Brad Hand may not see the light of the majors for a while after his disastrous 2011 debut season for the Marlins. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Marlins' rotation up to now has not been good, but has not been bad. Unfortunately, we only covered essentially four and a quarter of the Marlins' 2011 rotation. The remaining riffraff that the team sent out last season sunk the rest of the Marlins' rotation. The Marlins threw out 27 starts of players who the Fish did not intend to be in their initial rotation at the start of the season. Of those 27 starts, 21 of them were taken by two pitchers who were not ready to major league starters in 2011.
It takes only one glance at Hand's peripherals to determine that he was unequivocally not ready to pitch in the majors in 2011. The 21-year-old lefty was brought up to be the primary replacement for Josh Johnson in the rotation, but by the end of the year, it was necessary to give Hand some time away from being rocked in the majors. Do not be fooled by that halfway decent ERA, as the FIP he posted was far more indicative of his performance this season. Hand only struck out three more hitters than he walked, continuing the display of poor control that plagued him in Double-A last season as well (71 strikeouts and 50 walks in 106 innings). This sort of play would be a bit more acceptable had he kept the ball on the ground and away from the stands, but Hand allowed 10 home runs in his 60 innings in part due to his 28 percent ground ball rate.The promises of Hand's stuff being strong for a lefty left a lot to be desired. Here's Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars on this very topic:
Baseball America credited Hand with a "91-94 mph fastball" before the 2011 season, and it’s designations like that that inspired me to start this series in the first place. That’s not to say that was an incorrect report (perhaps his velocity has declined since), but Hand has worked at 88-91 mph in the majors, with an average of 89.5 mph on his heater.
Hand’s fastball has some interesting traits beyond its velocity. On the Pitch F/X system, the average four-seam fastball is credited with around six inches of horizontal armside run and nine inches of vertical "rise" relative to a ball with no spin (think of the vertical movement less as "rise," which is physically impossible, and more as "lack of sink"). Two-seam fastballs and sinkers tend to have less "rise" and more "run," usually featuring about three more inches of sink and run compared to a four-seamer. Hand’s fastball, however, features nine inches of "run" and nine inches of "rise," which is quite uncommon.
Not only does Hand's fastball profile as slower than we initially expected, but it also introduces significant rise on the ball. This rise is large enough that it helps to explain his fly ball and home run tendencies and only adds to the concern for his future.
In short, there was nothing positive about Hand's debut for the Fish, and it is evident that he needed a lot more seasoning in the minors. Of course, his minor league numbers in Double-A would have said the same thing (4.62 FIP in Double-A), but the injuries to Johnson and the team's primary Triple-A replacements Alex Sanabia and Sean West prevented the Marlins from going to pitchers that had spent time in the rotation in the majors.
*Stats only shown as a starter
Clay Hensley has had previous experience as a starter in the majors, but it was never that good to begin with, which is part of the reason why he was moved to the bullpen for the Fish last year. Unfortunately, neither the starter nor the relief role were all that good for him in 2011. Not only did he not excel in the relief role that he relished last season, but he was bombed as a starter. His ERA and FIP tell the whole story, and the individual peripherals look just as awful. After striking out 25 percent of batters in 2010 as a reliever, Hensley only whiffed 13.8 percent of hitters as a starter this past season while maintaining a similarly below-average walk rate. What was most disappointing was his home runs, as he allowed seven in 42 innings worth of work despite being notably a "ground ball" pitcher.
That ground ball tendency did not show up at all in 2011, as he allowed only 45 percent of his balls in play on the ground (44 percent as a starter) after a previous career mark of 53 percent. His velocity dropped as well, going down to an average of 86.8 miles per hour (mph) after averaging in the 88 to 89 mph range for most of his career. His other velocities dropped as well, perhaps indicating some sort of injury or mechanical issue beyond simple decline. Whatever the case may have been, he was another awful alternative for the Fish in 2011.
The Marlins trotted out a number of other pitchers, but only one of them figures to be in the team's immediate 2012 and beyond plans. Alex Sanabia recovered from an elbow injury to come back and make three starts late in the season. While those starts did not say much about him, he does figure to provide added depth to the Marlins' current rotation, and he also holds some promise based on his 2010 debut. He figures to start in the minors next season.
The remaining guys the team threw out there for the last five starts were meaningless. Brian Fuentes and Jay Buente, both no longer with the team, were more long relievers than starters and did not actually pitch deeply into their starts. Elih Villanueva was the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010, but his game never profiled well for the majors, and his lone start showed that.