The Miami Marlins have become one of Major League Baseball’s punching bags. But if you put the notions surrounding their franchise to the side, the Marlins have something to be optimistic about, that being their starting rotation.
Yes, they’re a National League-worst 46-82, and classifying a particular aspect of their ballclub as being on the upswing could sound like a stretch. At the same time, the Marlins quietly have one of the most promising young rotations in the sport.
Arguably the best and most promising individual on manager Don Mattingly‘s roster, left-hander Caleb Smith is putting together an extraordinary season. A bit of a late bloomer, Smith, 28, has established himself as the Marlins ace. Sporting a 3.82 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while totaling 138 strikeouts in 117.2 innings pitched, he has been a steady force on the hill.
Smith has a simple three-pitch arsenal (four seamer, slider, and changeup); opponents are batting .203 against his offerings. Sure, home runs have been an issue for the southpaw (Smith has surrendered 23 home runs this season), but his ability to grind through at-bats and keep runners off the basepaths outweigh the long-ball woes.
The most significant aspect of their trade package from the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, right-hander Sandy Alcantara is showcasing his potential for the Marlins this season. Sporting a 4.15 ERA and totaling 108 strikeouts, he has held his own on the hill. He’s averaging roughly six innings per start, working through trouble, and his pitches are registering in the mid-90s on the radar.
Alcantara attempts to be deceptive, by way of a five-pitch arsenal (four seamer, slider, sinker, changeup, and curveball). While he has pitched at a mediocre level in 2019, it’s his first full season pitching in the big leagues. Once he gets better command of his offerings, Alcantara could be a force to be reckoned with.
Part of the four-player return from the Milwaukee Brewers for Christian Yelich, right-hander Jordan Yamamoto has become a fixture in the Marlins rotation this season. In the 13 starts he has made, Yamamoto has kept runners off the basepaths, totaled 69 strikeouts in 68.1 innings, and been efficient.
Yamamoto began his big-league career with a bang by tossing back-to-back seven-inning shutouts against the Cardinals. Of course, he came back to earth a bit, but it was a glimpse into what he’s capable of. Now, Yamamoto isn’t a velocity pitcher, as his fastball registers in the low 90s, but he tries to keep hitters guessing by mixing a cutter, slider, and curveball into the equation.
Pablo Lopez has been a quiet development for the Fish in 2019. Sure, his 4.23 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, and he has been on the injured list for the last two months, but at 23, he can only improve when he returns to the hill. He’s also not the only pitcher on the injured list who can help the Marlins in the forseeable future.
Remember Jose Urena? Going into 2019, the right-hander was the team’s ace, but he has been plagued by injuries this season. From 2017-18, Urena recorded ERAs below four (3.82, 3.98) while starting on a consistent basis in both seasons. Once he gets healthy and pitches to his capabilities, Urena’s presence only deepens the Marlins rotation.
Cumulatively, the Marlins rotation went into Saturday 13th in MLB in ERA (4.44), fourth in opponent batting average (.234), and 12th in strikeouts (650). Not too shabby, huh?
Let’s also consider the lineups the Marlins are facing. The Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies all have, at least recently, high-octane offenses that can give pitching staffs headaches. The Braves have a deep and well-rounded offense; the Nationals scored a combined 43 runs in three consecutive games from last Saturday-Monday; the Mets have a dynamic top of the order; the Phillies have an offense full of high-profile players.
Imagine a young rotation having to go up against those lineups for roughly half of the regular season. That’s rough, but it also forces the Marlins youngsters to become accustomed to top-tier hitters and deal with adversity at an early stage of their careers — which can only benefit them mentally and from a comfortability standpoint as their careers ensue.
The Marlins traded away a couple of young starting pitchers who showed some promise beforehand in Trevor Richards and Zac Gallen at the MLB trade deadline. Initially, you might argue that the Marlins shouldn’t be trading away any bright spots given how they’re one of the worst teams in the sport. On the other hand, their rotation is deep with talent and youth, and their offense should be the organization’s biggest concern.
The Marlins offense went into Saturday 27th in MLB in batting average (.242), 28th in hits (1,041), 29th in runs (475), and 30th in home runs (107), total bases (1,590), and OPS (.668). Now, the Marlins do have some steady and productive position players worth keeping around such as Brett Anderson, Miguel Rojas, Jorge Alfaro, and Garrett Cooper. But outside of those four, their offense has few players it can lean on for production.
That’s why trading, for instance, Gallen for minor-league shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who some think can become a high-caliber big-league player, makes sense for the Marlins. They have the starting pitching depth to withstand a couple of departures for the sake of upgrading their organizational depth around the diamond.
The Marlins have a foundation. Is it one that gets them in the playoffs next season, or in 2021? Probably not, but they finally have an aspect of their roster that they can point to as progress.