Cleat Geeks

Jose Fernandez The Biggest “What Could Have Been”

September 25th started the same as any regular Sunday in Major League Baseball: the sun rose, the world awoke from its sleep, and fans from all 30 fanbases prepared and looked ahead, just as the players did, to some late September baseball as the sun begins to set on the 2016 regular season schedule.josefernandezbirthdeath

Little did anyone know that Major League Baseball, as well as the sports world in general, would soon be shaken to its very core as news broke early in the day that Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez had perished in a boating accident during the wee hours of the morning in Miami Beach. He was just 24 years old.

A universally loved player around the majors, tributes poured in throughout the day, including heartfelt Instagram posts from fellow Cuban defectors such as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, as well as teammates Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins and Braves cancelled the final game of the series as an overwhelmed Don Mattingly and company struggled with the death of a close friend, brother, and teammate.

The death of an active player is always an event that shakes the respective league to its core, something we thankfully hadn’t seen since the Angels lost young pitcher Nick Adenhart to a car accident early in the 2009 campaign. But the response to Fernandez has already had a much larger impact around the league (disclaimer: no disrespect to Nick Adenhart is intended). Why?

Because, without a doubt, we are now looking at the biggest “what could have been” in the history of modern baseball.

At only 24 and, despite injuries that took away most most of two of his four career seasons, it can be argued that Fernandez was already on a track for Cooperstown. He arrived with a bang in 2013, posting a 2.19 ERA with 187 strikeouts (9.7 K/9) in 28 starts, finishing with a record of 12-6. He surrendering just 47 runs (42 earned) in 172 2/3 innings, posting a WHIP of 0.979 and placing himself at 6.3 wins above replacement. He finished in the top tier of many of these categories along with, among others, Clayton Kershaw. He won all but four first-place votes in the NL Rookie of the Year vote, defeating Yasiel Puig in a landslide victory.

Tommy John surgery sidelined Fernandez for much of 2013 and 2014, limiting him to just 116 1/3 innings in 19 starts over those two seasons. But he was still effective enough when he was able to pitch. He posted a 10-3 record with an ERA of 2.71, paired with 149 strikeouts (11.5 K/9), just 27 walks, and a WHIP of 1.066. This small sample size still showed he had his chops and that he had nowhere to go but up once he regained his full health.

Fernandez didn’t just go up when he returned full-time in 2016. He launched into the baseball stratosphere.


Fernandez’s 2016 season, his first full one since his rookie campaign, was a glimpse of what his career was going to be. He was 16-8 through 29 starts, holding an ERA and WHIP of 2.86 and 1.12, respectively. He was second in the NL with 253 strikeouts (with a league-leading 12.5 K/9) to just 55 walks through 182 1/3 innings.

He was slated to start Sunday but his next start was pushed back to Monday. It never came.

In four seasons Fernandez accumulated 38 wins, 589 strikeouts, and a career 2.58 ERA. No starting pitcher holds a lower ERA in this span.

But, aside from his eye-popping on-field statistics, there is one thing that everyone who knew Fernandez took away from his short career more than anything else: the unbridled joy that he brought to the field on every single game day.

In tributes from players around the league almost every single one recalled the joy that exuded from him, still playing and enjoying baseball with the excitement of a little leaguer in a professional league. He was loved around the league and held a close bond with fellow Cuban josefernandezsmilingdefectors such as Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Iglesias.

Baseball fans everywhere, not just Marlins fans, but Cubs, Orioles, White Sox, and Tigers fans, to name just a few, are shocked by the news. In fact, as the Marlins visited Detroit earlier this season I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that Fernandez wouldn’t be starting in either game in the series. Had I known that would be my only opportunity to see him pitch I would have thought differently.

Playing the “what if” game is always risky, but so many events that were all but destined to transpire will never happen.

The pitcher primed to take the spotlight from Clayton Kershaw will never see his chance to do so. The Marlins, destined to return to prominence behind their Fernandez-led pitching staff, will be left to pick up the pieces as they begin a new search for their rotation cornerstone. His teammates will be without the million-dollar smile that could bring bountiful joy to the field, clubhouse, and dugout with his presence alone. His unborn child will never know him. The league and fans of baseball will never see the entirety of seemed sure to be a hall of fame career. History will never be able to fully remember what could have been one of the greatest pitchers of the last 40 years.

Though nothing above can ever be certain, there is one thing that, at this moment, is for sure: the baseball world will mourn, as America’s pastime has lost a truly special individual in Jose Fernandez.

Thoughts, prayers, and condolences to the Fernandez family and the Miami Marlins organization.



One Comment

  1. Chris Milz

    September 26, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    EDIT: Fernandez was sidelined for most of 2014 and 2015, not 2013 and 2014.

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