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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Stephen Tarpley

The Marlins are giving Tarpley the opportunity that the Yankees never could to claim a steady major league role.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From? The Yankees designated Stephen Tarpley for assignment last week to create room on their 40-man roster for outfielder Brett Gardner. On Wednesday, the Marlins traded for him, sending third baseman James Nelson and cash considerations to New York in exchange.

2019 Performance

MLB: 6.93 ERA | 5.69 FIP | 4.38 xFIP | 1.99 WHIP | 24.2 IP | -0.1 fWAR

Triple-A: 3.13 ERA | 4.04 FIP | 3.67 xFIP | 1.20 WHIP | 31.2 IP

Single-season relief pitcher stats—Tarpley made 36 of his 39 regular season appearances out of the bullpen—can be tricky to analyze even under the most controlled circumstances. The chaotic travel schedule that he endured further complicates things.

Tarpley made the Yankees Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, but was optioned to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in mid-April. The lefty returned to The Show before the end of the month...only to be demoted again after consecutive poor outings. Once again he was summoned to the parent club in early June, threw 37 total pitches and found himself back with the RailRiders. And on and on it went.

Tarpley’s 2019 adventure, by the numbers:

  • Recalled by the Yankees seven(!) separate times
  • Pitched in 16 different ballparks
  • Never made more than nine straight appearances in the same uniform

During his major league stints, Tarpley used five pitch types, according to Statcast, though he prioritized the slider (47.4% usage, 81.4 mph average velocity), sinker (32.2%, 92.5 mph) and four-seam fastball (18.3%, 92.5 mph).

The one constant for Tarpley (at both levels of competition) was massive platoon splits. He held left-handed batters to a .518 OPS overall with an elite 39.1% strikeout rate. But against righties? A .967 OPS while whiffing opponents only half as often.

BEST GAME: Retired the Indians in order in the bottom of the 10th inning to save a 7-6 victory on Jun. 9. Tarpley struck out all three batters he faced (.225 Win Probability Added).

Honorable mention: Set MLB career highs in innings pitched (three) and strikeouts (six) to protect a big lead against the Rockies on Jul. 19. He was credited with a save for this, too.

WORST GAME: Tarpley’s lone Yankees start on Jun. 30 came during the notoriously homer-happy London Series. Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Christian Vazquez each took him deep in the first inning (-.275 WPA).

Off The Field

Every offseason since he joined Instagram in 2014, Tarpley has shared his golfing exploits.

Despite being a southpaw for his day job, he has a right-handed stroke:

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Stephen Tarpley (@stephentarpley2) on

Follow Tarpley on Instagram (@stephentarpley2).

2020 Expectations

The platoon splits mentioned earlier aren’t anything to panic about. Expect Marlins coaches to make Tarpley’s changeup a point of emphasis this spring. As recently as 2017, he was equally effective versus lefties and righties. With Major League Baseball introducing the three-batter minimum rule for 2020, they wouldn’t have made this trade in the first place unless they envisioned ways to use his arsenal to get outs regardless of handedness.

Tarpley will not be fazed by the shrinking outfield dimensions at Marlins after being baptized by fire at Yankee Stadium and in London. He has been assigned Austin Brice’s No. 37 uniform, and interestingly, they both get extreme vertical movement on their sinkers, ranking eighth and ninth, respectively, among 247 MLB qualifiers last season (per Statcast).


On the minor league side, where we have a much larger data sample to analyze, Tarpley posted a 67.2% ground ball rate from 2017-2019. Out of 2,362 pitchers with 100-plus MiLB innings during that span, he ranked second! Wednesday’s season preview subject Sterling Sharp was 48th.

The Marlins have club control of Tarpley through (at least) the 2025 season, including two minor league options remaining. This isn’t a make-or-break year for him.

That being said, Tarpley turns 27 in February—the standard baseball aging curve suggests the quality of his stuff might never get better than it is right now. The Marlins bullpen is in disarray, but that could change quickly as heralded pitching prospects force their way onto the staff.

This is Tarpley’s golden opportunity to establish himself and avoid another grueling odyssey on the Triple-A/MLB shuttle.

2020 Steamer projection: 3.57 ERA | 3.89 FIP | 4.11 xFIP | 1.37 WHIP | 0.3 fWAR | 40.0 IP