With Thanksgiving upon us, there are a myriad of things, people, and moments we are all grateful for. As fans of the game of baseball, individual players and collective teams have provided us many of the latter, which we carry with pride in retrospect.
Through the 28-seasons in which the Florida/Miami Marlins have played, the team has bestowed upon fans two World Series championships - 1997 and 2003, respectively - as well as a playoff berth in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The emphasis here though lies 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate, the pitcher’s mound.
In an organization personified by fire sales and near-the-bottom team payrolls, the Marlins have had their fair share of quality to ace-level talent in their starting rotation.
This Thanksgiving, we’ll note those starting mound-men who we’re most thankful to have seen sporting the ever-evolving fish logo.
Before delving into the list though, here are some names that just missed making the final rotation.
LHP - Al Leiter - 1996-1997
Before achieving peak-success with the Mets in the latter-part of the decade, Leiter won a World Series with the then-Florida Marlins in 1997, and posted a 3.51 ERA (116 ERA+) in two seasons there. An All-Star in 1996, Leiter holds the distinction of authoring the team’s first no-hitter, blanking the Rockies in May of that year at home. Had he been there longer, Leiter could’ve snuck his way onto the list, but a determined-to-sell Wayne Huizenga wouldn't have any of it.
RHP - Ricky Nolasco - 2006-2013
Merely based on the fact that Nolasco spent more years, 8, at the big league level than any other Marlins starter would merit inclusion on this list alone, but a career 94 ERA+ (100 being league average) is essentially what excludes him. However, Nolasco is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (81), losses (72), innings pitched (1225.2), strikeouts (1,001), home runs allowed (147), and hits allowed (1,302).
RHP - Carl Pavano - 2002-2004
Pavano’s parts of three seasons in Miami were marked by exponential growth in performance. Owning a 4.83 career ERA in parts of five seasons with the then-Montreal Expos, Pavano would achieve far more with the Marlins, winning 18 games and earning a selection to the NL All-Star team in 2004, as well as being a member of the starting staff who guided the then-Florida Marlins to a World Series win over the New York Yankees in 2003. The right-hander’s 3.64 ERA (114 ERA+) from 2002-04 was his best such mark with any organization, and he’ll always be fondly remembered in Miami.
5. RHP Anibal Sanchez - 2006-2012
A name most would assume wouldn’t be here, people tend to forget just how steady Anibal Sanchez was at the outset of his career. In the 7 seasons that preceded the arrival and immediate ascension of Jose Fernandez, Sanchez was among the steadiest arms in the rotation. From 2006-2012, Sanchez posted a 3.75 ERA and respectable 111 ERA+. The former Boston Red Sox prospect - acquired along with Hanley Ramirez in a trade for Mike Lowell - ranks fourth all-time in franchise WAR (14.1) and 6th in wins (44), to go with a no-hitter against Arizona in what was only his 11th career start in 2006. His 111 ERA+ is tied with Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett for third in franchise history.
4. LHP Dontrelle Willis - 2003-2007
Before Ricky Nolasco and Jose Fernandez, Willis was arguably the most renowned pitcher in the franchises’ history. Before Nolasco became the winningest pitcher in franchise history in 2012, Willis’ 68 wins ranked first. The 2003 National League Rookie of the Year and World Series champion ranks fifth all-time in ERA (3.78), first in complete games (15), second in innings pitched (1022.2), and second in WAR (17.2). While things didn't exactly pan out following a trade to Detroit prior to the 2008 season, Willis will forever be remembered for his contributions to the franchises’ second World Series championship.
3 - RHP Josh Johnson
The totality of Josh Johnson’s career could best be summarized by the old sentiment of “what could’ve been.” When the man affectionately known as “JJ” was at his best, he was among the game’s best pitchers, boasting a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball with a hard-biting slider. Johnson is the franchises’ all-time leader in WAR (25.8) among pitchers, Earned Run Average (3.15, min. 500 innings pitched), ERA+ (133), FIP (3.20), and second in strikeouts (832). Before Clayton Kershaw ripped off four consecutive seasons of leading the NL in ERA from 2011-2014, Johnson was the last pitcher in the NL to win an ERA title, finishing 2010 with a 2.30 ERA. From 2006-2011, his 2.97 ERA ranked 15th in the majors. Minus Jose Fernandez, Johnson is the best pitcher the franchise has seen, and though they only had two winning seasons during his tenure, Johnson at his peak was among the better names to watch in the sport.
2. RHP Kevin Brown - 1996-1997
Kevin Brown’s tenure in Miami may’ve been brief, but was it ever dominant. In his two seasons, one of which saw the team win their first World Series, Brown posted a 2.30 ERA over 470.1 innings pitched. He also authored the franchises’ second no-hitter, after Al Leiter. In that span, Brown’s ERA ranked first among all qualified starting pitchers, with the other three names ahead of him—Mariano Rivera, Roberto Hernandez, and John Franco—being relief pitchers. In his two years with Miami, Brown did enough to rank 3rd all-time in total WAR (14.9), and one could argue that he was snubbed of the 1996 NL Cy Young Award. After ownership blew the 1997 World Series team up, Brown would go on to pitch to a sterling 2.65 ERA over four seasons in San Diego and Los Angeles, wrapping up a borderline-Hall of Fame career with the Yankees in 2005.
1 - RHP Jose Fernandez - 2013-2016
Regardless of the events that transpired in the early morning hours of September 25, 2016, Fernandez’s prowess on the mound is undisputed. Making the jump from Single-A to the show in 2013, Fernandez posted a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and won the National League Rookie of the Year, becoming the first Marlin since Chris Coghlan in 2009 to win the award. The Cuban-born right hander also finished third in the NL in Cy Young Award voting, finishing runner up to Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Following Tommy John Surgery in 2014, Fernandez returned in July 2015 and posted a sub-3 ERA (2.88) in 40 starts. For his tragically brief career, Fernandez posted a 2.58 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and terrific 150 ERA+. His ERA and ERA+ during that span ranked second only to the aforementioned Kershaw (1.88, 195), and his 1.05 WHIP ranked 7th among pitchers with at least 450 innings pitched. His 13.0 WAR ranks fifth among franchise arms, and would’ve only gone up exponentially were it not for his tragic passing in 2016, as were his 589 strikeouts. Fernandez’s lasting legacy will forever be tarnished—a pillar of polarization—but rest assured, he’ll go down as the most upsetting case of never seeing a player realize his full potential.