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The Miami Marlins are looking towards their pitching staff to spearhead renewed success in the 2013 season. What are the numbers that pitchers like Ricky Nolasco, Jacob Turner, and Steve Cishek have to look out for?
Yesterday in the 2013 Miami Marlins Season Preview series, we discussed the important numbers to watch out for among the hitters on this revamped Marlins team. The hitters on the team may be less important, however, in terms of development as compared to the pitchers on the roster. The Marlins have a number of starting pitchers who could take big strides in 2013, and each of the following six pitchers has something for which to play this season. What are the important numbers to look for with the Marlins' pitchers?
Ricky Nolasco: 68.7
That number is Ricky Nolasco's left-on-base percentage from 2010 to 2012. While most pitchers strand about 70 to 72 percent of their batters who reach base, Nolasco has failed to do reach that mark in two of the past three years. Even when you take out the awful and conflicting 2009 season from consideration, Nolasco has continued to struggle with runners on base. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings since 2010, Nolasco has the 17th-worse strand rate in baseball, among such luminaries as Kevin Correia, Nick Blackburn, and Joe Blanton. The lowest ERA in the last three seasons among the 20 pitchers with the worst strand rates belonged to Justin Masterson at 4.24
In other words, it is really difficult to be a successful major league starter with a low strand rate, and Nolasco has struggled to do just that for years now, For four seasons, batters have done better with runners on base against him, and neither Nolasco nor the Marlins have been able to find an answer. Resolving this problem could be critical to building Nolasco's trade value, but at this stage in his career, there is not much hope for the matter.
Jacob Turner: 17.1
That was Jacob Turner's 2012 strikeout rate with the Miami Marlins, and despite the fact that it does not seem impressive, it was a major positive sign for a player who was having a struggle of a season in the minors. Turner's Triple-A stints with the Detroit Tigers' and Marlins' affiliates, along with a brief stint in the majors with the Tigers, were a disaster in terms of peripherals. Turner whiffed only 15.0 percent of batters in the minors, despite the fact that he was supposed to be ready for the Triple-A level. When he arrived in the majors, he was pummeled before being sent back and eventually traded to the Marlins.
But with the Fish, Turner began his regression to the mean, displaying that he could still get swings and misses. With his whiff count at a decent amount, the strikeouts began to happen again, and he returned to an acceptable strikeout rate. If he can continue that rate in 2013, he can indeed become the second or third starter as most prospect evaluators have projected, and he may do so earlier than expected.
Henderson Alvarez: 17.4
That is Henderson Alvarez's career home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate. This is absurdly high, even for a traditional ground ball pitcher with natural weaknesses to fly balls. That mark is the highest among pitchers with at least 200 innings since 2011, worse than other homer-prone contact pitchers like Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis.
The problem with Alvarez is two-fold: he is struggling with strikeouts and home runs at the moment. But given his 56.2 percent ground ball rate for his career, he simply should not be struggling with those homers. A pitcher like him should naturally suppress home runs by staying away from the air, but too many of Alvarez's fly balls are leaving the park, indicating that his fly balls have been hit especially hard. It does not help that he was playing at Rogers Centre, a stadium that inflates home runs as well.
The move to Miami should help to lower that number, as Marlins Park is not kind to home run hitters. But even if he keeps more balls in the park, you have to wonder if his fly balls will be turning into long doubles or triples in our stadium, thus only minimizing the basic problem.
Nathan Eovaldi: .361
Throughout Nathan Eovaldi's short career, lefties have dominated him to the tune of a .305/.378/.449 line, good for a .361 wOBA. Righties, on the other hand, are getting suppressed very well, as they have hit .223/.311/.342, good for only a .289 wOBA. As expected given Eovaldi's tools, his performance versus left-handers has suffered. His lack of an effective changeup or curveball leaves him to rely on a fastball-slider diet supplemented by those two terrible pitches, leading to him having a difficult time getting lefties to strike out or not reach base.
Looking at the splits, the biggest issue seems to be his inability to prevent hits, as lefties are hitting .344 on balls in play against him. He has maintained an average overall BABIP only because he is once again suppressing righties on balls in play to the tune of a .257 BABIP. Both those numbers should regress slightly, but they will not improve much more without some development of either a curve or changeup that Eovaldi can use to fool lefties. Look out for any changes in those pitches in 2013.
These pitchers, and perhaps even more behind them, are all attempting to compete for the fifth and final rotation spot, and that competition may be the tightest race of them all for the Marlins. LeBlanc has the edge early on by virtue of his performance last season; his passable 4.18 ERA and 3.88 FIP as a starter late in the year had to at least attract some attention from the front office. While LeBlanc is a capable player, however, he also has little upside and is already well-established for his skill level at age 28.
Kevin Slowey is in a similar predicament. He is slightly older than LeBlanc, his pure peripherals are better, but unlike LeBlanc, he is a fly ball pitcher that does struggle with home runs. Both pitchers should be assisted by the friendly dimensions of Marlins Park, but Slowey needs to recover in a big way after having not pitched in the majors since 2011.
Similarly, John Maine has failed to make the major leagues since his time with the New York Mets, and his odds are a much longer shot. Like Slowey, his performance in the minors in recent years has not been impressive, but unlike Slowey, he has not held promise of any kind since 2008. Maine's slew of injuries have not helped matters either.
Alex Sanabia is the team's other in-house candidate, and like Maine he has suffered a ton of injuries, particularly in the last two seasons. But once upon a time, in 2010, he actually some promise and had a shot at a fifth starter spot before Tommy John surgery. Since that time, he has struggled to stay on the field, but he finally at least put up a decently healthy 2012 campaign in Triple-A New Orleans. His age (24 this season) makes it so that the Marlins may give him a shot by default if no one else impresses.
Steve Cishek: 10.6
The above number was Steve Cishek's walk rate in 2012, and it played a major role in the difference between the lights-out Cishek of 2011 versus the merely very good Cishek of last season. The strikeout rate remained static at around 24 percent, which is a very good sign for a side-arming reliever who was moved to a bigger role last year. The home run rate went up, but he is still allowing fewer than half a homer per nine innings.
However, the two percent increase in walk rate was the most troubling trend because it mirrored some of the control issues he sporadically saw in the minors as well. However, the good news is that his plate discipline numbers did not seem to change much from last season, including his zone percentage and various swing rates. This means that perhaps the increase in walks was a minor fluke and that his true talent right now lies directly in between his 2011 and 2012 campaigns.