You knew we'd get here eventually. The public grief over José Fernández's sudden, unimaginable death is still very real and very raw. Personally, I can't even look at that No. 16 jersey yet -- which has understandably been all over social media this week -- without getting choked up.But you
You knew we'd get here eventually. The public grief over José Fernández's sudden, unimaginable death is still very real and very raw. Personally, I can't even look at that No. 16 jersey yet -- which has understandably been all over social media this week -- without getting choked up.
But you knew the award discussion would arise. This close to the 2016 finish line, it had to.
So let's just put this out there: Fernandez is worthy of receiving the National League Cy Young Award as well as multiple MLB Awards posthumously (Dee Gordon's touching touch-em-all Monday night is, hands down, our Moment of the Year, as far as I'm concerned).
Fernandez's case is admittedly more about sentimentality than stats, but the stats make it far more than merely maudlin. And because that case is gaining traction in conversation here in the past day or so, those with an NL Cy Young Award vote (and just for the record, I don't have one) are faced with a tremendously difficult decision. It's worth noting the MLB Awards take postseason performance into consideration, whereas the Cy Young Award does not. There's also a chance Fernandez will be honored with a special MLB Award.
:: Jose Fernandez: 1992-2016 ::
Before Fernandez's untimely passing, the NL Cy Young Award was going to go to Max Scherzer or a Cubs starter. Scherzer has been the biggest workhorse, with an NL-best 223 1/3 innings and a Major League-best 277 strikeouts and a 0.94 WHIP. He's racked up 19 wins along the way. Kyle Hendricks, meanwhile, has been the stingiest pitcher in the bigs, with a Major League-best 1.99 ERA and a 201 adjusted ERA+, albeit with far fewer innings (185) than the mighty Max. And Jon Lester is sort of the happy medium between the two, currently sitting just shy of 200 innings with a 2.28 ERA.
Where Fernandez would have ranked after that trio before we lost him, I have no idea. But I know where I'd put him now.
Maybe it's a touchy subject. Hendricks has been one of the more stunning breakout stories of 2016, and perhaps it's not fair to deny him this hardware. Scherzer is one of the game's great competitors, a man who struck out 20 Tigers on a brilliant mid-May night, and a second Cy Young Award -- which would make him just the sixth pitcher in history to earn the honor in both leagues -- would be an important element of his legacy. And speaking of legacy, Lester has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade, but he has never won this prestigious honor.
To me, though, it's hard to look at this race and not be emotionally affected by what just happened early Sunday morning.
Sure, perhaps there are other ways to honor Jose's legacy of pure joy. It has been suggested by ESPN's Buster Olney and others that MLB create some sort of annual award for a young player who embodies Fernandez's spirit in some fashion, and that's a decent suggestion. I'm sure the Marlins, who have already said they will retire Jose's number, will one day erect a statue or some other permanent tribute at the ballpark where he was uniquely dominant (his 1.49 ERA in his home facility was the best among any pitcher in history with more than three home starts).
Right now, though, Fernandez's final season is in its final days, and the memory of him standing on that mound and overpowering the Nationals for eight shutout innings is still fresh.
Talking about Fernandez's NL Cy Young Award case is strangely therapeutic, because looking at the leaderboards makes Jose comfortingly present.
There he is, first in strikeouts per nine (12.49) innings and second in total strikeouts (253).
There he is, fifth in wins (16).
There he is, eighth in ERA (2.86).
There he is, second in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.29) and xFIP (2.56).
There he is, 10th in WHIP (1.12).
There he is, second in FanGraphs' WAR (6.2), after Noah Syndergaard overtook him in that stat Tuesday night.
Would the above serve as a worthy NL Cy Young Award case if Jose were still with us? No, honestly, it would not. The Marlins were careful with Fernandez's innings in this first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and so the workload isn't as strong as that of the other guys I've mentioned, and many of his rate stats don't rank as well, either.
For that reason, any voter who leaves Fernandez out of their top spot is statistically justified to do so, and I wouldn't take any issue with a voter who doesn't feel emotion -- even emotion this strong and real and raw -- should impact his or her vote.
All I know is that if it were my vote, I'd vote Jose. I'd do it as a small way of saluting one of the best pitchers of his too-short time. I'd do it as a very, very small consolation to his grieving family. And I'd do it with the reassurance that had we not lost him far too soon, Fernandez very likely would have won this award outright in the not-too-distant future.
I just wish he'd have had the chance.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.