The Miami Marlins acquired Justin Nicolino with the belief that he’d blossom into an All-Star. Five years later and they’ve all but thrown in the towel.
Projections are best taken with a side-helping of humility. When it comes to Justin Nicolino, the Miami Marlins are making a meal of it. As one of the headlining prospects in the blockbuster trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, Nicolino has failed to impress.
Miami tried without success on a number of occasions to cement him in the starting rotation. For every good start he made, three poor ones would follow. After 47 Major League appearances, he’s consistently been a below-average performer.
Now the Marlins appear ready to move him into the bullpen full-time.
There is some merit to moving a failed starter into the bullpen. The Miami Marlins tried for years to get Andrew Miller to realize his potential as a starter. Fast-forward several years and he’s one of the premier relief pitchers in baseball. The Fish are wise to attempt avoiding a repeat mistake.
Perhaps if Nicolino was giving the Miami Marlins reason to believe that he was slowly improving, they’d consider trotting him back out in 2018. But consider that he’s performed slightly worse each of his three seasons in the big leagues.
As a rookie, Nicolino provided zero additional wins above the average MLB pitcher. He followed that up with a season in which he produced -0.3 WAA, and in 2017 he sits at a full game below the Major League average.
Growing pains all over again
Nicolino is a starter by trade, and the transition into the bullpen isn’t an easy one. He saw some work there in 2016, but the bulk of his workload came as a member of the starting rotation. Attempting to adjust to his new role has required more patience.
Unfortunately, the Miami Marlins are in short supply of patience when it comes to Justin Nicolino. In eight appearances as a reliever, he’s failed to inspire confidence. Only once has he faced the minimum, and only three times has he managed to keep runs from scoring.
His ERA as a reliever sits 4.63, and opponents are slashing an impressive .292/.370/.458 against him. He’s walked six batters in only 11.2 innings, while fanning only four.
If you’re determined to find something encouraging about Nicolino’s transition to the pen, he’s allowed only one home run. That’s about 50-percent fewer per inning pitched compared to when he was starting. Even that is misleading though, as he he is exposed to the same batters less.
With so much time remaining before he’s due for any sort of notable payday, Miami is compelled to try and get some kind of value out of him. All signs point to it being out of the bullpen, though.