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2023 Marlins Season Preview: A.J. Puk

How the newest member of the Fish can contribute to their bullpen.

Noah Berger/Fish Stripes

LHP A.J. Puk

A.J. Puk’s MLB and MiLB career stats
A.J. Puk’s MLB and MiLB career stats

  • Drafted by the Detroit Tigers (35th Rd in 2013; did not sign) and Oakland Athletics (1st Rd in 2016).
  • Underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2018.
  • Traded to Miami on February 11 for JJ Bleday.
  • Entering his age-28 season.


Along with newly-acquired Matt Barnes, Puk is a name in a bullpen who pitches in relative anonymity from the rest of the league. Aesthetically, Puk’s exceptional stuff (fastball velocity in the 90th percentile) and deception (96th percentile in extension from a 6’7” frame) make him a terror to stare down from the batter’s box.

A.J. Puk’s Statcast percentile rankings, 2022
A.J. Puk’s Statcast percentile rankings, 2022
Baseball Savant

After years of inconsistent play due to recurring injuries post-Tommy John, Puk finally endured a full season in the majors in 2022. In 66 13 innings, his four-seam fastball saw an encouraging rise in velocity, from 95.4 mph to 96.7 mph. The real secret to his success last season, though, was his slider. Puk’s 28.3-percent put-away rate with it ranked 19th among 134 pitchers with at least 100 plate appearances ending on the pitch. Puk’s slider generated a 37.5 K%, the same as AL Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease, achieving an overall value of minus-six runs compared to the MLB average.

Puk is a nightmare for left-handed batters, who collectively slugged just .259 against him.


When opponents put balls in the air against Puk, they threaten to leave the ballpark all too frequently. He surrendered a 8.8% barrel rate in 2022 (the average is 6.7%).

In addition to occasional lapses in controlling his pitches, Puk is unable to control the running game. Since his first full-length professional season in 2017, only one baserunner has been caught stealing when he’s on the mound—major and minors combined, opponents have gone 25-for-26 on steal attempts.

Puk is still getting acclimated to the reliever lifestyle. He excelled last season when afforded multiple days of rest, but allowed 11 earned runs over his other 20 innings (4.95 ERA) with five hit batsmen.

It could be difficult for the Marlins to settle on an appropriate role for Puk given his unrefined approach to righties (1.43 WHIP, .751 OPS allowed). Moreover, he’s barely had any experience in intense game environments—the A’s regularly ranked last among American League teams in paid attendance and fell out of playoff contention last season before the first pitch was even thrown.

2023 Marlins Role

ZiPS Projection: 60.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 10.08 K/9, 3.26 BB/9 0.3 WAR

The soon-to-be 28-year-old was set to be stretched out to compete for a rotation spot heading into another rebuilding year in Oakland. Puk had this to say when speaking with the media at Spring Training earlier this week regarding his fit on the Marlins pitching staff:

“It would have been cool to start again, but at the same time, I enjoy coming out of the bullpen in those high-leverage situations...Whatever role, I’m just happy to be here...and they have an amazing starting rotation, it’d be hard to crack anyway.”

Perhaps they will split the difference between starting duty and short relief. Last season, Puk had 15 appearances in which he recorded four or more outs and his results were outstanding (1.04 ERA in 26.0 IP).

With two minor league options remaining, the Marlins are not obligated to keep Puk on their active roster for the entire regular season unless he merits a spot. Barring a calamitous showing in the Grapefruit League, he’s a lock to at least begin the campaign in Miami.

Skip Schumaker says he doesn’t intend to have a designated full-time closer. Although the Marlins have brought back Tanner Scott and Dylan Floro—both of whom had successful stretches in save situations a year ago—Puk could be allotted some chances of his own when the matchups are in his favor.


Over/Under 4.5 saves for A.J. Puk in 2023?

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