In a season filled with great pitching performances by rookies, Jose Fernandez’s stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is also eerily similar to what Clayton Kershaw did in his first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fernandez wasn’t expected to be in Miami’s rotation when the season started, but his advanced poise on the mound far exceeded that of a normal 20-year-old and the stuff, save for a few minor holes, was MLB ready. 

Kershaw was the same age as Fernandez (20) when he got called up in 2008. He was put on the fast track to the big leagues after his first full season in the minors with 134 strikeouts in 97.1 innings at A-ball. 

In the five years since his debut, Kershaw has evolved in ways that few could have predicted to become the best, most dominant pitcher in baseball. His 1.72 ERA this year would be the lowest by a pitcher with at least 200 innings since Greg Maddux in 1995 and fifth-lowest since 1969. 

Obviously, Fernandez has a long way to go before he reaches Kershaw‘s level. It takes years of consistent dominance before you can earn the coveted title of Best Pitcher In MLB. 

Kershaw made 21 starts in 2008, posting a 4.26 ERA, 100 strikeouts and 52 walks, but since he didn’t get called up until the end of May, we are going to treat 2009 as his first full season. 

In 2009, Kershaw, just 21, threw 171 innings over 30 starts with an ERA of 2.79, 195 strikeouts, 91 walks, 119 hits allowed, 1.23 WHIP, 143 ERA+ and an fWAR of 4.1. 

Fernandez, who didn’t turn 21 until July 31, has made 25 starts for the Marlins covering 152.2 innings with a 2.30 ERA, 165 strikeouts, 51 walks, 102 hits allowed, 1.02 WHIP, 170 ERA+ and 3.8 fWAR

What immediately jumps out, at least to me, is ERA+, which measures a pitcher’s ERA against the league average and adjusts for park effects with 100 being average. Fernandez has a 27-point advantage over Kershaw in this category. 

To put that in perspective, among this year’s leaders in ERA+, 27 points is greater than the difference between No. 3 Anibal Sanchez (160) and No. 10 Hiroki Kuroda (139). (For the record, Kershaw ranks first with a 207 ERA+ this year. Fernandez at 170 is second.)

Going over individual starts from their respective seasons, Fernandez and Kershaw are tied in number of games with at least 10 strikeouts (four). But it took Kershaw 31 starts to reach that number, while Fernandez made it there in his 21st start.

Granted, as the New York Times noted in a piece before the start of the season, strikeouts are rising rapidly each year. A lot of theories get thrown out about why, ranging from the drug testing to more power arms than ever, but the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. 

Regardless, Fernandez and Kershaw were well on their way to becoming superstars right out of the gate. 

So the ultimate question becomes, will Fernandez do from the right side what Kershaw has done from the left side?

I am almost tempted to say yes because how often do you see a pitcher debut at the age of 20, with just one season in A-ball, come to the big leagues dominating the way Fernandez has? 

Fernandez certainly has the stuff, with a plus-plus fastball, elite curveball that drops off a table and a changeup that went from a liability last year to suddenly an above-average pitch the second he got to the big leagues. 

No one is going to question Fernandez’s character or work ethic. (Seriously, if you haven’t read about his journey to get out of Cuba, you really owe it to yourself to do so.)

But there are two things that stop me from saying Fernandez will turn into Clayton Kershaw. First, Kershaw is a freak. He is on his way to a third consecutive ERA title, something that hasn’t been done since Greg Maddux from 1993-95. 

Kershaw hasn’t had an ERA over 2.91 since his rookie season. Presumably in his next start, the lefty will reach the 200-strikeout plateau for the fourth straight season. His ERA+ hasn’t dropped below 150 since 2010, and his 207 mark this year is better than Randy Johnson’s best season (195 with Arizona in 2002).

What we are seeing from Kershaw is historic. How many pitchers could ask for a contract nearing $300 million without anyone batting an eye?  

As great as Fernandez is right now, Kershaw has kept getting better over the years. He used to walk 3-4 hitters per nine innings. Now, that number sits at 2.03. 

How much better is Fernandez going to get compared to where he is now? He’s already a four-win pitcher, based on WAR not meaningless win-loss records.

Is it impossible to envision a scenario where he becomes a six- or seven-win pitcher in the future? Absolutely not, but those kinds of pitchers are incredibly rare. 

The other reason I can’t bring myself to hype Fernandez’s future actually has nothing to do with him but another phenom we could have called the next Kershaw two weeks ago: Matt Harvey. 

Harvey, who has been dazzling baseball fans since his debut last year, was shut down this week with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow. It’s not out of the question that he can avoid an operation, but there is at least a chance the former first-round pick will need Tommy John surgery. 

Pitchers, more than any other player in any sport, are so fragile because their job is so unnatural. Throwing a baseball as hard as you can, while trying to manipulate the ball with different grips and arm angles, puts so much stress and pressure on the elbow and shoulder. All it takes is one curveball for Fernandez to become Kerry Wood. 

Even though I can’t bring myself to say that Fernandez will be the right-handed version of Kershaw, I will admit that the ceiling is in that vicinity. But so many things have to happen before he gets there. 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 

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