Marlins will need a repeat performance from Henderson Alvarez


Depending on how the Dan Haren saga shakes out, the Marlins head into the 2015 season with a promising starting rotation that may or may not contain a hole or two.

The top of the rotation seems solidified with ace-caliber Henderson Alvarez and newely-acquired Mat Latos, with Jose Fernandez of course set to return mid-season. Haren would provide a veteran presence in the fourth or fifth slot on the staff, with Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler contending for a remaining spot.

The Marlins have recently been linked to James Shields, one of the top remaining free agents on the market. But Shields might be just out of the team’s price range, despite the $10 million they received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade for Haren. That being said, if the team decides they are comfortable with the pieces they already have, a lot of responsibility will be placed on Henderson Alvarez’s right arm to lead the team for at least the first half of the 2015 season.

Alvarez has steadily improved in each of his three full MLB seasons and even received Cy Young Award votes in 2014. In his first two years with the Marlins Alvarez shined in his 47 starts, which included four complete game shutouts and a no-hitter on Closing Day 2013. His ERA dropped by nearly a full run in 2014 to a sparkling 2.65, coupled with a 3.85 FIP that actually dropped off from the 3.18 mark he posted in 2013.

Henderson Alvarez is a unique case because he is a consistently effective starter who logs innings but does not strike out a lot of hitters. He averaged 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year and 5.0 in 2013. His career 9.5 hits per nine reveals that teams average at least one base runner per inning against Alvarez. However, he doesn’t rely on the defense behind him to escape jams; he doesn’t give up walks (2.0 per 9 for his career). His 1.276 career WHIP is remarkable when you factor in that H/9, and really shows that Alvarez doesn’t make many mistakes on the mound.

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Great control tends to equal great success, and Alvarez shows terrific control. When he leaves one over the plate it often results in singles, and with runners on base Alvarez remains as cool as the other side of the pillow.

When Jose Fernandez was lost to Tommy John surgery, Henderson Alvarez continued to do his thing and emerged as the Marlins ace in 2014. With a healthy Fernandez the Marlins possess one of the best one-two punches of any rotation in baseball. Without Fernandez, as the team will probably be until the All-Star break, Alvarez should maintain his dominance in 2015. He turns 25 in mid-April, and might not even be in his prime yet.

The Marlins will have an improved infield defense behind him, so even if Alvarez does regress somewhat he won’t have to rely on Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones to bail him out.

Steamer projects some regression for Alvarez in 2015. That’s not all that surprising, considering he was a relatively unknown name before his fantastic 2014 campaign. It spits out a 3.88 ERA over just 29 starts and only 163 innings, good for a 1.7 WAR. That would honestly surprise me because Alvarez goes deep into ball games, and he reached 187 innings pitched two of the last three seasons (he was injured for the first half of 2013.)

Unless he has some lingering injury we aren’t aware of, Henderson Alvarez should be good to go for another full season in 2015. He and Mat Latos should anchor a formidable Marlins rotation that will keep them in position for a postseason push once Jose Fernandez returns.

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