Frank Fernandez – A Very Unusual Career
Not every career is long and illustrious, never mind legendary. Many, of course, are short and unremarkable. But, sometimes, players have short careers that are quite unusual and worthy of a closer look. This post is about one of those players.
I happened upon Frank Fernandez recently. That’s his 1969 Topps card.
Frank was a catcher and outfielder in the late 60s and early 70s, mostly for the Yankees and As. A reserve, his career totals over 6 seasons (4 seasons really – he had cups of coffee in his first and last years) amount to about a season and a half as a regular.
Here’s his career line. Notice anything unusual?
Among all players since 1901 (minimum 200 PAs), Fernandez is the only non-pitcher with a career having more walks than hits and, also, more strikeouts than hits. His career rate of walking in 18.1% of PAs ranks 8th best since 1901 (min. 800 PAs). Conversely, his rate of striking out in 31.8% of ABs is 12th worst.
Fernandez is also the only player with a career of any meaningful length with 100 OPS+ and a BA under .200. You have to go all the way down to a 28 PA career to find another player to do this. And, Fernandez’s 114 OPS+ was well above that 100 threshold.
That OPS+ was certainly no fluke, as his 5.9 WAR would suggest. Did any other position players have that high a WAR in so short a career? Let’s see.
Most of these guys made a lot more contact that Fernandez. Blankenship looks most similar in terms of walks, strikeouts and average, but almost 40% of his WAR was from defense and he compiled only 87 OPS+.
Fernandez also had the shortest career among all those to reach his HR and RBI totals.
Most similar guy looks to be Bobby Estalella – a catcher, high walks and strikeouts, low average. But Estalella had just 92 OPS+, was an inferior defender (-1.4 dWAR, 27% CS rate) and compiled only half the career WAR of Fernandez.
What about his defense? Fernandez compiled positive 0.5 dWAR , threw out a very respectable 42% of base-stealers and, in his rookie season in 1968, placed 5th in Total Zone Runs for catchers despite catching less than 400 innings.
So, what sort of a player might Fernandez have become if he could have stuck around longer? Well, catchers since 1901 (min. 800 PAs) with career walks greater than 90% of hits are these guys (thanks to Lawrence Azrin and bstar for suggesting these comps).
For the two comps, not only are the walks really close to hits. so are the strikeouts. Triple the PAs and counting stats for Fernandez and you get (roughly) Westrum. Multiply by 6 and it’s (very roughly) Tenace.
Fernandez also has some similarities with a couple of current young catchers. Take a look.
Santana and Avila both make more contact than Fernandez but, like Fernandez, have lots of walks, strikeouts and power. I’ll be interested to watch how Santana’s and Avila’s careers turn out.
So, that’s what I know about Frank Fernandez. Short and very unusual career. In his time, before OPS+ and WAR, I’m sure Fernandez was just seen as a guy who couldn’t hit .200 and struck out all the time, albeit with some power. But, with that power, those walks, and decent defensive skills, would have been interesting (and fun to watch) if he could have cut down on the Ks and stuck around longer.
You Yankees fans out there, tell us more about Frank.
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