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Best Individual Marlins Pitching Seasons: The 2000s

Which young arm impressed you most during the 2000-2009 campaigns?

Phillies v Marlins Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

While the inaugural decade of the Marlins brought South Florida a lot of joy and celebration, the 2000s were nothing short of spectacular. In 2003, the Florida Marlins reached baseball immortality once again by defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Marlins also rostered not one, not two, but three NL Rookie of the Year award winners that decade, along with 5 NL Silver Sluggers and 5 Gold Glovers.

South Florida had plenty of prominent and talented pitchers from 2000 to 2009. Let’s find out which Marlin hurlers accumulated the most WAR that decade:

Most Valuable Marlins Pitchers by fWAR, 2000-2009

Dontrelle Willis 3.78 16.8
A.J. Burnett 3.74 15.1
Josh Beckett 3.46 13.8
Brad Penny 4.04 13
Josh Johnson 3.4 10.3
Ricky Nolasco 4.43 9.6
Carl Pavano 3.64 8.8
Ryan Dempster 4.39 6.6
Scott Olsen 4.63 4.2
Braden Looper 3.66 1.9

At the top of the list, we have 2003 NL Rookie of the Year winner Dontrelle Willis. The left-hander had an incredible 2005 season where he finished runner-up in the Cy Young award race. Coming in third, right-hander Josh Beckett had one of the best pitching performances by a Marlins pitcher ever in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. At fifth, Josh Johnson was a force on the mound in 2009 as he compiled an ERA slightly above 3.00.

Let’s find out who had the best pitching season of the 2000s.

Josh Beckett, 2003

In a historic, special season for South Florida, Josh Beckett was the ace that took the Marlins through it all. It all started when 22-year-old Beckett was named the Opening Day starter. The right hander then went ahead and posted a 3.04 ERA in 142 IP. His K/9 ratio of 9.63 helped Josh post a FIP of 2.94 in 2003. His regular season was shortened due to a sprained right elbow in mid May, limiting him to 23 starts. But the young ace came back on July 1, and the rest is history.

As the Marlins moved on in the playoffs, Josh was their go-to-guy. The right hander pitched 7 innings of 1-run ball in his only NLDS start. As the Fish got deeper into October, Beckett kept producing. In that unforgettable NLCS against the Chicago Cubs, Beckett posted a 3.26 ERA across 19.1 IP, including a complete game shutout in Game 5 at Sun Life.

Beckett pitched 16 13 innings in the Fall Classic, and had a 1.10 ERA to go with 19 strikeouts. In Game 6, Beckett would go on to pitch the game of his life. Coming off three day rest—something he had never done—the right-hander delivered with a complete game shutout against the Yanks, clinching the second World Championship for South Florida.

Awards and Accomplishments:

  • World Series MVP
  • World Series Champion

Carl Pavano, 2004

After 7 years in the majors, Carl Pavano reached his peak in 2004. Carl had a 3.00 ERA and a 47.5% GB%, helping him accumulate a bWAR of 5.3.

An unusual stat from Pavano’s 2004 season was his K/9, which was 5.63. Only 5 pitchers this decade have posted an ERA under 3.00 with a K/9 lower than 5.63. I think that by itself makes his season even more impressive because he found a way to be consistently effective without relying on strikeouts. The tall right-hander completed more than 5 innings in each of 31 starts.

Pavano infamously parlayed this production into a large free agent deal from the Yankees.

Awards and Accomplishments:

  • All-Star
  • 6th in Cy Young Voting

Dontrelle Willis, 2005

Dontrelle Willis was the real deal. The southpaw came into the Bigs in 2003 and dominated, winning ROY along with a World Series title. While Willis had a down year in 2004, he bounced back in a big way the next season. Nicknamed “D-Train”, Willis posted a 2.63 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and 2.1 BB/9 in 236.1 IP. The left-hander had 7 complete games and 5 of them were shoutouts.

Now, how did he manage to do it? It wasn’t the strikeouts (6.5 K/9) nor his walk ratio, and it was definitely not his GB% (one of the lowest of his career). Interestingly enough, he did it through flyouts.

Willis HR/FB ratio per season. Gray line represents MLB average.

Home Run to Fly Ball rate (HR/FB) is the ratio of how many home runs are hit against a pitcher for every fly ball they allow (FanGraphs). In 2005, Willis had a 4.9% HR/FB ratio, which FanGraphs qualifies as excellent. Some analysts consider this statistic to be a parameter that depicts luck rather than skill (such as BABIP). Therefore some believe that Willis was actually lucky that the balls didn’t leave the park, while others think that his high fastball was really efficient that year, causing a lot of soft fly outs. Whether it was luck or skill, at the end of the day Willis dominated at the mound in 2005.

Unfortunately, heat maps are not available for seasons prior 2007. If they were, analyzing the location of his fastball could have made for a very interesting argument.

Awards and Accomplishments:

  • 2nd in Cy Young Voting
  • All-Star
  • 1st in fWAR among NL pitchers
  • 3rd in MLB ERA

Josh Johnson, 2009

After a couple of injuries in 2007 and 2008, Josh Johnson came back strong in 2009. The future Marlins ace posted a 3.23 ERA and a 3.06 FIP that year, with the help of an 8.2 K/9. The right hander ended the season with an accumulated bWAR of 6.7 and an fWAR of 5.5.

Johnson’s 2009 season doesn’t have any special sabermetrics that pop out nor the most eye-catching numbers. It was simply an efficient pitching year for Johnson, who led the Fish to their most recent winning season.

Awards and Accomplishments:

  • All-Star

Honorable mentions: A.J. Burnett, 2002; Dontrelle Willis, 2003; Armando Benitez, 2004.


Which Marlins pitcher had the best individual season of the 2000s?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Josh Beckett, 2003
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Carl Pavano, 2004
    (1 vote)
  • 52%
    Dontrelle Willis, 2005
    (19 votes)
  • 13%
    Josh Johnson, 2009
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
36 votes total Vote Now