- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Fantasy owners really could not have asked for much more of Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez this year. The Cuban import surprisingly made the Marlins out of spring training at age 20, became a popular fantasy free-agent pickup immediately, held his own the first half of the season despite the lack of awesome teammates around him, and then was quite simply the best pitcher in the game after the All-Star break. Fernandez finished his rookie season Wednesday with seven innings of one-run ball to beat the Atlanta Braves, and even smacked a home run and helped provoke a benches-clearing incident. That’s how good he is.
Alas, it’s all over because the Marlins decided to pick the random number of 170 innings and shut down Fernandez at that point. Mind you there’s no conclusive evidence that this move will help Fernandez stay healthier next year -- see Matt Harvey -- but ultimately, all that matters is that fantasy owners in redraft formats should thank Fernandez and move on to someone else these final weeks. Fernandez ends his first season with 12 wins in 28 starts, a 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings, and he’s 16th overall on the Player Rater, and behind only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Craig Kimbrel among pitchers. It might be the best season ever for a rookie pitcher, right there with Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela and of course, Mark Fidrych.
Kershaw will likely take home another NL Cy Young award -- more wins, innings, strikeouts, better ERA -- but Fernandez certainly has deserving numbers, and we’ll see about top rookie honors between him and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. When it comes to fantasy, however, Fernandez is the pick as top rookie, even with three weeks to go. This is a pitcher with terrific command, a dominant slider, and he throws hard. Batters hit .182 off him this year, best in the majors. The No. 2 rookie on the Player Rater is Puig at No. 84.
Where will Fernandez rank for next season? Well, I’ll be avoiding starting pitchers in the early rounds to start with, but I don’t see how to keep this fellow out of the top 10 at the position. For now I’d rank Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Scherzer and Adam Wainwright in the top five, but after that, Fernandez demands attention with David Price, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Things could change, but I’ll slot him right after Strasburg for now in the No. 10 spot. Amazing indeed.
By the way, if ranking the top rookies for fantasy this season, after Fernandez I’d go with Puig (still hitting .340 with power and speed in 87 games, which means you were able to use another outfielder prior to his promotion), then St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller, Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran and Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu at No. 5. Yep, it’s all NL players, and there’s no room for Wil Myers, Jose Iglesias, Evan Gattis (who homered off Fernandez Wednesday for the lone run) or even Milwaukee Brewers closer Jim Henderson, a valuable fantasy asset at age 30 (and yes, technically a rookie), but he misses this list.
Box score bits (NL): Washington Nationals right-hander Dan Haren is no rookie, but he outdueled New York Mets first-year right-hander Zack Wheeler Wednesday, allowing one hit in six shutout innings. Haren, whose season ERA is 5.02, remains too erratic to trust. He had permitted 12 runs in his previous 5 2/3 innings, outings against those lowly Mets and Marlins. … Wheeler allowed only one run in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.22. He should get two more starts this season. … San Francisco Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit couldn’t duplicate the success of his near-perfect game last week, allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings Wednesday. Petit continues to strike hitters out, but he’s more spot starter than safe option. … St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams blasted his 12th home run of the season Wednesday, a two-run shot off lefty Mike Gonzalez. Adams bats left-handed. He’ll continue to play regularly with Allen Craig out a few more weeks, and he’ll continue to hit. … Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura is 1-for-8 the past two days, dropping his batting average below .300 for the first time all year. Segura is hitting .246 with a .269 OBP and one home run since the All-Star break. He hit .325 with 11 home runs prior. Remember all that in 2014 drafts. He’s got speed and is nearly top-10 on the Rater for the season, but he won’t be in my overall top-40 rankings next spring.
Box score bits (AL): Kansas City Royals right-hander James Shields got back on track Wednesday with eight innings of two-run ball in Cleveland, winning his 11th game. Yeah, he has deserved more victories with his numbers, but at least he didn’t allow 10 runs like his previous outing. Shields has won seven of 10 starts. … Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Moises Sierra thrived Wednesday, with two doubles, a triple, two runs and his first stolen base. Sierra, 24, isn’t a top prospect -- he had 16 walks versus 106 strikeouts while hitting .261 at Triple-A Buffalo -- but he should see playing time down the stretch, especially with slugger Edwin Encarnacion perhaps done with a wrist injury. … Baltimore Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia had four hits Wednesday, raising his batting average to .330 over 109 at-bats. Valencia, a right-handed hitter, is batting .385 against lefty pitchers, like Wednesday’s foe, Andy Pettitte. Those in daily leagues take note: Valencia and the Orioles are scheduled to face lefty Mark Buehrle Sunday. … Detroit Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez fanned 10 Chicago White Sox over 7 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday, earning his 14th win. Sanchez has a 2.50 ERA. He won’t win the Cy Young award, but the case for top-20 starting pitcher status in 2014 is legit.