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The Wall Street Journal just recognized one of the Marlins biggest weak spots

Here’s why the Fish should revamp their approach to pitching

MLB: Miami Marlins at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is constantly evolving. This season has shown us the utility of power in every aspect of the game like never before. Major league hitters have struck out, walked, or hit a home run (the Three True Outcomes) more than ever before.

Pitching Spring Training Stats

Stat #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Stat #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Earned Run Average (ERA) D. Straily 0.00 J. Urena 0.00 S. Alcantara 1.80 B. Graves 1.80 J. Turner 1.93
Walks+HIts/Inn Pitched (WHIP) D. Straily 0.60 M. Gonzalez 0.60 J. Garcia 0.75 C. Smith 0.75 S. Alcantara 0.80
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings (K/9) D. Peters 17.18 M. Gonzalez 13.5 C. Smith 9.00 J. Urena 9.00 O. Despaigne 7.88
On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) M. Gonzalez 0.237 D. Straily 0.333 C. Smith 0.381 J. Urena 0.437 J. Garcia 0.452
Ground Out/Air Ratio (GO/AO) J. Turner 8.00 B. Graves 4.5 D. Peters 3.00 T. Cloyd 2.00 A. Conley 1.6

With 6,105 home runs hit this regular season, hitters crushed the previous record of 5,693 held by the 2000 baseball season, in the middle of the so-called “steroids era”. While the hypothesis of the juiced ball, posited by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman, might have some teeth, the truth is that power hitting and pitching has spiked league-wide. Obviously, the Marlins have been witness to this shift offensively with Giancarlo Stanton dropping 59 home runs on opposing pitchers, but even as a team they went from the league-worst 95 overall homers in 2013 to 194 in 2017. The Marlins pitching staff was most definitely a victim of this phenomenon, as they held a 4.82 ERA, fifth-worst in the league.

While power hitting has been taken to new heights this season, Jared Diamond and Brian Costa of The Wall Street Journal have recently proposed that one of the biggest indicators for reaching the postseason was actually based on throwing less fastballs and more curveballs and breaking pitches. Which all makes sense in an era where Stanton, Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, and Khris Davis have made fans wrench their necks to watch a ball sail over the fence for a combined 199 times. Simply put, if hitters are mashing then throw lots of pitches that are harder to hit!

FanGraphs, WSJ

“If you ask hitters what they want, they want the heater,” Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said. “They all want fastballs. They grow up being able to hit it. They want it straight.”

The smartest teams this season refused to oblige with the hitters’ wishes, attacking opposing lineups with a barrage of off-speed pitches and breaking balls.

Of the eight teams who most frequently threw curveballs in 2017, seven reached the playoffs, led by the Indians and Dodgers, who just so happened to post baseball’s two best ERAs in the regular season. The AL East-champion Boston Red Sox, the team with the fourth-best ERA, finished third in curveball rate, while the Yankees threw more sliders than anybody else.

A fast ball with a high velocity works well when a pitcher can pair it with curveballs thrown at a mid- or even low-level speed. As for our beloved Miami Marlins, they pitched in direct opposition to this trend over the course of 2017. The Marlins throw an average number of fastballs (ranked 15th in the league), but they throw them much slower than the majority of the league (23rd overall). When this is occurring, it really doesn’t matter what pitch is being thrown after it. Hitters can adapt to these more minute changes in speed and have a much higher chance of making contact. Obviously, if that’s flipped with a fastball with high velocity and curveball with a lower speed and more break it tends to result in more strikeouts. This is evident if you compare the teams listed in the Dangerous Curves graphic from the WSJ posted above with the teams that have the highest strikeouts averaged over nine innings (referred to as K/9) throughout the regular season:

  1. Cleveland Indians (K/9 of 10.08)
  2. Houston Astros (9.91)
  3. New York Yankees (9.69)
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers (9.65)
  5. Boston Red Sox (9.59)
  6. Arizona Diamondbacks (9.26)
  7. Washington Nationals (9.06)
  8. Chicago Cubs (8.95)

Every one of these teams made the 2017 postseason after the Wild Card round. Where do the Marlins stand in league-wide K/9 numbers? They’re 28th overall with a K/9 of 7.50, almost a whole strikeout and a half less than the 8th ranked Cubs.

Miami Marlins Pitch Type, Usage, and Velocity

Pitch Type % of Time Used MLB Rank Avg. Velocity (MPH) MLB Rank
Pitch Type % of Time Used MLB Rank Avg. Velocity (MPH) MLB Rank
Fastball 56.5 15th 92.4 23rd
Slider 17.1 10th 83.6 24th
Changeup 13.4 3rd 84.2 13th
Curveball 6.9 28th 78.5 16th
Cutter 5.1 18th 86.9 24th
Courtesy of FanGraphs.com

Looking at Dan Straily, the Marlins starting pitcher with the highest strikeout percentage at 22.1%, shows us similar results. Straily creates the highest number of whiffs, which divides the number of pitches swung at and missed by the total number of swings, when he utilizes a breaking or offspeed pitch. Whiffs are easily one of the best factors in predicting a variance in strikeout rate, and Straily took full advantage of it when he was utilizing his full arsenal. Opposing batters had their highest slugging, isolated power, and batting average against Straily when he was throwing his fastball. This season, Straily threw his fastball the least amount in his entire career outside of Triple-A.

Brooks Baseball

The Marlins are soon to begin the murky process of rebuilding, retooling, and refining under the direction of Derek Jeter and Gary Denbo. Through that time period, the Fish need to look for pitchers with a full, versatile toolkit and a comfort level in using their breaking and offspeed pitches in more situations. Developing this approach will help build a foundation for a pitching staff that will yield more success and can hopefully lead the Marlins back to the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 2003.