While all of the talk surrounding Wednesday night's Braves-Marlins game will be about the near-brawl that occurred, let's not forget that it also occassioned the final 2013 start for 21-year-old Miami ace Jose Fernandez, whose planned shutdown will now take effect.
Once again, Fernandez was strong, as he held the Braves to one run -- an Evan Gattis solo shot -- struck out five, walked three and allowed five hits over seven innings of work. In doing so, he lowered his seasonal ERA to a nifty 2.19. Here are the rest of his final numbers for 2013: 12-6, 172 2/3 IP, 111 H, 47 R, 42 ER, 187 K, 58 BB.
Needless to say, that's an exceptional rookie campaign, particularly for someone in his age-20 season. On that note, it's time to start thinking of Fernandez's 2013 season as one of the great rookie pitching seasons ever.
Most notably, Fernandez entered Tuesday night's start with an ERA+ of 174, which is the best such mark of any qualifying rookie pitcher in the live-ball era (i.e., from 1920 onward). Keep in mind that Fernandez has achieved that lofty mark despite playing in front of what's been a below-average defense per defensive efficiency rating.
To be sure, Fernandez doesn't quite have the innings total to compare in terms of raw value to standout rookie hurlers of prior generations like Dwight Gooden in 1985 or Mark Fidrych in 1976. Those, of course, were different days when it comes to pitcher usage, so such comparisons are not entirely fair to Fernandez.
Still, in terms of keeping runs off the board in the context of home park and league environment, Fernandez has been perhaps the best rookie hurler of the modern era. Maybe because he toils for the otherwise pathetic Marlins that's not being adequately recognized. The good news is that the best may yet be to come.
Armed with a four-seamer that touches the high 90s, a mid-90s splitter, hard curve and change-up that boasts a nice velo drop compared to his fastball, Fernandez -- who, let us remember, is still 21 -- has the stuff and polish to keep doing this for a long time.