The Miami Marlins are taking steps towards contention, and one major step to be made is the promotion of top prospect Andrew Heaney up from Triple-A to the starting rotation. The Marlins' rotation since the injury to Jose Fernandez has been in shambles; Marlins starters have the 14th-highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) total this season, but in the last 30 days, they have posted a 4.68 ERA and 4.33 FIP, which puts them 26th in the league in production.
The problem for Miami has not been at the top of the rotation, as Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez have more or less held their own. But the bottom three of the rotation have been a disaster in the last month or so, and Miami may look to replace one of those three men with the prospect sheen of Heaney. But who will leave the rotation? Let's go through the three candidates and see what they have been doing as of late for the Fish.
Wolf is the immediate name that comes to mind when thinking of replacing a starting pitcher. He was the newest addition to the roster, having been signed off the street when Fernandez went down, and his first start for the Fish was an abject disaster. In his third start, he gave up two home runs to the Chicago Cubs and the Marlins were blown out of the game. In between, he mustered a seven-strikeout effort against the struggling Tampa Bay Rays.
Wolf is also the premiere target for replacement because he is the softest-throwing pitcher on the team. As the Marlins' only current lefty and pitching at a ripe old age of 37, Wolf's stuff involves tossing high 80's fastballs mixed with a low 80's slider, high 70's change, and a mindbogglingly slow high 60's curveball. It is not as though pitchers in 2014 cannot succeed with soft pitches, but the raw stuff has never been Wolf's calling card.
But as a starter overall, he has thrown 16 2/3 innings and posted a respectable 3.74 FIP along with an uglier 4.86 ERA. He has struck out 16.2 percent of batters faced and walked just 4.2 percent, which is a good number in general. There is room to consider improvement, but it is hard to see it after two ugly starts in three trips.
Turner has been the worst starter of the three considered here over the course of the season. He has a 5.93 ERA and 4.63 FIP based on bad strikeout and walk numbers so far this year. His only saving grace has been that he has been able to force ground balls at an almost 53 percent clip, but this has not been enough save his performance in 2014. According to FanGraphs' two projection systems listed, he is actually expected to be the second-worst of the three starters going forward as well, despite his youth compared to the other two.
Turner's problem in demoting him from the rotation is that it would relegate him to the bullpen, where he has never worked in his career. He cannot be sent down to the minors without first being designated for assignment and being exposed to waivers. Miami may not be ready to give up on Turner as a starting pitcher, especially in favor of someone less important to the long-term organizational future like Wolf.
Then again, the Fish may have already deemed Turner something of a lost cause and could try to salvage his career as a bullpen option. But at this point, he has thrown just 229 1/3 innings in his career and is only 23 years old, so it may very well be too early to fully give up on him as a starter.
As we witnessed in last night's almost-debacle versus the Texas Rangers, Tom Koehler has quietly been his replacement-level self since starting off the year with a sub-3.00 ERA. In the last 30 days, Koehler has posted a 5.53 ERA and 5.82 FIP, overriding a lot of the good he did earlier in the season. If we were to judge it strictly based on recent performance, Koehler would be on his way out.
But the season is long and his early start did also happen, and his overall season numbers are better than those of Turner or Wolf as a starter. Koehler will be given more opportunities to continue to start, even if he struggles going forward.
Based on the above characteristics, it is clear that either Turner or Wolf would be on his way out. Wolf previously worked as a long reliever in the bullpen and was effective, and Miami has had recent problems with left-handed relief in the pen. Turner has never worked in the bullpen, but it is likely his stuff would play better in the pen than Wolf's more mediocre offerings. Turner would also be able to go "all-out" out of the pen and may get an increase in velocity.
With Turner's future in doubt but still present, I think the Marlins would still opt to moving Randy Wolf to the bullpen. His earlier success combined with the team's desire for more left-handers may be the tipping point. Turner will make his start tonight versus Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers, and Wolf's spot in the order is currently to be announced on Saturday at Marlins Park, so it seems the Fish have all but made their decision for this next rotation turn. But Miami can always overturn their call if they see Turner or Koehler beginning to falter more than usual.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Who should move to the pen in favor of Heaney?