RHP John Curtiss
Opening Day age: 27 | Bats: right | Throws: right | Listed at 6-5, 225 lbs.
Acquired by the Marlins via trade from the Rays (February 17, 2021)
For the journeyman John Curtiss, a man who once proclaimed that “literally no one wanted me,” the abbreviated 2020 season proved fruitful for the 27-year-old right-hander.
The owner of a 6.75 ERA over three brief stints with the Twins and Angels from 2017-19, Curtiss was a member of four organizations before flourishing upon joining the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the start of the season. In 25 innings, Curtiss appeared in 17 games, finishing with a 1.83 ERA while posting an 8.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio (25/3).
In the postseason, where his former team would win their first American League pennant in 12 years, Curtiss shrugged off an early blow-up against the Yankees in the ALDS to pitch to a 1.93 ERA over 9 1⁄3 innings.
Now, following what has been a slew of sneaky-smart trades by new GM Kim Ng, Curtiss, along with the fellow newly acquired Dylan Floro, projects as a key piece to a Marlins’ bullpen that had been among the weaker in recent memory.
The team’s relief core’s 5.12 ERA ranks 27th in the majors since the start of 2019, per FanGraphs, and even that mark was buoyed by the likes of closers Sergio Romo and Brandon Kintzler who have since landed with new teams. The additions of Curtiss and Floro were made with the objective of aiding in one of the franchise’s long-noted crutches.
Curtiss’ success in 2020 can be partially attributed to a spike in fastball velocity. Though he only pitched 2 1⁄3 innings with the Angels in 2019, Curtiss’ average fastball velocity dipped from 94.2 mph in 2018 to 92.6, only to rebound in 2020, averaging 94.5 with the Rays.
This effective year also included the emergence of Curtiss’ key second pitch, the slider. Per the FanGraphs pitch value metric, that pitch was worth -1.6 runs above average from 2017-19. However, the slider was +2 in that category following the move to Tampa Bay. In tandem with the aforementioned fastball (2.5 runs above average), it isn’t hard to understand why his 2020 season saw him post a sub-1 WHIP.
Curtiss is grateful for how Rays coaches helped him harness his potential:
“It was a perfect marriage of my mechanics were a lot more repeatable and consistent, my delivery and my arm slot were a lot more kind of in tune than they’d been in the past. You combine having a more repeatable physical delivery with a mental approach that they gave me of, ‘Hey, your stuff’s good, throw it in the box,’ it’s just a matter of strike one, strike two.”
2021 ZiPS projection: 4.67 ERA, 4.73 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
2021 Steamer projection: 4.18 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 1.36 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
John Curtiss overpowers the Polar Bear pic.twitter.com/23he8cXikn— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) March 7, 2021
Per the above-listed projections, many see Curtiss’ breakout 2020 campaign as a possible fluke, with major regression forecasted for the right-hander.
Much of this skepticism may come via the sample size surrounding Curtiss’ walk rate. Over the course of his minor league career, Curtiss’ averages 3.8 BB/9 over 284 2⁄3 innings, a far cry from his 1.1 BB/9 rate in 2020.
Walks aside though, Curtiss could benefit from pitching his home games in a park that primarily benefits pitchers. Per ESPN’s MLB Park Factors, Marlins Park ranked 27th with 0.753 home runs per game, with only Wrigley Field, Minute Maid Park, and O.co Coliseum allowing home runs at a lower rate.
A 1.1 HR/9, while not the best such mark for projecting reliever success, should be aided in part by how Marlins Park plays and the deadening of MLB balls in 2021.
What will John Curtiss’ ERA be in 2021?
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