Prior to the start of Spring Training, the Miami Marlins were planning on entering eighth innings with a stellar duo of Carter Capps and A.J. Ramos, with one of those two men filling the closer role. This would have served as one of the better one-two punches at the back end of a bullpen, but Capps's season-ending Tommy John surgery leaves the team in a worse place than where they thought they were last season. Heading into 2015, they had an erratic, yet surprisingly reliable Ramos pitching the right side of the pen along with longtime lefty Mike Dunn in the eighth, with previously stable closer Steve Cishek holding the ninth inning. Now that Cishek has faltered, it falls upon Ramos to close and Dunn will be paired with another name with worse stuff.
Bullpen Depth Chart
Closer: A.J. Ramos
Setup: Mike Dunn
Setup: Bryan Morris
7th Inning: Kyle Barraclough
7th Inning: Brian Ellington
7th Inning: Nick Wittgren
7th Inning/Long Relief: Brad Hand
7th Inning/Long Relief: Edwin Jackson
Minor League Depth: Scott McClough, Raudel Lazo, Nefi Ogando, Tim Berry
Source: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports
Dunn has been with the Marlins since 2011, when he arrived from the Atlanta Braves in the Dan Uggla trade. Dunn was touted as a hard-throwing left-hander who might one day supplant a closer role from someone, but he never developed quite into that player. His issues have always been tied to control, but in 2013 and 2014, he had his pitches well under control and excelled. In those seasons, his walk rate dipped under 10 percent at 9.5 percent, and his 2.86 ERA and 3.06 FIP were at least comparable to performances by Ramos and Cishek. Dunn, like Ramos, has excellent stuff at inducing whiffs; for his career, his fastball has induced a whiff on 25 percent of swings, while his slider has done so on 33 percent of hacks.
The problem is that when his control goes wayward, his performance suffers badly. In 2015, his walk rate climbed back up to 12.3 percent and he looked like the bad reliever from 2012. His fastball went from a balls-to-called strike raito of 1.6 to 1.9 from 2014 to 2015, leading to a lot of issues. He threw the fastball in a wider area of the zone, going more towards the inner half of the plate against righties to no success.
The result is that the systems are confused as to which pitcher they will see. If Dunn recovers his control, he is a solid LOOGY with a potential for more and the likely primary eighth inning option. If not, he can still be leaned upon to get lefties but righties will be a disaster.
Projection: 60 IP, 3.56 ERA, 0.5 WAR
Source: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports
Morris was acquired in 2014 for the Marlins' competitive balance draft pick at the time, and he spent the remainder of the season posting an unhittable ERA and decent but unspectacular peripherals. Morris's game is entirely dependent on inducing ground balls and making sure the ball stays in the park. He owns a career 59 percent ground ball rate and throws the ball hard out of the pen. He complements that primarily sinker offering with a slider, and much to the surprise of most observers, both the slider and his fastball boast at least average whiff rates, if not better. In fact, the sinker itself owns a whiff rate greater than 20 percent, which is surprising for a pitcher who has a career strikeout rate of 16.7 percent.
Morris appears to have some semblance of superior stuff, and it is not as though he hangs out in the strike zone looking to get hit; his zone rate last year was at 44 percent. Heck, hitters even swing a lot at Morris, with a swing rate in 2015 of nearly 50 percent. They offer at 35 percent of out-of-zone pitches, so Morris seems to hold some enticing pitches.
It is a little odd to see why Morris cannot find any strikeouts, though part of it could very well be him facing lefties with any regularity; his career wOBA split versus righties and lefties belies some terrible walk numbers (10.1 percent career versus lefties) and a decrease in strikeouts. But even against righties, Morris's career strikeout rate is just 18.5 percent. At this stage, the Marlins should at least hope for him to be who he has been the last season and a half and keep him away from left-handers given his lack of a change-up. If he ever figures out how to turn those swinging strikes into strikeouts, he might be good. But for now, he is a heavy ground ball guy with minimal control and a lack of K's to his name
Projection: 65 IP, 4.04 ERA, 0.0 WAR