dwight Gooden (1985), Bob Feller (1939), Christy Mathewson (1901) and Bert Blyleven (1971) have ranked higher.
COMFORT ZONE: Fernandez’s starts in his home ballpark were not to be missed. He made 42 of them, going an almost unfathomable 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA. His final two home starts this month were reflective of his career. Against the Dodgers and Nationals — two division champions — he pitched 15 scoreless innings, striking out 26.
SLUGGING WITH SWAGGER: Fernandez hit .213 in 136 career at-bats with two home runs, the first of which touched off a bench-clearing incident against Atlanta in 2013 when the youngster flipped his bat and admired his prodigious shot to left field. Against the Braves this July, Fernandez came up as a pinch-hitter in the top of the 12th and hit a two-run double to lift the Marlins to a 7-5 win.
RARE COMPANY: In his first full season since surgery, Fernandez was an All-Star this year, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts. He averaged 12.49 strikeouts per nine innings, the fifth-best single-season mark for a qualifying pitcher. Only Randy Johnson (twice), Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood have posted higher figures.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister