The Miami Marlins have an important 2013 season ahead of them, but not because the club has any chance of competing. No, rather the team's 2013 season is important because it has a number of players it must evaluate for its future, for these young players will all receive heavy playing time in 2013 and can audition for supporting roles in the club's future, potential competitive roster.
One of those players, as mentioned this week, is starting pitcher Jacob Turner, who will get a full season of being the team's second starter under his belt. Turner put up a solid campaign with the Marlins and hushed some critics who were increasingly negative about his chances of success following a down season in Triple-A. Nevertheless, his numbers in the majors were not particularly impressive, and it remains to be seen whether he can become anything close to his projections when he was first drafted in 2009.
But in this article, we are not dealing with the downside of Turner; that discussion will come later today. Today, we are dealing strictly with his upside. How good can we feel about Turner? Were his strikeout concerns allayed enough to warrant projecting him as a successful second starter? The optimistic view is that he has, and that there is a friendly Marlins comparison that agrees with that assessment.
The Optimist's Case
If you put on the rose-colored glasses for just a second, you can still see the tall, right-handed Turner putting up solid performance in the near future. On his side are a number of statistics, including his late-season performance with the Marlins. The strikeout concerns that were rampant during his stays in Triple-A were somewhat quelled; Turner whiffed a respectable 17.1 percent of batters in a Miami uniform. That is a similar strikeout rate to Tom Milone, Ervin Santana, Lucas Harrell, and Justin Masterson. In other words, it was fine for a major leaguer with other tools, but it could use improvement.
But improvement should be on the way, because Turner had underlying numbers that should have led to a better strikeout rate. As detailed before in this blog, Turner's whiff rates and contact rates suggested that he should have struck out more batters.
But presuming he can stick around for a few seasons and hold onto these sort of contact numbers, Turner's strikeouts now have a very good chance of hitting the league average and possibly even breaking 20 percent. The examples of pitchers like Marlins starters Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, in particular Sanchez due to his gradual strikeout improvement over multiple seasons, have to be encouraging to Marlins fans.
The 2013 season will be his first full year in the majors, and if the contact numbers are any indication, we should be ready to see a rise in strikeouts.
Turner also posted an excellent walk rate that is sure to rise but not to a terrible degree. The one thing that was always touted about him was his strong control, and he has displayed this throughout most of his minor league career and in his stint with the Marlins. There is no reason to believe the Fish will not get another strong season on walks from Turner given his strike-pounding nature, and an improving strikeout rate with solid walk totals should lead to a good ERA for a 22-year-old pitching in the majors.
A Marlins Historical Comparison
Consider this former Marlins top pitching prospect during his age-22 season, his first full year with the Marlins.
|Mystery Player||119 2/3||15.1||11.3||108||107|
This mystery player posted an ERA eight percent worse than the league average in his 119 innings of rookie play; such a figure is very similar to Turner's 109 ERA- (the FIP- for the mystery player was significantly better than Turner's). He posted a strikeout rate very similar to the one Turner put up in the minors in 2012. He was a former elite prospect, once ranked fifth by Baseball-America, but then dropped to 22nd before arriving in the majors full-time.
In the next few years, the mystery player fixed the walk rate, upped the strikeouts to Turner's Marlins rate, and became the second-best pitcher on the team overnight.
|Brad Penny, 2001-2004||673 2/3||17.7||7.3||95||91|
With numbers very similar to what Turner put up last season, including very similar strikeout rates, Penny provided the Marlins with production that was between five to nine percent better than the league average over the next four seasons. Turner performed similarly to Penny at an age one year younger than Penny's, and he has better pure peripherals to boot. If things improve for Turner as they did for Penny and he harnesses his secondary pitches accordingly, there is no reason to believe the Marlins will not get at least another Brad Penny or perhaps more from Turner.
The Optimist's Projection
The optimistic view sees an excellent 2013 campaign coming for Turner. If he can up the strikeout rate to 19 percent, lower than the expected rate in the above linked article, and maintain a passable seven percent walk rate as Penny did from 2001 to 2004, then Turner only needs a small regression in his home run rate to have a good season for the Fish. Making some basic assumptions about the rest of his game, one could put Turner's ERA at around 3.47 based on those peripherals.
With an ERA of around 3.50 within Turner's reach in his second season and at age 22, he would be well on his way to a successful major league career. Furthermore, the Marlins would be well on their way towards having one slot in their rotation filled for the near future. As Turner rounds into form in his remaining formative years, the team could indeed have a legitimate second or third starter locked in for six more team-controlled seasons.