No starting pitcher has been better at striking batters out in 2016 than Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. The 23-year-old leads all of baseball with 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The next highest rates are Max Scherzer and David Price with 11.4 each. It's a shame Fernandez has been stuck on irrelevant Marlins teams so far in his career because similar to other young phenoms in small market cities he doesn't get talked about enough nationally.
As a 20-year-old rookie in 2013 Fernandez took the baseball world by storm. In 28 starts he went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings pitched. An all-star that season he went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award while finishing third in the Cy Young voting.
He was somehow pitching even better to start his sophomore season in 2014 with a 2.44 ERA and 70 strikeouts through 51.2 innings pitched. However, after getting hit in the thigh on his second to last start Fernandez was forced to change his delivery in his next game. The result of that required him to undergo Tommy John surgery.
He returned midway through 2015 looking, surprisingly, like his old self. In 11 starts Fernandez went 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched. Most pitchers coming back from the surgery struggle with control but in 2015 he posted the lowest walks per nine of his career (1.9). While this was a very encouraging sign heading into the season Fernandez has struggled with walks in 2016.
In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Fernandez has been fantastic. The only troubling sign is that he has more than doubled his walk rate from a year ago (4.0 per nine). This has led to a career high 3.02 ERA. Keep in mind that a 3.02 ERA is very, very good and shows just how great Fernandez can be if he finds a way to cut back on the walks. He should do this even if it means lowering the strikeout rate, which is a formula that has led Chris Sale to having a career year.
Reducing walks allowed is easier said than done. However, with a career BB/9 of 2.9 Fernandez has a track record that gives reason for optimism. Although starting pitchers return from Tommy John between 12-18 months after surgery, many have said they do not feel like themselves right away. Perhaps he is still shaking off the rust but with a career ERA just one-tenth of a run higher than Clayton Kershaw's, Fernandez certainly has the potential to be the best pitcher in all of baseball.