No clear-cut ace, multiple middle-of-the-rotation arms, a below average workhorse, and question marks at the back end; 2017 will certainly be an interesting ride for the Miami Marlins rotation.
That was the short version. Here is the more in-depth analysis, complete with last season stats and 2017 ZiPS projections:
Volquez was Miami’s big signing this winter, inking a two-year $22 million dollar contract at the very start of December. A former All-Star who has won ten or more games in a season five times over the course of his career, Volquez has been assigned starting duties on Opening Day by manager Don Mattingly, making him the “ace” of the rotation.
If you are a believer in the strength of his most recent performances in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic (1.13 ERA over two starts with a 9.0 K/9) and for the Marlins thus far in Spring Training (2.89 ERA over 9.1 innings), then Volquez has potentially the most talent of anyone in this rotation when he is on his game.
However, after a stellar 2014 and 2015, Volquez struggled mightily with the Royals last season, and there is too small of a sample size to be clear which Volquez has put on the Marlins uniform.
2016 stats: 10-11, 5.37 ERA, 189.1 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.5 WAR
ZiPS projections: 9-9, 4.22 ERA, 169 IP, 6.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.4 WAR
Chen was Miami’s big signing last year, and the $80 million they forked out to land him is the most given to a free agent pitcher in franchise history. Brought in to solidify the rotation and slot in as a number two starter, things went wrong from the very first game as he was struck on his pitching elbow by a line drive against the Tigers, and then never regained the form he enjoyed during a strong 2015 campaign.
As it turned out, the line drive caused a nagging injury which eventually required Chen to spend an extended amount of time on the sidelines in the middle of the season, limiting him to 22 starts.
After impressing during spring training, look for Chen to bounce-back in 2017 and support Volquez in anchoring Miami’s rotation, possibly taking over the role of ace down the stretch if he performs like he did with Baltimore. With a chance to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, Chen may have extra motivation to perform well.
2016 stats: 5-5, 4.96 ERA, 123.1 IP, 7.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.8 WAR
ZiPS projections: 8-7, 3.73 ERA, 147 IP, 7.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 1.9 WAR
Straily seemingly appeared out of nowhere last season to post a pretty respectable final stat line. He clearly did enough to impress the Marlins, as they traded away top prospect Luis Castillo, among others, to acquire his services.
With the lack of a successful track record, Straily is probably the biggest question mark of the projected top four starters in the rotation. He may have turned a corner in his career, and the Marlins may have acquired a solid number three arm, but a tendency to give up home runs and a well-below average career BABIP possibly shows that his success will be short-lived.
2016 stats: 14-8, 3.76 ERA, 191.1 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
ZiPS projections: 9-10, 4.28 ERA, 164 IP, 8.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.1 WAR
What you see is what you get with Koehler. Three straight seasons with at least 30 starts, 175 innings pitched, and an ERA around four is pretty much the definition of a innings eater.
Koehler is solid and dependable, but his 2017 production will most likely look similar to what he has done so far in his career. Don’t expect anything spectacular barring a few standout starts.
2016 stats: 9-13, 4.33 ERA, 176.2 IP, 7.5 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.1 WAR
ZiPS projections: 9-11, 4.40 ERA, 165.1 IP, 7.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.0 WAR
Adam Conley/Jose Urena/Justin Nicolino
Adam Conley looked sure to have a rotation spot in the bag after he impressed in 2016, but a horrendous spring training has allowed Urena and Nicolino to creep back into the conversation.
As of yet, this spot has not been announced, and it looks like the race will go all the way down to their final spring training outings. While not in the best of form, Conley appears to have the highest ceiling of the three pitchers battling it out for a spot, and deserves to at least start the regular season in the rotation to see if the spring training woes are just a result of winter rust.
The main concern of this rotation is how mediocre it looks on paper. That being said, the Marlins (for the first time in quite a few years) have a lot of depth at the position, so at least finding someone to take the mound will not be an issue.
Along with whoever loses out in the Conley/Urena/Nicolino battle, Miami also has Jeff Locke (when he returns from injury), David Phelps (as somewhat of a last resort), Jake Esch, Dillon Peters and possibly Jarlin Garcia for starting depth.
One thing to look out for: how many walks the starting rotation allows. Three of the top four pitchers in the projected rotation produced above-average BB/9 ratings last season, and J.T. Realmuto is one of the worst catchers at framing in the league. Will the starters really work on command to make Realmuto’s job easier? Will Realmuto work on his framing to help the pitching staff reduce the number of walks allowed? Or will the Marlins collectively walk batters at a horrifying rate?
As it stands, not many people in the baseball community have the utmost confidence in Miami’s projected rotation, which will most likely produce middle-of-the-road numbers. Volquez and Chen definitely have the ability to excel and take charge of the rotation, but the rest of the arms elicit more questions than answers in terms of how well the Marlins will pitch as a team this season.
If the all of the aforementioned starters perform near to how they did during the best years of their respective careers, then this rotation can make some waves in the division. However unlikely that may be, Miami should enter the season quietly optimistic about what they are capable of over the coming months.