The Miami Marlins received top-notch work from the back of their bullpen, as closer Steve Cishek put up a strong performance in 2013. But the rest of the bullpen also played a good role in securing would-be victories for the Marlins. The combination of some of the team's best pen arms produced worthwhile, promising seasons from two or three players this year.
|Mike Dunn||67 2/3||25.5||9.9||2.66||3.12||0.8||1.6|
It is amazing what cutting a quarter of your walks will do to your ERA. Dunn's performance in 2013 was almost identical to his 2012 play that saw him post a middling 3.82 FIP and a terrible 4.91 ERA. The difference? Better luck on balls in play (.271 BABIP in 2013 versus .359 in 2012) and a dramatically reduced walk rate. Dunn walked just 9.9 percent of batters faced versus 13.9 percent last season, and that resulted in a 0.7-run difference by FIP and an overall improved performance.
Dunn improved the walks by pounding the strike zone more than ever. He threw pitches in the strike zone at a 54 percent rate this season, the highest of his career. However, his fastball got only a 1.8 balls-to-called strike ratio, and his slider was at a pretty typical 2.8 mark. The area of biggest improvement for his walks might ironically be in his swings-and-misses. Hitters waived at Dunn's 95 mph fastball at a 24 percent clip, up from 17 percent last year. This might have especially been true in the strike zone, where Dunn got a career-low 83 percent contact rate this year.
All of that may have improved his strikeouts (up form 22.9 percent last year), but it may have prevented more walks than before. Dunn got more swings out of the zone and more whiffs, so even if hitters were not taking a lot of called strikes, they still were not getting the walk results from last year.
The Marlins not only got a surprising performance from a bullpen veteran in the 28-year-old Dunn, but the team got solid play from a younger contributor. A.J. Ramos was one year removed from a dominant season in Double-A, and the 26-year-old rookie played well enough in 2013 to turn some heads and earn more reps in the later innings. Ramos shouldered a significant seventh- and eighth-inning role, having pitched the second-most innings out the Marlins' pen (behind only Ryan Webb, who pitched 80 1/3 innings). But he would not have earned all of those innings had he given the Fish nothing to believe in.
Instead, of course, Ramos had a solid debut campaign. His performance was reminiscent of Dunn, in the sense that both his strikeout and walk rates were very high. Ramos was third in the team's pen in strikeout rate, behind Dunn and Cishek, but he also led the team in walk rate among the regular bullpen options. Ramos's walk rate was sky-high and difficult to manage, and that may have been in part due to his inability to find the strike zone with his fastball. His ratio of balls to called strikes on the fastball stood at 2.0, which is unacceptable for a pitch most pitchers throw at ratios of 1.5 or lower. He failed to find a handle on his changeup as well, as he threw almost six balls for every called strike on the pitch.
Ramos's stuff makes him an option in the later innings, and you can expect Miami to move him to a more prominent eighth inning role next year.