We have had two massive Tommy John returns this year, first Matt Harvey back in April and more recently Jose Fernandez, who just completed his fourth start on Wednesday night. Expectations in the return from the surgery are generally tempered to account for the severity of the injury, but these two are bucking that trend. Harvey had an advantage over most guys with well over a year for his recovery. His surgery took place in October 2013 while Fernandez's was done just last May.
Harvey's season might be a worthwhile blueprint to get an idea of what Fernandez might do the rest of the way. Given what Fernandez has done thus far, maybe it's not the extra time off that served Harvey so well and just the fact that he's an amazing pitcher, much like Fernandez. Let's stack the pair up through their first four starts:
|Thru 4 Starts||IP||ERA||WHIP||K%||BB%||K:BB||Velo-Pre||Velo-Post|
Fernandez's first four starts back have essentially matched Harvey and the excitement is similar to what it was for the Mets ace, too. Harvey didn't stop there, through seven starts his ERA was down to 1.98 and he had a 26% strikeout rate with 56 in 54.7 innings, not to mention a sparkling 4% walk rate that gave him a 22% K-BB% (12% is league average for starters). We always hear how command and control are the shakiest elements in a pitcher's game during the Tommy John return year, but through seven starts Harvey appeared to bucking that trend.
Then came the rough patch.
Over his next four starts – starts 9 through 12 – Harvey was saddled with a 7.20 ERA thanks to 27 hits in 25 innings of work. His walk rate was still fine at 6% so it was definitely more the command than control that was failing him during that run. He followed that up with a three-start run during which he allowed two runs, only one earned (0.46 ERA in 19.7 IP). He closed June with a 2.99 ERA through 15 starts, but hints were there that he wasn't quite as dominant as the ERA suggested.
His 12 homers allowed matched what he allowed in his first 237.7 IP back in 2012-13. So while his 6% walk rate for the year suggests he hasn't been struggling that much with his control, the homers definitely point to some command woes. My concern with Fernandez isn't that he will implode or anything, but rather that he will eventually run into similar hiccups as Harvey has, but without enough time to make up for it.
A couple 7 ER outings like the two on Harvey's ledger would have a much greater impact on Fernandez's line because he's only going to have 15-16 total starts. Fernandez will probably end up with something around 95 innings and if he continues to carbon copy Harvey and has the same two 7 ER outings in 10 total IP that Harvey did, it would be the difference of a run in ERA from 3.07 to 4.07.
Now there is nothing saying he must have two dud outings of 7 ER, but the likelihood of Fernandez making to the finish line without a blow-up or two is very unlikely. First off, it happens to everybody regardless of whether or not you're coming off of Tommy John surgery, but adding in that this is his recovery season certainly increases the risk.
What does this all mean? The reason I point out the similarities between these two is because after his first four starts we (as a fantasy community) started to think Harvey might be invincible to the Tommy John lag and make it through the year relatively unscathed as it relates to TJ-related issues and I'm starting to see a similar tenor with Fernandez. He's been so good and looked so much like the 2013-14 Fernandez that many are clouded by the performance and don't understand that it's unlikely to stay this good the rest of the way.
As such, he's a great trade candidate in redraft leagues right now. Honestly, I wouldn't be averse to dealing him in keeper leagues, either, but that's more about my reluctance to keep pitchers if I can get an equal-caliber bat instead, so we'll just focus on the redraft piece here. His value won't get higher. Time is a major factor there as we're down to just over two months left (most teams are right around the 100-game mark), but also I firmly believe we'll start to see some hiccups from Fernandez down the stretch.
When you're working a limited sample already, one crushing start can be enough to throw the whole thing off so if you have Fernandez and you're competing for a title, his best chance to help you in my estimation is via the trade market. He's been so good in these four starts that I don't think you need to build in any sort of discount to your asking price so you can shoot for the moon with impact hitters. Or maybe you don't have a single glaring need and can turn him into two solid B-level guys instead of one grade-A guy. It's hard to move such an electric arm when he's operating at his best, but it's also the smart move if you're hoping to maximize your chances at victory.