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Sunday, December 15, 2002

Sid Fernandez

The Pride of Hawaii gets his due.

The Keltner List is a set of 15 questions posed by Bill James in an effort to determine whether a player is deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Here we’ll examine each of these questions as they pertain to one of the players on the 2003 ballot, LHP Sid Fernandez.

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No.

Was he the best player on his team?

Fernandez was the best pitcher on the Mets in 1989 and 1992. He arguably was their best player overall in 1992 (Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla earned more win shares that year, for what it’s worth).

Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

No. The closest Fernandez came was a close second to Tom Glavine in the NL in 1992 among left-handed starters.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

His teams finished first or second in their division in each of his first eight seasons. Fernandez won 16 games for the Mets in 1986, when they beat the Red Sox in the World Series. He won 12 games for the Mets in 1988, when they lost to the Dodgers in the LCS. Fernandez went 4-2 over the final two months of the 1986 season and won his final six decisions in 1988. He also pitched very well in three relief appearances in the 1986 WS. Overall, Fernandez had a very small positive impact on two pennant races.

Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Due to injuries, Fernandez worked fewer than 400 innings in his 30s, although he remained marginally effective when healthy.

Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Not close.

Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No. Of the players most similar to Fernandez who pitched in the modern era, Bob Veale probably is the most worthy of the Hall of Fame, and he isn’t really worthy at all.

Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

No. According to the HOF Standards test, Fernandez scores 21 points (average HOFer ~50); according to the HOF Monitor, he scores 17 (likely HOFer > 100).

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Fernandez spent most of his career pitching half his games at Shea Stadium, which was a favorable environment for hurlers during his years there. Fernandez took advantage of Shea probably as much as anyone could take advantage of any ballpark. Here are his home/road splits from 1985-1990 (courtesy of Retrosheet):

          Home       Road
        IP   ERA   IP   ERA
1985   70.2 2.67  99.2 2.89 
1986  107.2 2.17  96.2 5.03
1987   93.2 2.98  62.1 5.05
1988   98.1 1.83  88.2 4.36
1989  129.2 2.78  89.2 2.91
1990  104.2 2.41  74.2 4.94

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

No. Not close. The best LHP eligible for the HOF are Jim Kaat and Tommy John. Beyond those, there are many others (e.g., Vida Blue, Mickey Lolich) who would warrant consideration long before Fernandez.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Zero. Fernandez won no MVP awards, nor was he ever close. He did finish 7th in the 1986 NL Cy Young voting.

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Fernandez made two All-Star teams: in 1986 and 1987. Interestingly, those were not his best seasons. In 1989 and 1992 he had better overall numbers but did not make the team. Conversely, in retrospect he may not have been the most worthy candidate in the years when he did make it. The vast majority of players who have been in just two All-Star games are not in the Hall of Fame.

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

“Likely” is probably too strong a word, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imagine a team winning the pennant with Fernandez as its best player. The one year he fit that description (1992) the Mets finished 6th in the NL East. But his numbers weren’t all that different from those of Tom Glavine that year. Glavine arguably was the Braves’ best player in 1992, and they ended up in the World Series.

What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Fernandez had no significant impact on any facet of baseball history.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

I could find no examples of conduct by Fernandez that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

Summary

Sid Fernandez won 114 big-league games and struck out more than 1500 batters. He finished his career with an ERA+ of 110. He had two excellent seasons (1989 and 1992), and several other very good ones (1985-1988). And he did have a hand in the Mets’ successes of 1986 and 1988. But ultimately Fernandez was more of a supporting member (albeit an important one) than the star of the show. There were always guys like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, and David Cone who shone more brightly, and Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez who had the name recognition, while Fernandez toiled in the background, doing a yeoman’s job in his role. No doubt Fernandez was a fine pitcher who could have enjoyed even greater success had he been able to stay healthy, but by no stretch of anyone’s imagination does he belong in the Hall of Fame.

Geoff Young Posted: December 15, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. eric Posted: December 16, 2002 at 02:10 AM (#607608)
These two ariticles on the Keltner test are great, but my question is, are there more on the way? If not, why Sid Fernandez? On the Clutch Hits thread asking for Hall of Fame votes, he didn't get any. I was unaware that he was even close to Hall consideration, (which was the conclusion of this article but I thought we already knew that.) Apart from the obvious candidates, sentimental choices like Keith Hernandez and Fernando Valenzuela would seem much more interesting. Good article, just questioning the necessity.
   2. eric Posted: December 16, 2002 at 02:10 AM (#607609)
Oh, just read the sidebar, never mind. Keep up the good work! :-)
   3. Ned Garvin: Male Prostitute Posted: December 16, 2002 at 02:10 AM (#607617)
One of my favorite players back when he was around - I would estimate that after Doc Gooden stopped being unhittable, Fernandez was as good as any of the starters in the Mets rotation, and that rotation was as strong as any in baseball. Guys like Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Cone, Viola, Aguilera. Don't know why he didn't get as much publicity as the others (other than Gooden of course), he was an excellent pitcher and a lot of fun to watch.
   4. Scott Fischthal Posted: December 16, 2002 at 02:10 AM (#607626)
A few other interesting points about El Sid, to add color to the story:

1. His Opposition Batting Average throughout his career was unusually low; for quite some time, he had the lowest Opposition Batting Average of any player in history with over 1000 IP.

2. Fernandez had an unusual throwing motion in which his arm followed his body forward. This had a tendency to throw hitters' timing off and cause his fastball, which only topped out around 90, to appear to explode out of his body and led to extremely high K rates. He was also rather, uh, heavy, a characteristic that combined with this odd motion to cause him to look like an elephant flopping his trunk over his head.

3. El Sid was an extreme flyball pitcher. He once went pitched an entire complete game without allowing a single ground ball. Dave Johnson used to play Howard Johnson, a bad third baseman, at shortstop when Fernandez pitched, since no one was ever going to hit a ball to him anyway.

   5. Geoff Young Posted: December 17, 2002 at 02:10 AM (#607649)
Eric: Glad you caught the sidebar. If you think Fernandez is questionable, wait till you see the other guy I wrote about. ;-)

DSM: The weird/unlucky thing for Fernandez is that with the exception of 1989 and 1992, he was generally the second or third best pitcher on the staff. Beyond Gooden from 1985-1987, there was generally somebody who had a terrific season (Ojeda and Darling in 1986, Cone in 1988, Viola in 1990) that kept El Sid from getting his due.

Scott: Good points. Fernandez' hit prevention was pretty incredible. Three times he led the league in H/9, including 5.71 in 1985 (and three other times he was among the top 5); for his career, he's #4 among pitchers with 1000 or more IP at 6.851. Guys in front of him are Ryan, Pedro, and Koufax. That's it.

I remember that delivery well. I also remember being shocked when I learned he didn't throw harder than he did. I seem to recall also that he had a pretty good second pitch (slow curve?) that made the fastball look that much better.

Finally, I couldn't find GB/FB data for Fernandez, but it doesn't surprise me to learn that he was an extrememe flyball pitcher. Those home/road splits he had with the Mets suggest that a lot of his pitches were dying on the warning track at Shea.

Plus if you look at what happened when he left the Mets, he finished second in the AL in homers allowed (27) despite working only 115 innings in 1994. He served up 20 more homers the following year in just 93 innings (including 9 in 28 innings with the Orioles).

Thanks, all, for the comments!
   6. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 18, 2002 at 02:11 AM (#607662)
If he had kept himself in condition, we might be taking this much more seriously. Possibly the best five-inning pitcher of the eighties in the NL. After that, close your eyes. He ran out of gas quickly.

Fernandez really must have been extremely lazy not to workout when the economic rewards were so great. It's amazing that he still was able to pitch for 15 seasons.
   7. Paul Wendt Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607715)
True, Sid isn't the right pitcher to make the point the HOF should include more pitchers than thirdbasemen.

For what it's worth, Baseball Magazine selected 7 regular players and a batter of 9 to each of the "teams" it honored in 1911 (one AL, one NL, one "All America" team). Within a few years, BBMag settled on a battery of 1 catcher and 2 pitchers. See the Annual Awards section of Deadball Era Resources, the cited website, which I maintain for the Deadball Era Committee, SABR.

Paul Wendt, Watertown MA

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