During a largely forgettable 2018 season, the Marlins saw multiple encouraging performances from the young and previously untested arms. Despite the 63-98 overall record, that led some to believe that the rebuild would not be as long and painful as first thought.
As a group, Miami starters ranked 18th in baseball in WHIP (1.30), 20th in ERA (4.34), and 24th in innings pitched (835 2⁄3 ) a year ago. While Marlins starters are ranked ninth (1.28 WHIP), 11th (804 1⁄3 IP), and 14th (4.55 ERA) respectively in those same categories this season and have performed more consistently overall, some of the key returning arms have failed to make the “leap” that was anticipated from adding major league experience.
This then begs the question: have the Marlins found sturdy building blocks for their long-term rotation, or just stepping stones?
Fans have been fixated on this storyline throughout 2019. Confidence in the direction of the Marlins—as measured in our weekly FanPulse surveys, which you can register for here—stood at 95% coming off an excellent showing by the young starters in Spring Training. That figure dipped as low as 58% before surging all the way back to 95% in late June when the rotation was at its most consistent.
During the last three weeks, fan confidence has held steady at 76%.
With the end of the regular season fast approaching, let's discuss what we’ve seen from individual starting candidates.
2018: 3.44 ERA (4.75 FIP), 34.0 IP, 1.41 WHIP
2019: 4.04 ERA (4.61 FIP), 171.2 IP, 1.32 WHIP
The talent is there, but the consistency is not for Sandy Alcántara. Despite leading all of baseball with two complete game shutouts this season, his ERA only ranks 38th for qualified pitchers thanks to a poor start to the second half which he is only just starting to turn around. While the small sample size from 2018 does not allow for much of a comparison, Alcántara's peripherals are improving overall, even if the 4.61 FIP is miles away from being elite.
Finding a put-away pitch is a must if the young Dominican wants to reach the next level and solidify his place near the top of Miami's rotation. His 6.9 K/9 does not reflect the true quality of his pitches when he has them all working.
However, his potential is exciting. Overall, he has been Miami's best starter this season.
Status: Building block
2018: 4.19 ERA (3.96 FIP), 77.1 IP, 1.24 WHIP
2019: 4.13 ERA (4.82 FIP), 139.1 IP, 1.14 WHIP
Injuries have played a big part in Caleb Smith's season once again. Strong out of the gates with a 3.41 ERA over his first 11 starts, Smith missed a full month with a minor hip injury sustained in June, and hasn't looked the same since. While still striking out batters at a prolific rate on the season (10.33 K/9), Smith has recently lost his touch in terms of command, leading to a 1.39 WHIP and only a 2.31 K/BB ratio over his last seven starts.
Despite trending in the wrong direction for much of the second half and being a relatively “old” pitcher, Smith is a lefty strikeout artist who brings a lot of value to the rotation. Given the uncertainty of pitching prospects, the Marlins should keep Smith around until they are certain that they have a better alternative option waiting in the wings.
Status: Building block
2018: 4.14 ERA (4.49 FIP), 58.2 IP, 1.26 WHIP
2019: 4.97 ERA (4.30 FIP), 96.0 IP, 1.20 WHIP
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 2019 rotation, Pablo López has struggled with both staying on the field and keeping runs off the board. After getting shut down at the end of last season with a shoulder injury, López missed over two months this season with the same ailment, which is a major red flag. Yes, the WHIP has improved slightly, but he appears to get flustered when he allows baserunners, and is consistently getting burned by big innings.
Although painful to admit as you would be hard-pressed to find a more lovable character on Miami's roster, the missed time has really hampered Pablo's development. Given that there have been little to no signs of improvement in 2019, I would not currently bet on him sticking in the Marlins rotation for the long term.
Status: Stepping stone
2018: 3.98 ERA (4.17 FIP), 174.0 IP, 1.18 WHIP
2019: 5.03 ERA (4.85 FIP), 78.2 IP, 1.46 WHIP
José Ureña would have been the big rotation disappointment if I had thought that the wild-throwing right-hander could sustain last year's level of production. However, the 27 year-old was unable to re-ignite the fire that propelled him to a stellar last month of 2018 after being widely criticized for hitting Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta. He looked pretty mediocre in the rotation this season.
Now in the bullpen trying out for a future role as the team's closer, Ureña might not have much time left in Miami.
Status: Stepping stone
Jordan Yamamoto/Elieser Hernández
Jordan Yamamoto made his debut earlier this season, and Elieser Hernández moved to the rotation a few months ago after primarily serving as a reliever in 2018. Neither pitcher projects to be a top-of-the-rotation arm, but the pair have combined for 27 starts in 2019 with mixed results.
Yamamoto has the better profile and repertoire, but opposing teams are starting to figure the Hawaiian out, as evident by the 8.31 ERA over his last seven starts. He will have to make a big adjustment if he wants to have a chance of sticking in the rotation heading into next season. Hernández only saw time in the rotation this season due to injuries, and is probably more suited for a long relief role moving forward.
Status: Stepping stones