It’s never too late for a breakout year! Take right-hander James Hoyt, for example. At age 33, he emerged as a key cog in the Marlins bullpen by trusting a highly unconventional game plan. That being said, let’s be careful to set realistic expectations for him moving forward.
As Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee detailed, Hoyt left baseball entirely a decade ago after completing his college degree. Later on, he got the itch to return to the mound and gradually climbed the indy ball and minor league ranks, only to get buried on the depth charts of pitching-rich organizations like the Astros and Indians. That explains why he came into 2020 with less than two years of major league service.
Relief pitching was already perceived to be the Marlins’ biggest weakness entering Opening Day. The COVID-19 outbreak exacerbated that—aside from Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger, Stephen Tarpley and Sterling Sharp, every reliever traveling with the team at the time tested positive during the final week of July.
Conveniently for the Fish, the Indians designated Hoyt for assignment on July 28. They officially acquired him from Cleveland on August 1 in exchange for cash considerations.
Hoyt immediately received high-leverage opportunities, earning holds in his first two appearances for Miami (Aug. 4 and Aug. 7). When the Marlins began their long-awaited homestand the following week, he began The Streak. From Aug. 15 through the end of the regular season, he surrendered zero runs. That’s 11 consecutive innings and 19 consecutive games of scoreless pitching!
Those numbers are slightly misleading—Hoyt did allow six inherited baserunners to score during that span. He also benefited from a .250 batting average on balls in play this season, which looks like the byproduct of some good luck considering his sub-40% ground ball rate and the fact he allowed more hard contact than the MLB average.
Hoyt tied Kintzler for the team lead with 24 regular season games pitched and he was a no-brainer selection for the Marlins postseason roster. Unfortunately, his first-ever postseason pitch was pulverized by Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Hoyt rebounded in NLDS Game 3 by striking out Austin Riley (the series was essentially over by that point, though).
Overall, a terrific find by the Marlins front office.
- Hoyt’s pitch mix is unlike anything we’ve seen from a Marlins pitcher in recent history (dating back to the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015). His slider accounted for 67.2% of his total pitches thrown, the highest breaking ball percentage on record for any Marlin with at least 100 pitches thrown in a season, according to Baseball Savant.
- One characteristic that makes it work is its high spin rate (2,744 RPM average). Jordan Yamamoto was the only teammate who topped him in that department in 2020.
High Point: Getting bases-loaded strikeout of Marcell Ozuna to preserve one-run lead in eventual Sept. 7 Marlins win
Low Point: Allowing Swanson’s home run to put NLDS Game 1 out of reach (Oct. 6)
Hoyt is expected to fall short of “Super Two” status this winter, meaning that the Marlins can retain him for 2021 at approximately the major league minimum salary (he’d become arbitration eligible the following year). He has one minor league option remaining.
Just to nitpick, Hoyt reached 20 pitches in an appearance only once in 2020, and he never pitched three days in a row. Over the course of a full-length season where teams have fewer active roster spots, his stamina and ability to recovery will be tested. Until he checks those boxes, Hoyt shouldn’t be in the mix for the closer’s role.
Perhaps the Marlins—worried that opponents will learn to adjust to somebody who relies so heavily on one weapon—will attempt to sell high on him. But it’s far more likely that he stays put.