The bullpen and especially the LaRussian bullpen, highly especialized and structured regime of relief pitching is by far the biggest innovation in baseball not brought on by a rule change (the Designated Hitter, lowering the mound, or getting rid of the mushball) or by major social or economic change (integration, expansion) in the history of baseball. Starters used to pitch every third day well into the 1970s and reliever were an uncommon sight.
Tony LaRussa changed all that he gave us the closer as we know it as well as the one at-bat lefty one out guy the (in)famous LOOGY. Sabermetrics and analytics have recently started to break baseball out of its LaRussian moment. Relievers are now deployed according to situation, match-ups and other relevant factors. Baseball at large is still in love with the idea of the closer as a guy that should start the ninth inning with the bases empty and I am not willing to question that wisdom, at least not now.
That means that outside of the position of Closer which is Steve Cishek‘s all other roles/situations are open for discussion. Here are the Marlins bullpen power rankings coming into 2014.
Tom Koehler- Long Man
Was effective enough as a starter in 2013. He had some good games including that brutal 1-0 three-hitter loss against the Diamondbacks on a leadoff/walkoff home run by Gerardo Parra. Koehler has a good three pitch mix but isn’t a real strike-out pitcher.
As a long guy pitching less innings he can get away with not having the same kind of repertoire that better starters have to be actually successful against Major League hitters for 6+ innings. His fastball, curveball and slider are all solid and will be effective in the bullpen and as a long man.
“The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince to the world he didn’t exist” –That can easily be applied to Carlos Marmol. If one looks at a career 11.66 K/9, 117 career saves and a decent 3.46 career ERA one can by led to believe that Marmol is at least a serviceable middle of the bullpen guy. The 5.84. 7.32 and 7.35 BB/9 in 2011, 12 and 13 respectively as well as highly unstable HR/FB rates tell a different story.
The Marlins clearly don’t expect much from Marmol and I expect him to pitch in low leverage situations where he can do as little damage as possible unless he can prove that he can actually throw strikes and keep the ball in the yard.
Dan Jennings is also a weird case, he had rather average numbers in 40 IP last year a 3.76 ERA, 8.41/3.54 K/BB rate with a slightly inflated BABIP and miniscule HR/FB rate (.328 and 2.7%). Jennings faced almost the same amount lefties as he did righties but what is weird that as left-handed pitcher he had a lower BA and OPS against righties than he did lefties.
This may be an aberration because of small sample size but could also point towards something important for people who care about the Marlins to pay attention to.
I already wrote a lengthy article about Carter Capps in which I stated that the reason he was so bad last year with Seattle was because of bad luck owing to a high BABIP and HR/FB rate. Outside of this bad luck his career 10.07 K/9, 40.2% groundball rate and improving BB/9 in 84 Major League innings pitched points to him being a credible middle to high leverage pitcher. As long as the BABIP goes down and the ball stays in the yard Capps could easily be very good.
Mike Dunn’s core stats show the kind of power pitcher that a team wants to have facing left-handed batters in high-leverage situations and in other close and late situations. His 9.58/3.73 K/BB ratio in 2013 along with .209 BA against all batters and a .549 OPS against lefties suggests not only a pitcher who is an elite LOOGY but a pitcher that profiles similar to the Joaquin Benoit type, a true relief ace that can be counted on to get outs when necessary.
A.J. Ramos also looks right for the role, he’s a flamethrower and acts like one. He is a true strikeout pitcher and a short arm one that hitters don’t even see the ball coming when he is throwing it. In 80 IP in 2013 Ramos compiled very good stats with a 25.4 strikeout rate a .198 batting average against and only allowed a 4.6% HR/FB rate
His walk rate was a little high but that can easily be improved upon. He also was consistent pitching to both right-handed and left-handed hitting .Ramos was a key to the Marlins bullpen’s success in 2013 and will play a similar role in 2014
Closer – Steve Cishek
I don’t have to sit here and tell you all about Steve Cishek he has proven himself as the team’s closer and will remain so unless injured or if he has a Heath Bell-esque meltdown.
The Marlins have landed on the same formula that made St. Louis so successful last year: just get guys that can throw hard and make them relievers and they will probably end up being successful. It is telling that the Marlins valued Logan Morrison as much as they did Carter Capps when they concluded the trade with Mariners. Power pitchers are a valuable commodity and the Marlins personnel people have finally figured it out it seems because of the way the Marlins bullpen has been constructed for 2014.