2010 Marlin Maniac Preview: The Rotation Battle

Yesterday, I covered the two guys, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, who are undoubtedly going to be a part of the 2010 rotation. Today, I’ll discuss the options the Marlins have with the remaining three rotation spots. Presumably, all of them are in open competition, but most likely only the fifth spot will be truly open to anyone.

Rotation

3. Chris Volstad
4. Anibal Sanchez
5. Andrew Miller

6. Rick VandenHurk
7. Sean West

I think this is more or less the order that is going to come out of Spring Training to start the season. I won’t go as in depth with these five as I did with Ricky and JJ, but you’ll note that I’ve discussed most of these pitchers prior to this article in various pieces.

Chris Volstad

Volstad’s peculiar 2009 season had everyone in Marlins fandom a little confused, if not completely frustrated. He had been known in the minors as an extreme ground baller, but his worm killing ways apparently didn’t hold off 29 home runs allowed in just 159 innings pitched. I’ll use some Pitch f/x to get to the bottom of this mess (or not, if there’s isn’t a bottom to get to), but right now we can note that last year, Volstad allowed homers in 17.5% of his fly balls, an utterly absurd rate. In 2008, he allowed them in only 3.9% of his fly balls, an equally absurd rate. Give him 11% for HR/FB% and you get an expected 18 home runs allowed in 165 projected innings. A quick calculation of his FIP with that many home runs and the CHONE-projected 116 K’s and 72 BB+HBP yields a FIP of 4.52, right around the Fans-projected FIP of 4.44 and his career xFIP of 4.43. Let’s run with 4.52 for this perhaps optimistic projection.

Projection: About 165 innings, 1.4 WAR

That’s a hopeful projection based on an improved home run rate (improved up to the average, at least). The rest of Volstad’s peripherals could remain stable with slight improvement (both the Fans and CHONE expect a little increase in strikeouts). Overall, I think we would be much happier with this version of Volstad, so I wouldn’t complain.

Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez probably has the best stuff of the remaining players. He has a solid fastball, a good slider, and decent complimentary off-speed stuff. Think of Sanchez as Ricky-lite, without the control yet. There are two keys to Anibal’s success: getting the ball in the zone and staying healthy. Unfortunately, those two things have been difficult for him the last few seasons. Given that, I like CHONE’s projection of a 4.66 FIP off of a 18.3% K% and 10.1% BB%.

Projection: About 125 innings, 0.9 WAR

I think this is a pessimistic view, as I feel Sanchez and Volstad are ultimately similar in value. I might even give Sanchez 140 innings and around 1-1.2 WAR. Either way, his established difficulty in those two keys are going to keep his innings low one way or another, which is why the Marlins should be thankful they have as seven starting-caliber pitchers, as low caliber as they may be.

Andrew Miller

I believe Miller will edge out VandenHurk and West for the last spot in the rotation. I discussed Miller’s problems before, and they of course remain the same. He has had difficulty getting strikeouts (career rate 17.3%) and walks too many hitters (career rate 11.8%). This may be in part because hitters rarely offer on his outside stuff (career OSwing% of 20.6%, well below the league average of 25%). The one thing that Miller has been doing well is preventing home runs by keeping the ball on the ground. Unfortunately for him, those balls are not being converted into outs very efficiently, as evidenced by his career BABIP of .333.

All of those characteristics contribute to his career ERA (5.50) being so much higher than his career FIP (4.50). To make things interesting, I also went over to Baseball Prospectus and checked on his SIERA (link to the first part of a five-part series; think of SIERA as xFIP, but far more complicated, with more interconnecting terms. You can read about it on BP and check out the conversation on it over at The Book blog). Miller’s SIERA for the 2009 season was 4.72, close to his ERA of 4.84 and both quite higher than his FIP of 4.45 and xFIP of 4.59. Who is correct? I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you. Since we’ve been using FIP, let’s continue with that.

Projection: About 130 innings, 1.5 WAR

Pretty difficult to believe given Miller’s performances outside of his three true outcomes. It will come down to this: can Miller continue to keep the ball in the park and is his BABIP issue a real one or something which will regress in time? I think the former will remain similar, but the latter is something we’re just going to have to wait and see. Clearly 261 1/3 innings isn’t enough answer the second question, but the Marlins aren’t likely to hold off and wait for BABIP to regularize before they move on.

Rick VandenHurk

Vandenhurk’s issues with the strike zone might have been cleared up thanks to use of his new slider. Still, the problem with Hurk remains his massive fly ball rate. I don’t need to tell you that those types of rates can lead to big problems with home runs, even in a stadium like ours. This may ultimately hold VandeHurk back from claiming a rotation spot.

Projection: 4.60 FIP

I won’t project any innings past the “starting five,” though I do suspect that Hurk and West will get innings due to injuries or ineffectiveness of the five starters. If Hurk plays, I suspect he will be no different than the other starters, perhaps a tad worse because of the threat of the home run.

Sean West

I’ve discussed West the least of the five players competing because I feel like he has the lowest chance to win the fifth spot. He’s the youngest of the players involved and the one with the least experience in the minors, so there’s little reason to keep him up in the majors unless he needs to play or he’s ready. Despite a solid campaign last year in which he was essentially a league average pitcher in terms of peripherals, West’s numbers saw a large decline from his work in the minors, and he could use some more seasoning.

Projection: 4.65 FIP

It’s a cop-out, I know. You’ll get a more in-depth look at West probably on Monday, but for now you can settle for this. Between West’s rocky CHONE projection and the very optimistic look by the Fans, a middle ground was in order. If West shows that he has fully returned to form, he’ll get his shot and probably jump VandenHurk and even Miller. Remember, West is still the best regarded pitcher not named Chad James (who hasn’t pitched in a Marlins-related uniform yet) in the system, so he’ll get his opportunity again. I just feel like it won’t be this season.

Topics: Andrew Miller, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Miami Marlins, Rick VandenHurk, Sean West

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