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2021 Marlins Season Review: Zach Thompson

A minor leaguer with a less-than-stellar track record, Thompson opened some eyes in his first go at big league hitters.

MLB: New York Yankees at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After 7 seasons of chasing the dream of making it to the Major Leagues, Zach Thompson made good when his name was called.

2021 Timeline

  • December 3 (2020): Signs minor-league deal with Miami.
  • June 5: Contract selected from AAA Jacksonville.
  • June 7: Makes MLB debut in Fenway Park; exits with an undisclosed injury after 3 innings, later deemed precautionary.
  • September 2: Moved from Marlins rotation to the bullpen.

By the Numbers

If you asked the average Marlins fan about Zach Thompson prior to the start of the 2021 season, you would probably have been greeted with a casual “Who?”

Understandably so. Thompson spent parts of six seasons (2014-2019) gradually working his way through the White Sox farm system. He posted a modest 4.04 ERA over 504 MiLB innings before electing free agency amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

When first recalled by Miami in the first week of June, the 27-year-old Thompson had pitched to a 6.60 ERA over 15 innings at AAA Jacksonville. After 75 innings of facing big league hitters, he showed himself to be far more than the typical “depth arm.”

In those 75 innings, Thompson finished 3-7 but pitched to the tune of a 3.24 ERA (127 ERA+) and 3.69 FIP, striking out 66. He made 14 starts and 12 relief appearances. While not overpowering in the traditional sense of the word, finishing in the 10th and 30th percentile in fastball velocity and K-rate, respectively, Thompson’s fastball spin (92nd percentile) and hard-hit rate (82nd) make him a classic example of how pitchers with less-than-stellar stuff can get the job done.

The right-hander’s primary pitch, a cut fastball he’ll use against both right and left-handed hitters, saw exceptionally good results in 2021, limiting hitters to a .186 average and .284 slugging percentage.

Zach Thompson’s Percentile Rankings, 2021

Thompson had a better ERA, 3.18, in 11 13 innings as a reliever, but his WHIP of 1.588 was noticeably higher than his 1.147 mark in 63 23 innings as a starter. While the returns on his fastball spin were stellar, the same couldn’t be said for his breaking ball, finishing in the 24th percentile in curveball spin.

When it mattered most—high-leverage situations—the Burleson, Texas native excelled, limiting hitters to a .188/.208/.219 slash line over 35 plate appearances (6-for-32, 8 K).


Will Thompson Be Back in 2022?

Whether he’s a starter, reliever, or a hybrid-type—a la Dodgers’ era-Ross Stripling—Thompson should factor somewhere into the team’s 2022 plans.

Some regression is to be expected, especially considering how hitters fared against Thompson’s four-seamer, hitting .311 while slugging .595. But his pitch mix should be deep enough to limit the damage.