The Miami Marlins lost Jose Fernandez to an elbow injury to start the 2014 season, and it seemed at the time that much of their year would be broken as a result of the injury. Miami would be led by young starters without ace level capability, as neither Henderson Alvarez nor Nathan Eovaldi appeared in the same league as Fernandez.
Well, the Fish competed all season long despite the loss of Fernandez, and this is in large part due to the efforts of Alvarez, Eovaldi, and other pitchers in the team's remaining rotation. The Marlins got wins out of the almost all of the rest of the staff, even from places it did not expect. Tom Koehler stepped up and improved from last year. The team acquired a seemingly broken prospect in Jarred Cosart and, in just a few innings, fixed him into a strike-pounding machine to fit the Marlins' style.
Alvarez: The Prototype
Alvarez looked excellent last year in garnering a return of his strikeouts and still suppressing home runs thanks to Marlins Park. But the Fish got a step better from Alvarez this year, as he dropped his walk rate even more this year while retaining strikeouts from last year. He did allow more home runs, as expected, and it is possible he was not as good as his 2.62 ERA showed. But he was always expected to give up more homers than he did in 2013, and the key is that those numbers did not return to the levels they saw in 2011, his disastrous year in Toronto.
Alvarez is the prototype of the Marlins' desired style. Strikeouts are not a priority in his game, and his focus is to get the ball on the ground with his effective sinker. Miami has another pitcher who could follow that exact gameplan.
Cosart: The Acquisition
The Marlins got Cosart from the Houston Astros as a broken former prospect who was putting up decent superficial numbers with terrible underlying peripherals. Cosart had walked way too many players in his first year, and while he had done better in his second season, he still did not appear impressive. The Marlins acquired him at a hefty cost, but the Fish seemingly adjusted him into their plans quickly. Cosart got out of the box in a hurry as a Marlin and put up nice numbers in August. He lost a little more control in September, and he ended his 10-start run with Miami with numbers similar to those in Houston.
Still, Cosart showed some improvement. He worked more in the strike zone, which helped limit walks to a degree, especially in the first month in Miami. If he can continue to do that and add on more ground balls with his sinker, he could turn into a spitting image of Alvarez but with more potential strikeout stuff.
Koehler: The Innings Eater
Quietly, Tom Koehler had a halfway decent season in the majors. Koehler unassumingly racked up 191 1/3 innings in 32 starts, a full season of starting pitcher duties from start to finish, with no injuries in between. And much to everyone's surprise, he came out looking like a passable back-end starter. Koehler upped his strikeout rate, fooling hitters despite throwing pitches in the same locations at similar rates. The performance of his fastball was vastly improved from last year to this year, and while the pitch is still a negative, it was more acceptable. Meanwhile, nothing else changed.
The results? A 3.81 ERA with an almost equal FIP and just about a two-win season for a guy never expected to do much. He would be hard-pressed to repeat this performance, but the Marlins couldn't be happier with him as a fifth starter.
Eovaldi: The Enigma
Eovaldi's story is the only one that is not an unbridled success. Eovaldi did a number of thing right in 2014. His velocity remained among the best in baseball (fourth-hardest fastball among qualified pitchers by Pitch F/X). He essentially maintained his strikeout rate from last year with a drop in his walks. He pitched a career-best 199 2/3 innings. He maintained a FIP of 3.37 on the year, indicating that a pitcher with his strikeouts, walks, and homers allowed could have been expected to put up a 3.37 ERA with neutral defensive play and sequencing luck.
But Eovaldi had neither of those things. He allowed a .323 BABIP after a .286 mark in 2014, and he stranded just 65.5 percent of runners on base. That was the second lowest total in baseball. Some of this might be Eovaldi's fault, but some of it might be no one's fault. Eovaldi may be just as much a hard-luck loser than someone who struggled in 2014.