Although they have experienced some rough paths along the way, the Miami Marlins’ bullpen in 2016 has been pretty good, and many of the pitchers in the pen have shown promise for the future. The Marlins’ bullpen has pitched to a 3.57 ERA this season, good for 12th in baseball. They have also posted a .235 batting average against, which ranks tied for 8th in the league, and have struck out 521 batters, which ranks fourth.
Along with the great numbers, the Miami bullpen has shown some of the best stuff in the Major Leagues, so I looked into the numbers to rank the top six pitches coming out of the Marlins’ bullpen. All data is through games on September 21 and the pitch itself had to have been thrown at least 100 times this season to be considered.
6. Fernando Rodney’s Changeup
A few years ago, Rodney’s changeup may have been rated one of the best in baseball, and some hitters may think it still is, but analytically Rodney’s go-to pitch hasn’t been as dominant as usual. Of the six pitches on this list, Rodney’s changeup has the highest batting average against it at .191. But, Rodney throws the change at around 82 mph, and with his fastball sometimes touching 98, that huge difference in velocity can make the pitch almost impossible to hit. The 21.0 percent swing-and-miss percentage on Rodney’s changeup this season is the highest it’s been since 2013. And, not only is the pitch deceptive when it’s in the zone, but Rodney also uses the pitch to get hitters to chase, as his changeup is chased out of the zone 39.9 percent of the time and has a 42.3 percent strikeout percentage. The thing keeping this pitch in the number six spot on the list is the .542 OPS hitters have against it, which is the highest OPS against the pitch since 2010.
5. David Phelps’ Fastball
This may be the most surprising pitch on this list, but what has made David Phelps so successful this season has been his fastball. The pitch is thrown around 93-94 mph on average, which wouldn’t make it seem too dominant, but it’s one of the most deceptive pitches in baseball. The swing-and-miss percentage on Phelps’ fastball is 11.0 percent, which is almost double his career average and is very high for a fastball. His fastball this season has missed a lot of bats actually, as its 77.1 percent contact percentage is by far the lowest of Phelps’ career. Phelps’ pitch value (pVAL) for his fastball is 13.7 this season. Pitch value can be a hard statistic to understand, but what’s not hard to understand is that Aroldis Chapman’s pitch value on his fastball has averaged out at 12.4 over his last six seasons. Yeah, that’s right, Phelps’ fastball in 2016 has been better than Chapman’s fastball on an average year.
4. Hunter Cervenka’s Slider
Hunter Cervenka, like many left-handed specialists, uses his slider, not his fastball, as his primary pitch. He has thrown the slider 49.6 percent of the time this season with the Braves and the Marlins, and has held opposing hitters to only a .120 average against the pitch. Cervenka’s slider, like most sliders, is much more effective when it is outside of the strike zone, which is where he throws almost 60 percent of his sliders. When the pitch runs out of the zone, hitters chase it 34.9 percent of the time and make contact less than half of the time when they swing at the pitch outside of the zone. But, even when hitters can make contact with Cervenka’s slider, they struggle to accomplish anything. Opposing hitters’ wRC+ against the slider is a minuscule three, that’s right, 3, making it one of the more un-hittable pitches in the Marlins’ ‘pen.
3. A.J. Ramos’ Changeup
A.J. Ramos has a plethora of good pitches, but his changeup is his best. The .104 batting average and wRC+ of 20 against the pitch makes it even more difficult to hit than Rodney’s changeup. Ramos has also not allowed a home run on the changeup this year, and the .125 slugging percentage and .021 isolated power against the pitch shows that opposing hitters have not been able to generate any power at all against Ramos’ changeup. Ramos does use the changeup for a solid number of strikeouts, using the pitch to finish off 27.9 percent of his strikeouts this season, but he is also using it to create ground balls, forcing a 60.7 percent ground ball rate on the pitch.
2. Kyle Barraclough’s Slider
Kyle Barraclough has been arguably the Marlins’ best relief pitcher this season, and it has been the slider that has helped take him to the next level. Opposing batters are hitting only .102 and slugging .148 against the pitch, and an absurd 77.6 percent of Barraclough’s strikeouts this season have been recorded with the slider. His slider has a pitch value of 14.6 this season, which is again a hard stat to understand, but Noah Syndergaard, who has one of the best sliders in baseball, has a pitch value of 15.3 for his slider this season. So, Barraclough has had an almost Thor-level slider this season, which I’d say is pretty good. And, the other thing that’s good is the negative two (-2) wRC+ against Barraclough’s slider this season.
1. Dustin McGowan’s Slider
If you’re surprised that Dustin McGowan has the best analytical pitch in the Marlins’ bullpen, you’re not alone. On the surface, McGowan’s slider has been almost impossible to hit this season, especially for righties, who have hit only .152 off McGowan this season, and the slider that runs away from righties is the reason why. Opposing hitters are batting only .063 against the pitch with an OPS of only .213. Although McGowan has recorded 42 strikeouts with the slider this season, he has used the pitch more often to create soft contact and ground balls. The 73 percent ground ball percentage on the pitch is one of the best in baseball and the 5.4 percent line drive percentage means that almost no one is hitting the pitch hard. But, McGowan still gets hitters to swing and miss on the slider 25.3 percent of the time and hitters chase it outside of the zone almost half of the time McGowan throws it out there. But, I’d say that the craziest number is the -40 wRC+ against the pitch. League average for that statistic is 100, so McGowan’s slider is way, way above average.