Marlins Playing Time Battles: Pitchers

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

I know what you’re thinking about the Miami Marlins rotation, you’re all “Jose Fernandez and IDGAF about the rest!”, but there’s a chance for some sneaky upside behind the undisputed ace and top-10 (at least… he’s 6th among SPs in NFBC draft data) arm in Fernandez. The Marlins got just 64.7 innings from their ace last year so they were unsurprisingly below average as a unit. They finished 18th in ERA and FIP, 27th in K-BB%, and 17th in WHIP. A full season of Fernandez will go a long way toward improving those numbers, so the guys you so callously discarded will be instrumental to any success the Marlins have in 2016.

The battles such as they are in the Miami rotation are at the backend, but let’s talk about their #2 starter first. Wei-Yin Chen come over on a 5-year, $80 million dollar deal and while he was a nerve-wracking pitcher to have on your roster as part of the Baltimore Orioles, his outlook greatly improves in the NL and Miami, specifically. As an Oriole, he posted a 3.72 ERA in 706.7 innings with 31+ starts in three of the four seasons. Chen doesn’t miss a ton of bats and has home run tendencies, but he doesn’t walk guys which helps minimize the longball damage.

Camden Yards exacerbated the home run issue, but the AL Beast ensured that homers were an issue everywhere (1.3 at home, 1.1 on the road). His new home park alone is a massive upgrade on that front. Yeah, I know they moved the fences in and lowered them, but they aren’t turning it into a bandbox by any stretch of the imagination:

The big change will be to the right of the home run sculpture where the distance from home plate is being reduced from 418 to 407 feet.

Camden Yards has a three-year factor of 128 for lefties, 107 for righties on homers per StatCorner. Marlins Park is at 70/77, respectively, so even a big change (which I doubt is forthcoming) would still make it a much better environment for Chen. And that says nothing of the rest of the division which only has one HR-friendly park (Philly) compared to the AL East which only has one HR-suppressing park and that’s Fenway which severely curbs lefty homers, but is still hitter-friendly in runs.

I can see Chen repeating his 2015 ERA, but this time earning it by cutting into the WHIP, allowing fewer homers, and adding some strikeouts (jumping to like 7.7 K/9 or something… nothing crazy). His 3.34 ERA last year came with a 4.16 FIP as his lofty LOB% (81%) canceled out some of the 1.3 HR/9 impact. With fewer homers allowed, he won’t need such a great LOB%. I’ll have more on him in a separate piece, so stay tuned for that.

The rest of the currently penciled in rotation looks like this:

OK, now I understand your outburst from the intro, but please don’t say acronyms when you’re talking to me. Just say what they mean. I hate when people do that IRL. It doesn’t make me LOL at all. I’m all GTFOHWTS!





I’m back.

So yeah, that backend trio isn’t terribly impressive (it pains to include Jackson as a long-time fan, but I mean, I get it – he’s not so good). More like impressively terrible, amirite? :laughs too hard: I’m way out on Cosart and his supercool 1.4 K:BB ratio for his career. Perhaps the Carter Capps TJ will expedite Cosart’s path to the pen, where I think he would actually excel. At the same time, I understand why the Marlins have given him some leash to try and figure it out. It’s only been 310 major league innings after all, but I just don’t see it.

Koehler has carved out a solid streamer skillset, leveraging the home park for all its worth with a 3.63 ERA there in 257.7 innings compared to 4.54 on the road in 277.3 innings. The last two seasons have been especially good at home ERA-wise with a 3.00 and 3.29, but last year’s mark came with a sharp drop in skills as he managed just a 2.0 K:BB ratio. Even at home, he still posts about seven strikeouts per nine so his value as a streamer is confined to deep leagues (>12 teams).

Edwin… my dude. I’d love to see him rediscover his past skills and get back on track as a starter, but we are now three full years removed from his last goodish season and even that was more skills than performance (2012 w/WAS: 2.9 K:BB, 12% SwStr, 4.03 ERA in 189.7 IP). The crazy thing is he’s just 32 years old, but I think he broke in with the Dodgers on his 12th birthday so it’s been a while. He still has an above average swinging strike rate which offers some hope for the lagging strikeout rate which has been south of 20% each of the last three seasons, including last year’s disappointing 18% that came as a full-time reliever. Without a skills rebound, he’s blocking more deserving arms if he makes the rotation.

On Deck:

We can move on from a couple of these guys immediately. Phelps is a swingman, nothing more (4.36 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in 59 starts) and Nicolino only had 2.8 more Ks per nine than I did last year. And I had tough year with a 0.0 K/9 (didn’t walk anybody, though!).

Conley is my favorite of the group by leaps and bounds. He has tremendous spin on his fastball which helps it play better than its 91.5 MPH velocity. He had a 21% strikeout rate with his fastball, a figure that would rank top-20 among starters if he pulled it off over a full season. The league average was 16% off the fastball and Conley’s 21% would’ve tied him with luminaries like Jake Arrieta and Justin Verlander, while putting him just ahead of Zack Greinke (19%) and just below Madison Bumgarner (22%).

He backs up the fastball with a slider that rated better than average in OPS, K%, and BB%. The lack of a reliable changeup didn’t manifest itself in any sort of platoon split – in fact he had a big reverse platoon split between AAA/MLB last year (+.116 OPS for LHB), but that was definitely new after two seasons of getting knocked around by righties. It looks like he’s moving toward a rotation spot, but neither main depth chart (Roster Resource & has him there just yet. Conley is an easy end-gamer in NL-only leagues, but I think he has a case in deeper mixed leagues, too, at least as a reserve option if not a $1 lottery ticket.

These last three guys are pretty big longshots – middling prospects not good enough to force their into the mix.

Urena has some building blocks:

  • Big velo that held up when starting (sat 94-95 MPH as SP; ~96 as RP)
  • Strong slider that allowed just .189 AVG
  • Changeup showed flashes (.229 AVG), but it was inconsistent (.571 SLG, 12% BB%)
  • K% upside from that paltry 10%; his 8% SwStr% is below average, but deserved better

It might just be building toward a strong reliever, but I wouldn’t completely ignore the 24-year old if he gets an opportunity. Given his age, the Marlins should have him in Triple-A getting starts every fifth day until a spot opens up in Miami. The park can protect some of the flaws and make at least streamable in an extended run.

Flores really handled the high minors in his first taste culminating with a taste of the majors. It was too small of a sample to matter (12.7 IP), but his skills held relatively firm. Two blowup outings, including 5 ER in his only start, tanked the numbers which is why we preach so often to be wary of small samples. I’d like to believe in the 12% SwStr% he had with Miami, but he doesn’t swing-and-miss stuff. His best strikeout rates came in the low minors. His 19% in AA/AAA prior to last year’s call-up is in line with the 16% we saw in Miami despite the gaudy swinging strike rate. He has four pitches, but none are better than 50-grade on most days so it looks like a backend starter at best.

Garcia qualifies as a big-time prospect in the Marlins system, but that’s more of a commentary on the system as he projects as a backend starter. The 23-year old lefty had a solid two-level season last year with nearly three-quarters in High-A before a seven-start run around Double-A where his walk and home run rates doubled and added nearly two runs to his ERA (3.06 in A+ to 4.91 in AA). His fastball projects as plus, but the rest will likely determine his future. Kiley rated his other three pitches as 40-45 level last spring, but the curve was given a 50+ future and seemed to take that step forward, but the change and slider still need work. He will start the season in Double-A (and was already optioned to minors camp).

As for the bullpen, with Capps toast it is A.J. Ramos or bust! Seriously, there are no intriguing options behind him. Kyle Barraclough has a dope name, but that’s not a fantasy category anymore (can’t believe they removed it!). His 31% strikeout rate loses some steam when you realize it came with an 18%(!) walk rate.  That’s pretty much in line with his minor league work: 29% strikeout and 13% walk rate in 140.7 IP. If Ramos gets hurt or just implodes, we’ll figure it out, but for now I wouldn’t speculate on anyone in that Miami pen.

Cliff Notes:

  • Fernandez da best
  • Chen has some upside in his new park
  • Conley is an interesting gamble
  • Koehler is a home-only streamer in deep leagues
  • Cosart should setup Ramos instead of starting
  • Nicolino can’t strike you out
  • I’m obsessed with Edwin Jackson for some reason
  • Urena has some intriguing skills
  • The Miami farm system is booty
  • The Miami pen outside of Ramos is even worse

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Excellent article, thank you. Just one question, about Conley: “He had a 21% strikeout rate with his fastball, a figure that would rank top-20 among starters if he pulled it off over a full season.”—yes, but where does this put Conley among relievers?