The Marlins minor league affiliates are bursting with top-of-the-leaderboard pitching stats. This young talent in Clinton, Jupiter, Jacksonville and New Orleans will be critical to elevating the franchise into contention in the not-so-distant future. But do not make the error of ignoring the major league level, where the #BabyFacedAces are turning a rebuilding season into must-watch television.
Today’s article assesses the early performance of the 2019 starting staff and compares them to a ranked list of the best staffs in Marlins history. In doing so, such as with any comparison, we must select a tool of measure.
The choice: Fielding Independent Pitching, also known as FIP.
“Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.” —FanGraphs
My personal go-to measure for pitching is FIP, not only because it allows for the elimination of confounding variables such as defensive ability of the team, but also limits immeasurable factors such as luck.
We begin by ranking the Top 5 Marlins starting staffs (FIP/age in parentheses)
#5: 2013 Miami Marlins
Varying issues led to starts being heavily divided amongst seven arms, but that did not stop the 2013 starting staff from earning their way onto this list. The Marlins pitching was surprisingly effective despite their anonymity heading into the season. Miami fans got a glimpse of what could one day be a dominant top of the rotation.
The trio of José Fernández, Henderson Álvarez and Nathan Eovaldi had the makings of a long-term solution, but tragedy, injuries, and improper development stopped this rotation from reach its ceiling.
#4: 2005 Florida Marlins
A handful of years removed from winning their second World Series title, the Marlins found themselves in a juggernaut of a National League East division. The NL East would go on to see four of their five teams finish over .500, with the last-place Nationals finishing at 81-81.
The Marlins starting rotation had to carry the team to 83 wins, as they received minimal offensive support aside from Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera (all three would become ex-Marlins soon enough).
As for pitchers, only Willis remained by the time 2006 came around; he would later be traded alongside Cabrera.
#3: 1997 Florida Marlins
The winningest season in Florida Marlins history was achieved on the arms and elbows of those you see listed above. A mixed bag of veterans and rookies, Brown (no-hitter on June 10), Fernandez and Leiter led the charge, with Hernández and Saunders adding some flare and youth.
The phenomenal pitching carried over to the first two rounds of the postseason, then they were pushed to their limits against the Indians in the Fall Classic.
The 1997 Marlins gave South Florida a year to remember.
#2: 2010 Florida Marlins
Coming off of a surprising 2009 campaign that saw the team win 87 games, the 2010 Marlins were primed for a playoff run. Young but experienced arms in Johnson and Sánchez led the way, with Sanabia and Volstad expected to provide added talent and durability. The elder statesman of the group Nolasco was unable to replicate his well above-average success from his previous two years, but remained a valuable staff member.
The 2010 Marlins offense was limited outside of Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramírez and a then-rookie Mike Stanton, yielding a disappointing 80-win season, and wasting one of the best pitching performances from any staff in Marlins history.
#1: 2003 Florida Marlins
Josh Beckett (2.95/23), Dontrelle Willis (3.45/21), Mark Redman (3.58/29), Carl Pavano (3.70/27) and Brad Penny (3.92/25)
For those waiting for a plot twist…I apologize. There should be no doubt that the 2003 rotation was the best in Marlins history. Any level of doubt should have ended while you were watching the season, the postseason, the World Series...because at that point you knew what was happening. You were watching the best collected group of Marlins pitchers ever.
An inexperienced but immensely talented trio of Beckett, Willis, and Penny led the way, with veterans Redman and Pavano eating up enough innings for the kids to rest.
Each pitcher remained healthy throughout the year. With a competent offense on the other side, the Magic City was seeing magic seemingly every outing. In Beckett and Willis, the Fish had two future aces who were not old enough to rent a car, but certainly eligible to win the World Series.
The future was bright, even if for just one night.
Honorable Mentions: 2004 Florida Marlins and 1996 Florida Marlins
How does the current staff compare?
2019 Miami Marlins
The Marlins’ current arms are very good, full stop. Their performance is that much more impressive when you consider how much potential these #BabyFacedAces have moving forward. Led by excellent work from Caleb Smith and Pablo López, it is a quintet littered with promising young arms, immense upside, and enviable years of team control.
Oh! And don’t forget, you also have Sixto Sánchez, Zac Gallen, Nick Neidert, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Jorge Guzman and other reinforcements on the way. Miami has gone from having the worst pitching depth in baseball to being in the discussion for one of the best.
The 2019 season remains a small sample size for the time being, but what happens if these numbers were sustained across the campaign? Would we have to make room for them in the all-time Top 5 list?
It seems so. With 137 games left on the docket, people shouldn’t getting carried away, but they should probably start paying attention.
What do you see happening to the current staff as the season and organizational plan continues? Where would you rank them if their current numbers were to remain stable across the season?
Let me know!