Very few players make an immediate impact like Fernando Valenzuela. Fred Lynn won the Rookie of the Year Award and MVP honors his rookie season while Valenzuela was just as brilliant as a freshman. He gathered the Rookie of the Year Award and Cy Young Award his first season. The portly little fellow from south of the border was a fan favorite for the Dodgers during the 1980s. Fernando was named to six consecutive All-Stars Games and finished in the Top Five in Cy Young voting four times.
The Dodgers signed Fernando out of the Mexican League while still a teenager and gave him a brief look at the end of the 1980 season. In an 18-inning audition, Valenzuela posted an amazing 0.736 WHIP. The next year, his first full season in the Majors, Los Angeles was gripped by Fernandomania. The southpaw tossed five shutouts in his first seven starts and ended the strike shortened season with a league leading eight. He topped the NL in complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched with his unorthodox delivery–he’d look anywhere, usually skyward, but home plate before delivering the pitch. An All-Star his first season, Fernando also was awarded the Cy Young Award and ROTY Award while also finishing fifth in MVP voting. Los Angeles captured the NL West flag and Fernando won three games in the postseason, to include a complete game over the Yankees in the World Series.
After trying on his World Series ring, Valenzuela, with just one season under his belt, was the pitching star of the Major Leagues. He won 19 games in 1982 to show that his breakout rookie campaign was no fluke. He finished fourth in the NL with 199 strikeouts, made the All-Star team again and finished third in Cy Young voting. The Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in ’82 but they made their way back to the big stage in 1983. He won his only start in the NLCS against the Phillies but the Wheeze Kids toppled the Dodgers and went to the World Series.
Although Valenzuela’s record fell to 12-17 in 1984, he finished second in the league with 240 strikeouts and averaged just 7.5 base hits allowed over nine innings. In 1985 he went 17-10 and posted his best career ERA with a 2.45 mark. He made his fifth consecutive All-Star team and surrendered just 211 hits in 272 innings of work. The Dodgers won the NL West and clashed with the Cardinals in a classic NLCS. Fernando picked up a win and a no decision on a 1.88 ERA but the Cardinals manhandled the Dodgers bullpen and went to the World Series. Just 25 years old in 1986, Fernando posted a league high 21 wins and topped the National League with 20 complete games. He was the runner-up in Cy Young Award voting and made his sixth straight All-Star team.
After fanning 242 batters in ’86–a personal high–Valenzuela whiffed 190 men in 1987. He led the league with a dozen complete games, but it was his sixth straight year of 250+ innings and he would never be the same pitcher after the ’87 season. Fernando missed some action in 1988 and was limited to just five wins. He bounced back and enjoyed a fine 1989 season but his strikeout rate, which typically hovered around eight men whiffed over nine innings, fell to an average of 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings in ’89. His last 200 innings pitched season came in 1990 when he went 13-13 for the Dodgers.
Fernando’s career looked over in 1991 when the Dodgers released him just prior to the season and the Angels brought him in for two starts and a 12.15 ERA. He returned to Mexico in 1992 and pitched in his homeland before making a return to the Majors with the Orioles in 1993. A regular in Baltimore’s rotation that year, Valenzuela won eight games for the Birds. His last good year came with the Padres in 1996 when he went 13-8 with a 3.62 ERA. His bounce back season led to the only time in his career that he was traded when San Diego sent him, Scott Livingstone and Phil Plantier to the Cardinals in a package that revolved around Danny Jackson. That 1997 season was his last in the Majors.
W 173/L 153/PCT .531/ERA 3.54/G 453/CG 113/SHO 31/IP 2,930/H 2,718/BB 1,151/SO 2,074