After making only 14 major league appearances, and struggling in all of them, with the Phillies in 2015, Dustin McGowan had a career path that looked like it was sending him out of the big leagues. But, the Marlins decided to take a chance on the veteran right hander in the offseason, signing McGowan to a one year, $1 million deal.
The 34-year-old reliever made the Opening Day roster, but was quickly demoted to Triple-A on April 17. After almost a month in the minor leagues, McGowan was called back up on May 11 and stayed with the big club for the rest of the season, in which he pitched to some impressive numbers.
McGowan was used at least once in every inning from the third inning on, but the majority of his innings (17 2⁄3 of them) came in the eighth. Since McGowan was not a set-up man, most those appearances came when the Marlins were trailing, but he still thrived in the eighth, posting a 1.02 ERA and a .119 opponent batting average in those situations.
Where McGowan really came in handy for the Marlins was in the middle innings when trying to bridge the gap between some underwhelming starts and the back end of the bullpen. Being a former starting pitcher, and having made 69 career starts, mostly with Toronto, McGowan was able to give the Marlins length out of the bullpen. Of his 55 appearances this season, 17 of them were for more than one inning.
While his versatility was important, McGowan had arguably the best season of his career in 2016 because of his dominance against righties. Right-handed hitters batted only .147 off of McGowan this season with an OPS of only .469. Those minuscule numbers from righties were due to McGowan’s put-away slider, which I ranked as the best pitch in the Marlins’ bullpen this season. The slider was so dominant because it got hitters to chase, and McGowan’s chase percentage of 35.8 percent and swinging-strike percentage of 14.4 percent were both the best of his career by a good margin.
The argument against McGowan’s success in 2016 is the fact that he had most of his success in low-leverage situations. According to Fangraphs’ Leverage Index, 50 of McGowan’s 67 innings pitched this season came in low-leverage situations, and, although the sample size was much smaller, most of his numbers were worse in medium-or-high-leverage spots.
The Marlins now have an interesting decision to make as Dustin McGowan becomes a free agent this offseason. He shouldn’t be too expensive, so if the team thinks he can continue to dominate righties and can have his great numbers translate into tougher situations, they should sign him to at least another one-year deal.