Who is the Marlins (temporary) ace ?


Just to clear the air-yes I know Jose Fernandez is still a member of the Miami Marlins, but he is obviously out (for now.) While he rehabs for the first half of the season, somebody, anybody, will need to act like a no. 1 starter.

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Last season, that man was Henderson Alvarez He progressively gained consistency throughout the season, and showed everyone that he was capable of holding down the fort while Jose was on the shelf. The answer for 2015 is a bit more cloudy, with Mat Latos added to the equation. Nathan Eovaldi was traded earlier in the offseason, leaving the top three as Alvarez, Latos, and Jarred Cosart.

The last name on that list is the least likely to emerge as the frontrunner in 2015, but we’ll include him just to make things interesting. Here’s a look at what these pitchers accomplished in 2014:

H. Alvarez1872.653.545.342.1
M. Latos102.13.253.656.511.7
J. Cosart180.13.693.775.742.0

On the surface, these three pitchers look very similar. Alvarez’s ERA jumps out, but none of them boast gaudy strikeout numbers, or very low FIPs. Alvarez managed to out pitch his FIP by almost an entire run last season, leaving some room for unfortunate, but likely regression in 2015.

Latos carries the best reputation of the three, but he was attacked by the injury bug last season and saw a drop in velocity, leading to more than 1.5 less strikeouts per nine innings than in 2013.  His ERA remained around his career average, but the low strikeouts and loss of velocity left many questioning where his career was headed. For better or worse, he headed to South Beach to try and regain his 2013 peak form.

Cosart, who is currently being investigated by MLB after some strange Twitter accusations involving sports gambling, will look to continue the success he found after joining the Marlins at the trade deadline. In the “second half,” Cosart lowered his ERA by over two full runs, and his FIP by a less dramatic 0.7 runs. Much of that has been credited to the dimensions of Marlins Park, even though his HR/9 was relatively stable.

Alvarez came into the spotlight after throwing a no-hitter during his last start of 2013, and he never really looked back. He enjoyed a breakout 2014, avoiding injury for the most part, tossing old-school-funk first pitches, and going the distance three times. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs disagree quite a bit on his 2014 value, Fangraphs crediting him with 2.1 WAR, while Baseball Reference had him at 4.6. Alvarez threw three complete game shutouts last season and carried the sixth-lowest ERA in the National League.

That ERA will almost surely earn him the Opening Day start, but it remains questionable. Let’s look at how ZiPS projects these three to fare in 2015:

H. ALvarez165.73.803.835.111.4
M. Latos168.03.433.387.233.0
J. Cosart148.03.894.085.780.8

Clearly, this projection system favors Mat Latos in this competition, by a lot. His K rate projects to recover closer to his career average, but his ERA would be a tad higher than his career 3.34. Now, these projections do not, in fact, have access to a time machine, they are simply using data to project what 2015 might hold for these pitchers. Alvarez still has a lot to prove, because of his massive discrepancy between ERA and FIP in 2014. Latos must stay healthy, and Cosart just needs to be better (now that’s analysis!).

I am by no means saying that Alvarez cannot live up to the standard he set for himself in 2014, but it will take some work, and likely some more strikeouts. He may have been lucky last year, or he might have just perfected the art of not giving up any home runs. The former is the more likely of the two, and that’s why ZiPS has him regressing so dramatically.

Time will tell who can keep the Fish afloat in 2015 as the first-half staff ace. Hopefully all three candidates see improvement, and provide plenty of rotation depth once Jose returns. Right now, there’s loads of uncertainty regarding Miami’s staff, and somebody will have to step up. My money’s on Mat Latos.

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