The Miami Marlins were not expecting much from Kevin Slowey. How could they? He was signed to a minor league deal and invited to spring training. He was coming off an ugly season with the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate, and prior to that, there was a reason why he was on a Triple-A team. The Minnesota Twins cast him off after multiple seasons of disappointing performances. By the 2011 year, he looked all but finished as a major leaguer despite showing promising skills.
Flash forward to today, and Kevin Slowey will be starting the second game of the season for the Miami Marlins. Slowey gets the ball tonight versus Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals.
Once upon a time, Slowey was an interesting pitcher for the Twins. In 2008, he put up 160 1/3 innings and posted a solid 3.99 ERA and 3.91 FIP. That year, he struck out 18.8 percent of batters and walked just 3.7 percent of them. That is one strong foundation for success in the majors, and he maintained similar rates in 2009 and 2010.
Yet somehow, as his strikeout and walk numbers stabilized at an excellent level, he received less and less playing time with the Twins. One of those reasons was injury; Slowey missed 82 games in 2009 with a right wrist injury and 27 games in 2010 with various ailments. But part of it was also perceived ineffectiveness, and that is an odd thing to consider given his FIP of 4.26 in 2009 and 3.98 in 2010. The Twins began seeing Slowey as more of a swing man or long reliever than as a starter despite good numbers. The reason behind this was likely twofold:
- Slowey was allowing home runs at a ridiculous pace (once every 27 plate appearances, or a 3.7 percent clip)
- Slowey had a mediocre career 4.41 ERA to that point, and that mark was at 4.60 for the last two seasons
He worked two outings out of the pen in 2010 and spent almost half of his time out of the bullpen in 2011. His year in 2011, despite another strong showing in terms of controlling walks, was the final straw for the Twins, as his 6.67 ERA (4.47 FIP) ended his career in Minnesota.
Two years later, he is starting the second game of the season for the Miami Marlins.
Slowey was an interesting pickup for the Marlins because of his skill set. He is reliant on control and does a good job of it, with a career walk rate of 3.7 percent. His strikeouts have fallen since his initial run in the majors, but if he whiffs 15 percent of batters, he can do decently with that walk rate. The problem remains his home runs, and the Marlins can help to resolve that at home. Marlins Park has a deep outfield that has shown the ability to suppress home runs, and those seem to be the primary problem in Slowey's game. If a few of those fly balls land in gloves or grass rather than in blue seats, he should be far better off.
But what of the split between his ERA and FIP? Not all of it can be explained simply by batting average on balls in play (BABIP), as his career BABIP of .310 is not completely out of the norm. Unlike Ricky Nolasco, Slowey does not display disparate skills with the bases empty versus when runners are on base; his FIP and wOBA against are almost identical. He has stranded 71.2 percent of runners for his career, and that more or less matches the league average each and every season. There seems to be no easy reason for the split between his career 4.66 ERA and his 4.24 FIP.
A lot of questions still surround Slowey, but he should provide some answers tonight as he faces Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals. Stay tuned to Fish Stripes for all of your game coverage needs.