The Miami Marlin have their closer situation set, as the team will turn to Steve Cishek for yet another season. The rest of the bullpen has established Marlins names who are ready to step up and improve on their game as well. The team is expecting its two lieutenant relievers, righty A.J Ramos and lefty Mike Dunn, to head the eighth inning as the team's two primary setup men. How well should these two fare?
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Dunn is one of the longest-tenured Marlins currently on the team, having arrived in 2011 in the Dan Uggla trade that turned out to be a boon to the Fish. Giancarlo Stanton and Dunn are now the only Marlins to have spent the majority of 2011 on the main roster and still be a part of the 2015 team. Indeed, Dunn just signed a two-year deal to account for the rest of his team-control time in Miami.
How has all of that turned out? Dunn now carries an ugly reputation as someone who "blows games," stemming from his debut struggles in 2011. But he has actually quietly turned into a capable reliever in the back of the pen. No one is confusing him for Wade Davis, but for a setup man, especially a lefty, Dunn plays pretty well. He has not had an overall negative WPA since 2012, and if you look at his peripherals, they have been improving. Since a career-high 13.9 percent walk rate in 2012, he has dropped his walks two seasons running, down to 9.0 percent last season. He also posted the highest full-season strikeout rate of his career last season with a 27.4 percent mark.
Dunn's best quality is that he reasonably handles both righties and lefties well, even though he has a mostly fastball-slider setup like Cishek does. Last year he posted nearly identical FIPs versus righties and lefties, and his strikeout (as well as walk) rate was actually higher against the right-handers. The slider seems to be effective heading towards the feet of righties, as he got a 44 percent whiff rate on it. This has allowed him to abandon any other offerings and just focus on a two-pitch approach.
Dunn will be tasked with coming into the eighth, particularly when the upcoming lineup has a plethora of lefties. In the last few years, he has posted low-3.00 ERAs, and this year seems no different. If he continues his slow and steady progression, he should have another surprisingly reliable season.
Projection: 60 IP, 3.26 ERA, 0.8 WAR
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Ramos is like the unpolished, higher-upside version of Dunn from the right-handed side. Before Dunn toned down his game, this is kind of what people imagined he would be: a wild-throwing, crazy strikeout guy with no control. The odd thing about Ramos is that, unlike most unpolished guys who have absolutely no control, he does not work with velocity in mind. Ramos's average fastball went just 92.4 mph according to Brooks Baseball. He does own a power slider that is his best pitch, but it is not his only weapon in the holster. Ramos also is equipped with a curve, a cutter, and a changeup, making him a complete package of erratic pitches.
On the one hand, they get whiffs. Ramos's swinging strike rate of 13.9 percent last season was the highest on the team and it matched up with other top relievers like Tyler Clippard and Wade Davis. Against righties, he dominates with the slider, getting whiffs on nearly 53 percent of swings. Lefties get a taste of his sinking 85 mph changeup and whiff on 53 percent of those swings. The rates are huge.
The problem is that those pitches are rarely in the strike zone. If hitters were not swinging at his change, he had a balls to called strike ratio of 6.7 (!) for those pitches. His slider was a more respectable 2.0, which explains why his success with righties is so prominent. While he posted nearly identical strikeout rates versus lefties and righties, his walk rate against lefties was almost equal to his strikeout rate (20.5 percent versus a 26.8 percent strikeout rate). The lack of a locatable changeup is hindering Ramos's elevation.
If Ramos can find that changeup or another pitch he can locate against opposite-handed hitters, he may not need Dunn as an added anchor to work lefties. As of right now, however, his ceiling remains a setup guy rather than a closer.
Projection: 65 IP, 3.46 ERA, 0.6 WAR