The Miami Marlins Season Preview series finishes up its review of all of the positions on the club by reviewing the club's bullpen pieces. The rest of the Marlins pen was a successful part of last season's team, and the addition of Heath Bell can only assist the team by moving the lesser pitchers down the pecking order. While the Fish may have spent too much money on improving an area that is already a strength, this does not change the fact that the team's bullpen will be better than last year and should assist a bit in making the club better.
The Marlins have three players who were closer candidates had they not signed Bell, and two of them will serve as the team's primary setup options in 2012. Last season, Mujica was likely the best reliever on the Marlins staff, and he is returning to his role from last season as setup. Mujica's gameplan is the same as always: limit his walks (career 4.0 percent walk rate) and put up just enough strikeouts (career strikeout rate of 20.3 percent) to limit his home run problems. It will help that Mujica will be moving to a ballpark that should suppress long balls a little more than the old Sun Life Stadium, but he definitely needs the help, given his difficulty in suppressing homers in other parks (career 4.2 percent home run rate on the road).
Projection: 65 1/3 IP, 3.42 ERA, 0.8 WAROviedo, on the other hand, was the team's closer for much of last season and the last three years. This was until it was found that Oviedo's name was not really "Leo Nunez" as previously thought; this led to an indefinite suspension that sidelined Oviedo for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the Marlins felt the need to bring back Oviedo despite the fact that his ongoing fake identity crisis has actually prevented him from returning to the United States thus far. If Oviedo does end up back on the team by Opening Day, he will serve as one of the team's late-inning options. Last season's tinkering with Oviedo's approach and toning of his changeup use returned him to the type of pitcher he was in 2009, when he was among the worst closers in baseball. He allowed more homers off more fly balls and decreased his strikeout rate along the way, leading to a poor third season as the team's closer.
Going into 2012, the projection systems see a middle ground between his 2010 high and his 2009 and 2011 lows, yielding a projection similar to his three-year average. His innings, however, are universally depressed because of the uncertainty of his status.
Projection: 43 IP, 3.76 ERA, 0.3 WAR
Cishek was another possible candidate for closing this season had Bell not been signed. Last season, he showed off a strong strikeout rate backed up by above average plate discipline numbers. He also showed an impressive ground ball rate as well at 56.8 percent. Such a rate may not be expected to continue (PECOTA projects a 48 percent ground ball rate) but it should help Cishek maintain a decent ERA much like the ones seen above. His three-pitch repertoire is typical for a righty reliever, and his velocity is acceptable, but not out-of-this-world. Right now, the Marlins will play him in the seventh inning rather entrust him with a bigger role, but he should be able to perform well enough for middle relief services.
Projection: 53 IP, 4.02 ERA, 0.1 WAR
Randy Choate is going to do his thing, the same thing he has been doing for years. Last season, he faced 74 left-handed batters and struck out 28 of them (37.8 percent) while walking just three batters (4.1 percent). That qualifies as a lefty specialist and someone who can keep the Marlins safe from the best left-handers in the NL East during the late innings.
Projection: 45 IP, 3.62 ERA, 0.4 WAR
Mike Dunn started last season as a potential closer candidate, what with his left-handed status and fiery fastball (average velocity 93.8 mph last season), but by the end of the year, he was relegated to lower-inning duties until Oviedo left the team. His primary issue is control, as he continues to have issues with walks (11.6 percent walk rate last season). If he tones down the walks a little, he should have the opportunity to close again, but he currently does not strike out enough hitters to compensate for his sky-high walk rate and his inability to get ground balls.
Projection: 58 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 0.1 WAR
Ryan Webb was supposed to be the more promising of two acquisitions from the Cameron Maybin trade, but he suffered a midseason injury and struggled in getting strikeouts again and lagged behind Mujica in performance. Still, his tools are definitely there, the best of which being his 94 mph fastball. His ground ball rate (60.9 percent) was also stellar as always, so strikeouts remain the only barrier between him and excelling in a late-inning role. Right now, the Marlins will play him in the seventh inning and let him hone his craft for another season.
Projection: 57 2/3 IP, 4.11 ERA, 0.1 WAR
Assuming 100 more innings from assorted players adding up to replacement level production, the Marlins would have totaled 3.2 WAR from their bullpen. In other words, the pen will be contributing as many wins above replacement as Anibal Sanchez is expected to provide in 2012, which once again displays why spending and investing heavily into a bullpen can be a poor use of resources. Nevertheless, this would be decent production from that department.