How Does the Marlins' Rotation Stack Up?

The Marlins this week just completed their rotation by acquiring the bombastic Carlos Zambrano in a trade, picking up an immediate upgrade over incumbent starter Chris Volstad. The Fish have now completed their pitching staff and were able to successfully shy away from going after trade targets like Matt Garza who would have drained the club's weak minor league depth. The club now has settled down the rotation talk for the offseason and preserved its paper-thin minor league system along the way.

This may yet become a benefit years down the road, when the Marlins are ready to promote players like Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna rather than watching a player like Garza leave. However, Fish fans may be more interested in the here and now of 2012 rather than the far, far away of 2014 or 2015. So with the Marlins' rotation settled, how do they stack up with the rest of the National League East and some of the finest in baseball?

What Do We Have?

Let us use the FanGraphs fans projections and the Bill James projections listed at FanGraphs to get an idea of how good the Marlins rotation is.

Player Fan IP BJ ERA Fan ERA BJ FIP Fan FIP Fan WAR
Josh Johnson 179 3.09 2.71 2.92 2.78 5.2
Anibal Sanchez 196 3.75 3.71 3.57 3.67 3.4
Mark Buehrle 208 3.98 3.81 4.08 4.03 2.7
Ricky Nolasco 197 3.94 4.10 3.69 3.56 3.7
Carlos Zambrano 162 3.83 4.12 4.01 4.16 1.9
Total 942 3.73 3.69 3.66 3.64 16.9

Consider what the Marlins had just last season; the Fish threw out 944 innings worth of starting pitching at a 4.23 ERA. Their FIP was a significantly more palatable 3.88, but one might expect that when one of your starters is the always enigmatic Ricky Nolasco. Nevertheless, the team's ERA was nine percent worse than league average and their FIP was one percent better in 2011.

Compared to last season's results, this upcoming season's Fish will be leagues better. These Marlins would have performed this well in 150 starts. Even if the Marlins fit in 12 starts of five innings each with a 5.00 ERA (worth 0.2 WAR in 180 innings, or close to replacement level), the Marlins' projected ERA would range between 3.76 and 3.81 and their FIP would be around 3.74. In 2011, only 11 teams had starters with a combined ERA lower than 3.81 and only six teams had a combined FIP lower than 3.74. In terms of fWAR as estimated by the Fans' projected 3.69 ERA and 3.64 FIP, the numbers look quite bright. Only five rotations in 2011 could boast more fWAR than the Marlins' projected 16.9 wins (not counting the 0.2 WAR I gave for their replacement talent). Among the rotations closest to the Marlins' number were the New York Yankees (16.7 fWAR) and Detroit Tigers (16.7), and neither team had poor rotations at all.

Of course, the quality of those numbers are subject to change associated with the team's new park adjustments. Nevertheless, the claim that the Marlins would at least boast a top-ten rotation in baseball with the team's two new additions combined with a relatively healthy season of Josh Johnson has to make Marlins fans happy.

Some Rotational Comparisons

Let's look at some rotations around the NL East that may be of interest. How do the Marlins fare against these pitching staffs? All numbers are based off of FanGraphs Fans projections.

Phillies:

ERA FIP WAR Marlins Phillies ERA FIP WAR
2.71 2.78 5.2 Josh Johnson Roy Halladay 2.66 2.82 6.9
3.71 3.67 3.4 Anibal Sanchez Cliff Lee 2.96 2.89 6.5
3.81 4.03 2.7 Mark Buehrle Cole Hamels 3.10 3.39 4.6
4.10 3.56 3.7 Ricky Nolasco Vance Worley 3.90 3.74 2.9
4.12 4.16 1.9 Carlos Zambrano Joe Blanton 4.25* 4.16* 1.9*

*Projections from Bill James, with estimated WAR based on Bill James projected innings pitched

The Marlins match up decently at the bottom of the rotation, with Buehrle or Nolasco faring well versus Worley and Zambrano and Blanton both looking for bounceback seasons. Of course, the top of the rotation just cannot be matched, whether it is via innings (Johnson's injury risk makes him unlikely to match Halladay's yearly huge innings marks) or sheer skill. Simply put, the Phillies rotation cannot be matched.

Braves

ERA FIP WAR Marlins Braves ERA FIP WAR
2.71 2.78 5.2 Josh Johnson Tommy Hanson 3.25 3.45 3.5
3.71 3.67 3.4 Anibal Sanchez Tim Hudson 3.46 3.75 3.3
3.81 4.03 2.7 Mark Buehrle Brandon Beachy 3.43 3.37 3.7
4.10 3.56 3.7 Ricky Nolasco Jair Jurrjens 3.66 4.10 2.0
4.12 4.16 1.9 Carlos Zambrano Mike Minor 3.83 3.77 2.4

Last year, the Braves had significant rotation depth, and that has not yet changed. However, none of their starters projects to be as elite as Josh Johnson, and while they have a triplet of good starters in Hanson, Hudson, and Beachy (and possibly Jurrjens, depending on how you feel about his ability to maintain that ERA), the club's lack of high-end talent keeps the Marlins fairly even. The lower end matches up decently as well, depending on how Nolasco pitches. The advantage the Braves have is that if one of their starters gets hurt, their numerous minor league prospects can replace him with little difference in skill. The Braves have Minor, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino all as interchangeable at that fifth rotation spot. There is a major dropoff from Zambrano to Wade LeBlanc on the Marlins.

Nationals:

ERA FIP WAR Marlins Braves ERA FIP WAR
2.71 2.78 5.2 Josh Johnson Stephen Strasburg 2.89 2.59 5.2
3.71 3.67 3.4 Anibal Sanchez Jordan Zimmermann 3.40 3.40 3.9
3.81 4.03 2.7 Mark Buehrle Gio Gonzalez 3.44 3.88 3.1
4.10 3.56 3.7 Ricky Nolasco Chien-Ming Wang 3.78* 3.80* 1.8*
4.12 4.16 1.9 Carlos Zambrano John Lannan 4.25 4.47 1.4

The Nationals were the winners of the Gio Gonzalez sweepstakes, but FanGraphs readers are not projecting him to be much better than Mark Buehrle, though their ERA discrepancy may tell a different, more promising tale for Nationals fans. Wang gets innings docked off for being an injury risk, but he and Nolasco match up decently given the uncertainty surrounding Nolasco's true performance level. The Marlins have the edge at the bottom of the rotation, as they have had in many of these cases.

Oh, did I forget to mention that two of the best pitchers in baseball are neck-and-neck at the top of these rotations? Johnson and Strasburg are both coming off of injury seasons and looking to impress in 2012.

Overall, comparing the Marlins' new rotation with these three NL East powerhouses, it is plain to see that the Fish are clearly worlds behind the Phillies but even versus the Braves and Nationals. One of the more interesting subtexts of the 2012 season may be how these four rotations stack up against each other in duel after duel for the division this season. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Marlins have the firepower to match up with much of the East in terms of a strong rotation.

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