The Miami Marlins had a positive experience from much of their pitching staff in 2013, and Jose Fernandez deserved much of the mention in that regard. But to praise Fernandez without considering his running mates this season would be unfair to the strides that Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez made this year. Both starters made leaps to become competent Major League contributors in 2013.
Nathan Eovaldi's quest to become a better Major Leaguer began with a simple change: his fastball got better. Eovaldi's fastball velocity increased from an average of around 95 mph to an average of 97 mph this year. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings this season, Eovaldi had the fastest fastball in baseball this year. That sort of two mph increase in velocity tends to yield positive results, as it generally increases whiffs and weaker contact on the fastball as well as general effectiveness of other pitches, leading to a lower ERA. Eovaldi clearly posted a better performance this season, as he put up a 3.36 ERA and 3.59 FIP on the year. That performance far outstripped any expectations of his play. The fastball increase correctly guessed about a 0.6-run drop in ERA from his expected numbers of around a 4.10 ERA mark.
But the interesting thing about Eovaldi's fastball is that much of the raw numbers did not improve despite the increased speed. He was getting similar whiff numbers from the fastball this year, indicating that hitters were making just as much contact on the faster offering as they were last year. The only improvement seen was in the balls in play, where Eovaldi did better at suppressing hits and power with the pitch. The weaker contact is something to watch out for next year, but the overall improvement is still commendable.
Alvarez had a much quieter good season, mostly because it did not seem as though he was doing anything different than before. He was still inducing grounders with a heavy 94 mph sinker, and he was still limiting walks with a 6.7 percent rate this season. He was also still struggling with strikeouts, though not to the degree at which he did last season.
The biggest advantage of this year seems to have come from the home run department, as Alvarez's homers disappeared in the move to Marlins Park. He only allowed two homers in 102 2/3 innings in 2013, while before that his career average would have predicted 15 homers allowed at that innings count. Both of his home runs allowed were on the road, but the sample of time was so small that it would be difficult to judge whether he was really helped by Marlins Park's dimensions. However, it is likely that the move to Marlins Park did at least help to take away a few long balls compared to Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Both pitchers still have plenty of flaws. Eovaldi still has not developed a third pitch to complement the fastball and an improving slider. Alvarez is still a pitcher who depends on his defense to do a lot of work, and it is likely they helped him more than expected this season. But both pitchers have emerged as at least competent, which is useful to Miami given the team's tremendous pitching depth. With Eovaldi and Alvarez in the fold for the next few seasons at reduced prices, the Marlins should continue to expect solid, average play from them on the cheap.