Marlins 2013 Preview: Pitching

Nathan EovaldiA lot of prognosticators are going out and proclaiming the 2013 Marlins will be a 100 loss team. Even the Marlins own beat writers, Clark Spencer among them, is projecting a similar record for the Fish in 2013. Even though he says that he predicted the same for the 2006 Marlins, then coached by rookie manager Joe Girardi, Spencer stated that the Marlins then were a less known quantity than they are today. The factors he cited were young players without a whole lot of major league experience behind them – so their sampling size, if you will, was more of an unknown factor.

Yet, this team is different. Although most of the players are younger, there seems to be a more known factor for members of the media like Spencer. They can point to guys like Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre, even the starting pitching staff, which we are going to focus on today, has established pitchers in the rotation – even if they are around the age of 23 (outside of Ricky Nolasco, of course).

Most of these projections are not based on empirical data or even much in-depth analysis, but instead on a myriad of factors that are highly subjective. In other words, what looks good on paper is what is expected to play out. So teams like the Blue Jays are hailed as a team on the rise, while the Marlins are rejected for any serious contention. Not many were picking the Nationals a year ago to win 98 games either.

Although 98 wins is not a reasonable projection for even the most optimistic of Marlin fans, what could be expected is a highly competitive season with a bit of a surprise ending. In an earlier article, I predicted the Marlins would finish near .500 and surprise many this year. I will start to back this up with some evidence – less subjective, at any rate – to support where the teams weaknesses are and what we could reasonable expect. Let’s turn to pitching first.

Let’s start by looking at an article recently written by Barry Jackson, where he gives the “skinny” on the Marlins pitching staff. He cites several areas of concern for the Marlins 2013 starting staff, which will consist of Ricky Nolasco, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and the fifth starter (which I have predicted will be Wade LeBlanc, but could also be Alex Sanabia or even a veteran guy like John Maine).

Jackson is concerned with the amount of contact these starters for the Marlins gave up. In short:

An ace (Ricky Nolasco) who allowed the third-most hits and fourth-most runs in the National League in 2012; a No. 3 starter (Henderson Alvarez, via Toronto) who relinquished the second-most hits and suffered the AL’s fourth-most losses; and a No. 4 starter (Nate Eovaldi) who suffered the NL’s fifth-most losses. In fact, only one projected starter (Jacob Turner) allowed a batting average below .275.

Nolasco’s ratios are running in the wrong direction. His K/9 was 5.9 last season, whereas it was 6.5 in 2011 and peaked at 9.5 back in 2009. It has fallen every season since. Meanwhile, his H/9 has trended in the opposite direction; it was 9.1 in 2009 and rose up to 10.7 in 2011 and stabilized to 10.1 last season. Hitters hit .285 against him last season, whereas they starved against him back in 2008 (.239) and 2009 (.259). Clearly Nolasco is not the same pitcher he was when the Marlins inked him to his current deal and he is certainly not worth the $11M he is currently getting paid – but this deal was earned based on what he was producing back in 2009. Yet, Nolasco is in a contract year, and will be looking to show his value to teams that are willing to grab him for the playoff run and possibly beyond. He wants to show he is worth the $11M and for that, the Marlins get a highly motivated player anchoring their pitching staff and at the very least can chew up innings on his way to an audition for another team. This could work to the Marlins advantage and expect Nolasco to be dealt for another package of prospects – yet don’t be saddened. The Marlins have a stud in Jose Fernandez who is a legit #1 starter on most MLB staffs and has the brass to show it once he gets a call up. This may be exactly the kind of transition you will see the Marlins plan out for the 2013 season.

Yet, what about the other starters? Jacob Turner is someone who draws comparisons to another failed Tiger prospect the Marlins dealt for – Andrew Miller. Although Turner disappointed in his early stint with the Tigers, amassing an 8.03 ERA in 12.1 IP with 7Ks and 7BBs, he gave the Marlins something to grin about. With the Fish he pitching 42.2 IP and held down a 3.38 ERA over that span. He also K’d 29 batter and allowed only 9 BBs. He also only surrendered a .208 AVG to hitters and in Marlins Park, a place where there is not a ton of home runs hit, you have to like those numbers to continue. Plus the defense is improved – despite the loss of Jose Reyes, the addition of Adeiny Hechavarria will pick that up and the addition of Placido Polanco at 3B will dramatically help. When a hitter makes contact, expect the Marlins defense to hoover it up and keep the game close defensively.

Nathan Eovaldi is a guy whose arm action and delivery give some a few concerns. Yet Jackson reports that the mechanics have been cleaned up and we may see better results. If you look at his last 5 results, in particular his last 3, improved numbers are gleaned. He reached the 6th inning in each of his last three starts and in all of those occasions, he struck out more hitters than he gave up hits. He did acquire a lot of losses last season and his sampling size with the Dodgers and Marlins were very similar and the numbers were as well. Yet over the course of the season, perhaps being on a new team and greater opportunity could help lead to his development. He is expected to be 3rd or 4th starter for this team and Rob Brantly seems to like his stuff and he would know being behind the plate catching Eovaldi. The key is for Eovaldi to mature as a pitcher and he cites better command of his offspeed stuff could help him make the leap forward. Having a year under his belt, look for Eovaldi to get more K’s and use his offspeed repertoire more effectively – otherwise, it could be a long season every 3rd or 4tfh day for the Fish.

Henderson Alvarez has eaten up innings but his ERA (4.85) and the amount of hits (216) and home runs he gives (29) up will alarm most. Run producers killed him, hitting .342 against him last season. Jackson reports that the Marlins like him because he has good stuff. Yet, the data doesn’t yield that opposing hitters are particularly afraid of his stuff. His HR/9 is 1.4 for 2012, but was only 1.1 for his 2011 season – not all that much better. His K/9 sank from 5.7 in 2011 to 3.8 in 2012. His K/BB ratio sank from 5.00 in 2011 to 1.46 in 2012. Of all of the starters, this is the one that seems to be the weakest in terms of stats and projecting numbers heading into 2013.

Projections

So what kinds of numbers can we expect from each of these 4 starters?

  • Ricky Nolasco – 202 IP, 4.49 ERA, 9.6 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 54% WPCT (14-16 wins)
  • Jacob Turner – 177 IP, 5.19 ERA, 8.9 H/9, 1.6 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 5.9 K/9, 25% WPCT (6-8 wins)
  • Nathan Eovaldi – 175 IP, 4.15 ERA, 9.4 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 3.9 BB/9, 5.9 K/9, 25% WPCT (6-8 wins)
  • Henderson Alvarez – 208 IP, 4.52 ERA, 10.0 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 4.3 K/9, 37% WPCT (8-10 wins)

The Marlins have to find a way to replace the near 400 IP that Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson took with them when they were traded. If these projections hold up, and they are basically career averages at this point for Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez, then the Marlins have a solid foundation for 2013 and beyond. They won’t bring home the pennant, but they can give their team a chance to win most nights.

I expect Turner to improve on his numbers across the board, while it is probably a good bet that Eovaldi and Alvarez pretty much come in with their projections. Alvarez may be able to drop a smidge off the home run tally, playing at Marlins Park. It is a good bet there will be a lot of hits given up by this staff, looking at their projections per 9. They will have to find ways to sprinkle those hits and strand runners with double plays and throwing out base stealers.

I do expect Nolasco to be dealt and be replaced by Jose Fernandez. Wade LeBlanc should win the 5th spot and he may actually prove to be a solid enough starter to be this year’s Justin Ruggiano-like find. The most glaring weakness of this staff is Alvarez’s potentially horrific bleeding on the mound, which may require someone to be called up – perhaps a guy like Sanabia who can throw strikes. The Marlins are concerned with Alvarez pitching in the WBC but it may serve as a way to propel the young starter into a productive season.

The bottom line is the Marlins have to throw strikes and keep the ball in the yard to be successful. Their defense has to be up to the task of fielding what looks to be a lot of balls in play. If they can convert these opportunities into outs and spread out the hits, the Marlins have a good chance to see the 4 members of this front part of the rotation reach 10 wins on average. The 2006 squad saw Dontrelle Willis, Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez each win at least 10 wins.