Feb 25, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (16) poses during media day at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

3 Big Pitching Questions for the Miami Marlins in 2014

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The Marlins unquestioned strength in 2013 was in their pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Jose Fernandez was undoubtedly the best young pitcher in baseball and fully deserved to win the NL Rookie of the Year. The other guys filling out the rotation behind him, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler also showed how good of pitchers they can be at the Major League level.

Turner proved the most by showing that he had become a different kind of pitcher after losing his “power stuff” the previous two seasons. Alvarez also proved a lot by showing consistency that he seldom showed when he was in a Blue Jays uniform. The Marlins rotation is young but they are so talented that it can be expected that they will be able to follow-up an impressive 2013 with an equally quality performance in 2014.

The bullpen will have a different look than it did last year, the perennial Ryan Webb has gone to Baltimore and a surprisingly effective Chad Qualls is gone too. To replace them the Marlins have gone to Carter Capps and Carlos Marmol. Cishek will continue to pitch the 9th and Mike Dunn was arguably the Marlins most effective reliever against both righties and lefties in 2013. I don’t think I am wrong to say the 2013 Marlins bullpen outperformed expectations and I foresee that continuing this upcoming season.

Can Fernandez and the Rest of the Rotation Follow up 2013 without Regressing too much

Fernandez finished his rookie year at the age of 20 with a 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.75 K/9 and a FIP of 2.73 in about 170 IP. It can be argued that this stat line above is not just one of the best posted by a rookie last year but probably among the best among all starters in the Major Leagues. Kershaw, Harvey, Wainwright and Scherzer all had very good seasons but it can be argued that Jose’s season was better than all of those.

So I guess any season that Jose or any of those guys that I named alongside him can have will probably be considered a “slump.” Jose is clearly a very talented young pitcher and what he did is impressive but even players at that level are victims to statistical regression that the vagaries of a Major League season puts players through. The point is after having such a great year anything that is statistically significant will look like a “sophomore slump” a higher BABIP or HR/FB% will raise a pitcher’s era and what was 2.19 in 2013 can easily be half a run higher in 2014.

This phenomenon will happen to every one of Miami’s starters and that is ultimately the biggest question how stable was Fernandez et al’s performance last year

Is Andrew Heaney Ready to Pitch in The Show?

Heaney was named the number 1 left-handed pitching prospect by MLBPipeline.com in his article Cahill said this about Heaney

A strained lat kept Heaney from making his season debut until May. It was worth the wait, however, as he reached Double-A and ended the year by dominating the Arizona Fall League. Heaney’s advanced pitchability and three-pitch mix have helped him quickly move through the Minor Leagues and give him a chance to make an impact in Miami soon.”

Over at Fangraphs Scott Strandberg said this of Heaney’s repertoire when he saw the lefty pitch in college in the Big XII Tournament against Oklahoma,

 His fastball was a tick below his usual velocity, as he was maxing out at 92 mph instead of 94, but his three-pitch mix still had opponents flailing wildly. His mid-80s slider was maybe even better that morning than I’d previously seen, and he was consistently hitting the strike zone with his low-80s change-up as well.”

and added this

Whether it happens in April or June, I expect Heaney to be successful from the get-go due to his command/control profile and high baseball IQ. While he may not be a huge strikeout guy, I like the chances for a strike-throwing lefty in a spacious ballpark.”

Heaney’s 2.21 ERA with a 8.75/2.35 K/BB at all levels of the Minor Leagues coupled with a solid three-pitch mix bodes well for the young southpaw making the club out of Spring Training.

Tom Koehler Will be the Marlins Long Man in 2014?

If Heaney makes the club out of Spring that doesn’t mean that he will automatically be team’s fifth starter just because he is a rookie. In a rotation with only right-handed pitchers it would make most sense to make Heaney the third starter so the Marlins can go righty, righty, lefty, righty, righty.

That means that Henderson Alvarez will most likely win the fifth spot in open competition against Tom Koehler and Brad Hand as he is as he clearly showed in 2013 a very competent pitcher especially in the back of a rotation. Hand has been far more marginal in his time in the Majors than Koehler has shown to be which ultimately means that when push comes to shove the righty will take his place as the Marlins long guy/spot starter.

The Marlins depth in their rotation and in starting pitching prospects is impressive they have lots of options to fill out a competitive Major League rotation in 2014 and beyond. Heaney is just the first of the guys that are soon to come Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani were key in the Blue Jays trade and will soon compete for a place in the Major League roster. If run creation will be a problem for the Marlins in 2014 as it was in 2013 at least run prevention will be to a credible standard. The Marlins lost only 100 games in 2013 because of the pitching and it will be their key to success once again.

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