The Miami Marlins have gotten an average or worse performance from their starting rotation in 2014, thanks in large part to the injury to one of their key pieces, Jose Fernandez. But the Marlins' bullpen can boast no excuse of similar nature, as the team's pen has struggled without a major injury to its best player. While Steve Cishek remains one of the best relievers in baseball right now, the bridge leading to him in the ninth has been very difficult.
Bullpen Strikeout Rate: 23.3 percent
Bullpen Walk Rate: 10.2 percent
Bullpen ERA: 3.58
Bullpen FIP: 3.51
Bullpen fWAR: 1.5
The Marlins' bullpen has a bad rap this season because it has struggled to hold leads leading up to Cishek's arrival in the ninth. This is not difficult to prove; Marlins relievers have the second-highest number of Meltdowns out of the pen. That statistic is based on relievers making appearances that end up being worth a certain large amount of negative Win Probability Added (WPA). Marlins relievers have 43 Meltdowns, second only to the Colorado Rockies. Their 71 Shutdowns, which is the opposite half of the dueling statistics that represents positive WPA appearances, is in the top ten in baseball, so Miami has pitched in plenty of close games and racked up opportunities for their pen. Still, their ratio between the two stats is among the worst in the game.
Midseason MVP: Steve Cishek
The choice here was obvious. Miami's best reliever is their closer, and he is having his best season of his career. Cishek has been an All-Star candidate after being nearly automatic in the ninth inning in save chances and shutting down opposing hitters. He is posting his best strikeout and lowest walk rates this year at 30.3 percent and 7.8 percent respectively. He is 18 of 19 in save opportunities, which continues an impressive streak of save success; he is 52 of 55 in his last two seasons as Marlins closer.
One interesting thing to note is that Cishek has legitimately changed his approach in order to make these changes. He used to lean on his sinker to get ground balls, with a rate over 52 percent in each of his first three seasons. Then this year, he has switched to throwing his slider more often than any other pitch, and perhaps that is contributing to his strikeout boon and subsequent drop in ground balls.
However Cishek is handling himself, he has done a fantastic job. He should be an All-Star this year, and only a few National League relievers have comparable numbers.
Midseason LVP: Carlos Marmol
Marmol is represented here because he failed so miserably for Miami. The team signed him to be a seventh- or eighth-inning setup man with a chance to serve as Cishek's backup in case of injury. Just 13 2/3 innings into the season, a little more than a month in, Miami released Marmol as it had had enough. He had blown multiple close games open with awful innings; for a player who only made 15 appearances, he had four outings with multiple runs allowed, and each were one-inning appearances or less.
Marmol appeared to have lost whatever strikeout mojo he still had. His rate was still high, but it was the lowest he had posted in his career. His walk rate, on the other hand, remained steadily high, leading to a disastrous number of baserunners. Combine that with three homers allowed, and it was a recipe for disaster from the onset. Miami did not give him a long leash and let him go at the start of May, and Fish fans are better off for it.
Second-Half Improvement: A.J. Ramos
Ramos's ERA looks impressive at 2.17, but don't be fooled. He is walking a Marmol-esque 17.8 percent of batters faced while maintaining a steady strikeout rate, which is not a recipe for success. The rest of his game looks very similar to last season, which is not good because last season, he was lucky to escape with as little home run damage or base hits allowed as he did.
So why should he improve going forward? He is the most promising of the Marlins' current relief corps behind Cishek. He has the best strikeout stuff, tied at least with the harder-throwing Mike Dunn. That always leads to success speculation, especially over lower-ceiling guys like Bryan Morris or the recently acquired Kevin Gregg. Essentially, it is a vote of confidence for a guy who is pitching a bit worse than last year, with the hope that he goes back to that season's baseline.
Ramos is second in the team in Shutdowns with 16 on the year, so he has pitched in a hefty number of high-leverage innings for Miami. The shoulder injury is a concern, but perhaps some rest can get his control back on track.
Mike Dunn: Dunn is in a similar boat as Ramos, in that his performance this year is worse than last season, and the hope is he can return to last year's marks. Like Ramos, he has problems with control, but unlike Ramos, he throws a fastball really hard. Grade: C-
Bryan Morris: Morris was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for the team's 2014 competitive balance selection, the 39th pick in the draft. Despite all evidence against it, he is actually pitching decently so far, having not allowed a run yet in 16 2/3 innings and posting an impressive 66 percent ground ball rate. Grade: B
Dan Jennings: Jennings has a 0.79 ERA and peripherals similar to last season. Why has he been demoted and returned to the bigs seemingly a thousand times this year? He is one of the Marlins' relievers with both options remaining and a fungible role as secondary LOOGY. He also has allowed a large number of runners inherited to score. The numbers even out some of the negatives. Grade: C+
Chris Hatcher: Hatcher has always had decent numbers in Triple-A, but after a third trial in the bigs this season, he is finally putting together a good season in the majors. His 29.1 percent strikeout rate is through the roof, and the 2.5 percent walk rate is unexpectedly good. Miami will probably keep him around the rest of the year. Grade: B-