The Miami Marlins are going to turn to Tom Koehler for a rotation spot in 2016. Two years ago, at the start of the 2014 season, this would seemed highly unlikely. He was entering the year with a rotation spot, but numerous prospects like Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, and Jose Urena figured to grab a hold of that fifth starter spot eventually. The rotation in the majors was decently loaded with mid-rotation talent, while Koehler figured to be a swingman on his best days.
Flash forward to now, when Koehler is expected to throw another 190 innings for the Marlins as the team's third starter.
The Fish are suddenly lacking in pitching depth capable of holding down a starting rotation, which makes Koehler's dependable innings far more useful than they probably should be. A good team with resources would have replaced or at displaced Koehler to the back of the rotation, but the Marlins are lacking in these departments and have been forced to use Koehler as an anchor for a third straight year.
Starting Rotation Depth Chart
1. Jose Fernandez
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3. Tom Koehler
4. Jarred Cosart
5T. Adam Conley
5T. Edwin Jackson
5T. David Phelps
8. Brad Hand
Minor League Depth: Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Kendry Flores, Jarlin Garcia
The Marlins want Koehler to fill in innings given the fact that the team has been beset with injuries and traded a lot of the good depth they had left. Henderson Alvarez is gone. Nathan Eovaldi was dealt. As was Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani. Nicolino and Urena have struggled and are likely heading back to Triple-A. And so Koehler's skillset will be on display again.
That skillset includes a four-deep repertoire of pitches starting with a mostly four-seam fastball. The fastball has lost velocity since last season, dropping one mph and helping to explain why Koehler may have struggled after a surprisingly decent 2014 year. Koehler also throws a curveball and slider along with a rare changeup. None of these stand out, however, as elite pitches, with only his slider and curveball being positive contributors to his game according to FanGraphs' calculated Pitch Run Values.
Source: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports
Koehler's struggles last season compared to the year before were subtle, but led to obvious issues. In 2014, he struck out 19 percent of batters faced, but that number dropped in 2015. In 2014, he walked 8.8 percent of batters, but that jumped to 9.6 percent in 2015. It is hard to maintain any semblance of value when you throw low-90's with no sink and are not inducing whiffs or avoiding walks. Koehler's 2015 profile more closely matches his 2013 full-season debut, the year that pidgeonholed him into a likely bit player.
It is not as though he has the benefit of youth on his side either. Koehler is 29 years old in 2016, making him much more likely to be approaching his decline than to add any extra value. It is likely that we have seen the best of him.
These projections do not look positive for the only other Marlins starter with a guaranteed job. Koehler is not expected to last long in the rotation due to a potential midseason replacement by one of the aforementioned depth parts, whether it is one of the fifth starter competition losers or the various minor leaguers who might get the opportunity. However, it is just as likely that the Marlins keep Koehler as a veteran hand who knows the organization well despite his mediocre performance. No other starter has shown that they can best even this level of performance, so it is not as though the Marlins have strong reason to believe there is an obvious replacement on their roster. I would take the high end and suggest Koehler is likely to receive 180 innings of work rather than an abbreviated run as a starter.
Koehler's average ERA in this set would be an unspectacular 4.31. That would give Koehler 1.3 WAR in 180 innings. This could easily be rounded down, providing just one win in nearly a full season of work. Regardless of the actual number, it is a paltry result for a team's third starter. Pitchers who produced a similar level of work in 2015 include Julio Teheran, Alfredo Simon, and C.C. Sabathia according to FanGraphs.
It should not come to anyone's surprise that Koehler is expected to struggle in 2016. He was never expected to do well, and may be better served ultimately throwing harder in the bullpen. However, until Miami finds someone to take his spot in the rotation, he will be leaned upon for his ability to eat up that innings workload.