The Miami Marlins may still be searching for starting pitching even after having used one of their better minor league assets to acquire Fernando Rodney. It seems the team is all-in on a potential playoff run and willing to trade as many available low-minors assets as they have to acquire Major League talent. While they used Chris Paddack, potentially their best available asset, to secure Rodney, the team still has players like Josh Naylor and Stone Garrett whom they could send away to pry a cost-controlled young starting pitcher from a selling team.
The San Diego Padres could very well be a partner again for the Marlins, as they have a starter in Drew Pomeranz who could be very interesting. Pomeranz is currently ranked 26th in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and 17th in Baseball Prospectus’s WARP statistic, both putting him at around two to 2.5 wins so far this year. That is pretty good production for a player who was traded for Yonder Alonso and a lesser reliever. He is seventh in baseball among starters in strikeout rate at 28.4 percent, and his 2.76 ERA and 3.36 FIP are all appealing numbers.
However, as Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball points out, the Marlins are a little wary of acquiring a guy who only just now became an effective starting pitcher.
Pomeranz is a name they are considering. But one Marlins person, pointing to inconsistencies in his career said "it’s hard to trust Pomeranz."
This quote caught my eye because of what occurred just two years ago in a similar situation. The Marlins felt they needed more starting pitching and traded for Jarred Cosart, a guy who had started pitching for the Houston Astros in 2013 briefly and had a stint in the bigs in 2014. By the time Cosart had been traded to Miami, he had logged 176 1/3 innings in the majors, or about one full season. In that full season, he had conflicting numbers. On the one hand, he had a 3.57 ERA. On the other hand, he owned a 4.13 FIP owing to ugly strikeout and walk rates. Cosart had whiffed just 14.3 percent of batters faced versus walking 11.4 percent of them by that point in his career. His work was buoyed by a low homer rate, mostly because he is a high-grounder starter.
With a one-season mixed track record, the Marlins sent their 2013 first-round draft pick, third baseman Colin Moran, along with Jake Marisnick and a low-minors pitcher (Francis Martes, who turned out to be pretty good, but that’s another unfortunate story) for Cosart, Enrique Hernandez and change. The team sold off a player who figured to be important to the club’s future for a cost-controlled starter. Two years later, Cosart is stuck in Triple-A, and in 146 innings since coming to Miami, he has racked up a 3.94 ERA and 4.34 FIP with about a win’s worth of performance to his name.
In a way, you have to applaud the Marlins for possibly "learning their lesson." Two years ago, they traded for a guy with essentially no track record for success, banking primarily on his pretty ERA from the year before and the fact that he was a top prospect once and ignored the fact that his underlying numbers were horrific, and two years later they are still paying the price for that move. This season, they would like to avoid selling out the rest of their already depleted farm for another Cosart.
The team’s new analytics department should at least be able to inform Miami that Pomeranz is no Cosart, however. For one thing, Pomeranz’s underlying numbers in 2016 are still very strong. SIERA has his expected ERA based on his current performance at around 3.80, which is not ace-like but a solid mid-rotation starter. Still, a potential improvement over Adam Conley and a second/third starter performance level would be worthwhile for the Marlins, and unlike the case of Cosart, you do not have to worry that Pomeranz is doing this via magic. Both players own middling walk rates, but Pomeranz actually misses bats; his contact rate in the last two seasons has been around 75 percent, on par with guys like Jacob deGrom, Danny Salazar, and Madison Bumgarner.
In addition to that, there is the point that Pomeranz has actually performed decently since his move to Oakland in 2014. Since 2014, Pomeranz has started 34 games and pitched 185 innings as a starter. He owns a very reasonable 3.16 ERA and 3.65 FIP with a 24.7 percent strikeout rate to go along with a 10 percent walk rate. This is all indicative of a guy who is probably a bit above league average as a starter, and that is performance of which the Marlins do not have much right now.
The so-called "inconsistency" of Pomeranz as a starter does not appear to pan out. He was decent as a starter for the last few years, and he is better in 2016. He is 26 years old, so he should be able to hold his performance level for the time being. His underlying numbers show no dangerous red flags. He is a perfectly acceptable starting pitcher target. While it is good to see the Marlins being careful with their trade targets, there is no comparison between the failure of an "inconsistent" (read: bad) starter like Cosart and a more successful skill set like Pomeranz’s.