In his customary time speaking to the media on the first day of Spring Training, Marlins manager Don Mattingly was quizzed on who may start for the club on Opening Day. Citing his vast experience, the skipper suggested that new signing Edinson Vólquez is a favorite to earn the honor.
Barring any staff injuries, or innings-limit program like we saw with José Fernàndez last season, every team will start it’s ace for the first game of the season. As a result, is Mattingly insinuating that Vólquez will slide right in at the top of Miami’s rotation? If so, does the right-hander have a strong enough case to claim that role?
First things first, it has been well documented that Vólquez is not riding the wave of the greatest season of his career. A sharp increase in WHIP (1.55 last year compared to 1.31 in 2015) led to a 10-11 record and a 5.37 ERA in 2016, all worsts since he split time between the Padres and Dodgers during the 2013 season.
With that being said, though, Vólquez did extend his streak of pitching more than 170 innings to five-straight seasons, displaying impressive durability for a pitcher who will turn 34 years old in July. While his career numbers are not astounding, and it has been nine years since he was selected for his only All-Star game, Vólquez brings to the table a World Series ring, a symbol of impressive performances under incredible pressure.
While ‘ace’ is perhaps too strong of a word to associate with Miami’s rotation this season, this definitely gives him an advantage over the other potential candidates for the role.
Wei-Yin Chen, the starter for the Marlins on Opening Day last year, struggled with form and injuries in his first year with the team. Adam Conley performed much better than expected a year ago, but still needs time to develop into one of the game’s better starters. Tom Koehler is Miami’s workhorse, but not a consistent game changer.
Finally, with Dan Straily, who enjoyed the best 2016 season of the group after posting a career-high 14 wins and career-low 3.76 ERA, there are no signs to definitively show that last year was a sign of his development and improvement, and not just a fluke, as he barely spent any time at the Major League level in either 2014 or 2015.
In conclusion, Miami does not have a clear-cut superstar to headline its rotation this season. Edinson Vólquez may not be at the level of other aces around the league, but he has proved that he can pitch on the big stage, and it is that kind of experience and leadership that the Marlins will need to anchor the rotation in 2017.