Spring Training Preview: Pitchers

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In 2010, the Marlins pitching staff was a two-headed monster that made many a Marlins fan hit the bottle. The Marlins were actually 10th in MLB in FIP* last year, suggesting better defense could have improved our perception of the pitching staff. Even so, the bullpen blew 25 saves (only the Orioles were worse), and aside from staff ace Josh Johnson, the starting rotation was underwhelming. Again, it should be noted that the starting rotation was hindered by a porous defense. Ricky Nolasco, despite posting a stellar 4.45 K/BB, saw a 0.65 run difference between his ERA and FIP. Then there was the rotating 5th rotation spot. Nate Robertson was given 18 starts, solely because the Marlins had no better option at the beginning of the year.

The front office made a relative splash this offseason when it signed Javier Vazquez to a one-year, $7 million free agent deal. The signing was a quintessential Marlins move, taking a limited chance on a veteran coming off a down year, hoping for the best. In 2009, Vazquez put together an admirable season for the Atlanta Braves, logging almost 220 innings with a 9.77 K/9 and 2.77 FIP, good for 6.5 WAR. But in 2010, pitching for the Yankees, Vazquez fell back to earth, hard. Limited to under 160 innings, his K/9 dropped to 6.92 while his FIP doubled to 5.77. Which Vazquez will Marlins fans see in 2011? One would hope the move back to the National League will help, but it remains to be seen. In 2010 his average fastball fell below 90 mph (Marlin Maniac has a good discussion here), and he also exhibited control problems.

One other potential red flag with Vazquez: he requested (and was given) a full no-trade clause. If he struggles, the Marlins will have to eat his salary, either wasting a rotation spot on him (unlikely) or demoting him to long relief work (more likely).

Vazquez will be inserted into the middle of the rotation, joining returning starters Johnson, Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Chris Volstad. Of the starting five, Volstad is the biggest question mark. His groundball percentage has declined in each of the past two seasons (from 53.4% in 2008 to 49.5% to 47.9%). Considering his status as a contact pitcher (career K/9: 5.62, lowest in the rotation), this is troublesome.

The bullpen will likely be a source of fan stress again in 2011 (though really, when isn't a bullpen stress inducing?). Leo Nunez returns as closer, with Clay Hensley setting him up. The only other returner is Brian Sanches.

To their credit, the Marlins made relief pitching a priority this offseason, acquiring Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb for Cameron Maybin and Randy Choate via free agency. All three figure to should win a spot in the bullpen barring a bad spring. Dustin Richardson, acquired from Boston for Andrew Miller, could also grab a bullpen spot. Burke Badenhop, ever the stalwart, could get the long relief/spot starter role out of Spring Training. [Update: Ted informs me I forgot about Mike Dunn. I suspect I'm not the first person to do so. But hey, a guy who walked 17 in 19.0 innings last year, can't be all bad, right?]

Will the bullpen improve? I have no idea. I try to think about the bullpen as little as possible, and as a result I have become much more content.

Useless Opening Day Lineup Projections!
Starting Rotation:
  1. Josh Johnson
  2. Ricky Nolasco
  3. Javier Vazquez
  4. Anibal Sanchez
  5. Chris Volstad (LHP)
  • Leo Nunez (closer)
  • Clay Hensley (setup)
  • Randy Choate (LHP - LOOGY)
  • Ryan Webb
  • Burke Badenhop (long relief, spot starter)
  • Edward Mujica
  • Brian Sanches (7th inning?)

*FIP is basically ERA with fielding and park factors stripped out.


    Majestic On Field February 22, 2011 at 9:50 AM  

    Majestic Athletic debuted the Mariners Batting Practice Jersey, Gamer Jacket and Premier jacket on their Facebook page; http://www.facebook.com/majesticathletic

    They look great!

    Majestic On Field,  February 22, 2011 at 9:55 AM  

    Be sure to catch the Marlins product in their 'Triple Peak Sneak Peek' Album!

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