Ever since Randy Wolf's disastrous Sunday start versus the Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins fans have been fretting over the possibility of losing their playoff hopes to the midseason free agent addition. Wolf had not pitched in the majors since 2012 and left on poor terms, having been battered to the tune of a 5.65 ERA and 4.79 FIP that season. This is especially problematic for Miami given the fact that they have a better option in the minors in top prospect Andrew Heaney, who appears all but ready for a 2014 promotion.
The natural conclusion is that Miami is opting for a long-term plan of avoiding Super Two status on an important player like Heaney while not prioritizing the team's current play. After all, the Fish are just a game and a half out of first place in an NL East division that has good teams not playing well. But the question then becomes just how many more games would Wolf cost Miami versus the Marlins throwing away arbitration money by promoting Heaney ahead of the Super Two safe period?
We can use projections as available on FanGraphs to get an idea of how much that would be. On the Marlins' depth chart, we can see how good Wolf is expected to perform going forward. According to Steamer projections, Wolf is expected to produce a 4.31 ERA and 4.31 FIP IN 74 innings as a starting pitcher. If that is the case, FanGraphs has him projected at 0.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in that much playing time. Oddly enough, given his horrific first start, that sounds like a rather optimistic projection. Baseball Prospectus suspects a 0.3 WARP projection and a truly surprising 3.68 ERA in 48 2/3 innings, so their projections were similar.
That projection comes from 14 expected starts. If we limit Wolf just to the next six starts, which would likely be the maximum that it would take for Miami to pass the likely Super Two threshold for Heaney, we would expect Wolf to provide 0.1 wins in that time frame. That is a very small contribution in almost 32 innings of pitching.
Now we can ask the same question about Andrew Heaney. Steamer projects Heaney to put up a 4.02 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 14 innings this season for depth chart purposes. In that kind of time, he would have put up 0.1 WAR in 14 innings. Baseball Prospectus projects a 3.46 ERA and 0.2 WAR in 21 2/3 innings according to their depth charts. If we take the average of those two projections, you would expect Heaney to put up 0.27 WAR in 32 innings of work.
In other words, according to these measurements, immediately replacing Wolf with Heaney would be worth a tenth of a win in six starts. And if you think carefully, that makes a lot of sense. No pitcher is a guaranteed win, and few are guaranteed losses. Even if you consider Wolf a non-entity worth zero additional wins compared to an Alex Sanabia-like Triple-A scrub, that pitcher still gives you a chance to win games. Even a good prospect like Heaney cannot be expected to light the world on fire Jose Fernandez-style, and thus the impact of adding one starter over the other in a small time period should be tiny.
Think of it this way. Consider that an average team with Randy Wolf on the mound for nine innings would win only 35 percent of their games, a rate a little better than the Houston Astros the last three years. Now consider that Heaney is an average pitcher, meaning that same team would win 50 percent of their games with him on the mound. That means the difference between Wolf and Heaney is about 0.15 wins per nine innings. In 32 innings, that difference is about half a win, and that is if we consider Wolf the pitching equivalent of the Astros. If he holds any value, that difference is smaller.
We then have to consider how that might affect the Marlins' playoff push. FanGraphs right now has the Fish at just a 9.2 percent chance for the playoffs. Because a number of players on Miami are overachieving, there is an expectation that the team will drop off a little. They are expected to finish the season with 77 wins. If we bump their projection to 78 wins, how much are our playoff odds really improving? What about if we bump it to 77.5 wins? The Padres are listed at a 10.7 percent chance with similarly low chances of winning the division, and they are expected to win 78 games. Chances are bumping our projection by even one win right now is worth one to two extra percentage points towards the playoffs.
On the surface, the gap between a player like Wolf and a top prospect like Heaney seems like a chasm. But Miami really should not see much of a difference going from one player to the other. And the truth is that Miami would turn to another player like Kevin Slowey if the Fish saw consistently poor performance from Wolf. Right now, Miami is only guaranteeing him one other start, coming up this weekend against the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins have shown a quick trigger on failed veteran projects like Jon Rauch and Carlos Marmol before, and they probably would do so if Wolf turned in another disastrous start. That would help mitigate some of the damage.
What do you Fish Stripers think? How much of an impact would Heaney have replacing Wolf in the rotation?