Sunday morning we learned that in a sickening turn of events, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez has been killed. One of the victims of a boat crash that ended the lives of three people, Fernandez was of the best pitchers in baseball, his name being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of superstars Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Verlander.
Drafted by the Marlins at 14th overall in 2011, Fernandez raced trough the minors, posting a 1.75 ERA, 2.34 FIP, and a WHIP of only 1.00 over 11 starts in High-A in 2012. In 2013, the Marlins double-jumped him straight to the majors. The move paid off, as he had an historic rookie year, pitching to a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and striking out a whopping 27.5 percent of batters who dared face him. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award in a landslide.
Fernandez's greatness never diminished, and he continued to confound big league hitters with his blazing fastball and elite curveball. He was a master of creating soft contact -- he was among the top third in the game -- but that was only when batters didn't strike out, which was a more likely occurrence. There is only one pitcher that uses his curveball more than Fernandez did, and a devastating one it was. Batters hit .151 against it, with a wRC+ of 29.
Fernandez pretty much owned the players on the current Detroit roster over his career, but particularly carved up Justin Upton, who went 0-for-13 with 10 strikeouts against him on the few occasions that they met.
He will be sorely missed on a struggling Marlins team, both on a professional and a personal level. Giancarlo Stanton, slugging Marlins right fielder, posted this comment on Instagram.
I'm still waiting to wake up from this nightmare. I lost my brother today and can't quite comprehend it. The shock is overwhelming. What he meant to me , our team, the city of Miami, Cuba & everyone else in the world that his enthusiasm/heart has touched can never be replaced. I can't fathom what his family is going through because We, as his extended Family are a wreck. I gave him the nickname Niño because he was just a young boy Amongst men , yet those men could barely compete with him . He had his own level, one that was changing the game. EXTRAORDINARY, as a person before the player. Yet still just a kid, who's joy lit up the stadium more than lights could. A kid whose time came too soon. One that I will miss & never forget. Rest In Peace Niño, Jose Fernandez
Manager Don Mattingly also had kind words to say about Fernandez, sadly recalling:
[There was] just joy with him, when he played, and when he pitched, and I think that's what the guys would say too, as mad as he would make you with some of the stuff that he would do, you would just see that little kid you see when you watch kids play little league or something like that. That's the joy Jose played with, and the passion that he felt about playing, that's what I think about.
The press conference that was held in his his memory was attended by every single member of the Marlins.
One of the most poignant memories came from Casey McGehee of the Tigers, who played with Fernandez.
"The toughest part for me has been having to tell my son (who has cerebral palsy). I think everybody knows about my son and some of the struggles that he deals with. A lot of people don't really know how to treat him. But for some reason, Jose had a heart for him.
"I'd get to the field and it wasn't like, 'Hey Jose, do you mind keeping an eye on him while I hit?' It was, Jose coming to grab him and they were together from the time I got to the field to the time my wife came to pick him up. I think that really says a lot about what was truly in his heart and what kind of a guy he was."
Fernandez was destined to be one of the greats. He played the game he knew so well with joy and with a truly awe-inspiring amount of skill. The loss to the game is incalculable.