Miami Marlins Season Preview: The Rotation

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 18: Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen
SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 18: Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen /
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In the lead up to Opening Day, Marlin Maniac will be going over who’s going to step in to important roles on the team. Today’s article will focus on the starting rotation.

The Rotation

According to the MLB.COM’s breakdown of Miami’s current depth chart, the following eight pitchers are in the running for the five pieces of the rotation. Injury, suspect play, and other impossible to predict intangibles cloud the picture. I’ll label each entry with a percentage indicator to show possibility, but I am in no way a fortune teller.

Jose Urena

Chance at joining the rotation: 100%

Urena has a fastball that touches 99 MPH, an average slider, and an ineffective changeup. (h/t to Nick Pollack at fangraphs.com)

Urena has already locked down the opening day slot. Don Mattingly awarded him the coveted start last week, and Urena should bring his “A” game to Marlins Park that day.

2016 would see Urena struggle against major league hitters to the tune of a 6.13 ERA. In 2017, he emerged as an unlikely ace on the patchwork rotation. He put up a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA.

In total through his three major league seasons, Urena has earned a 19-21 record with a 1.38 WHIP, a 4.71 ERA, and 199 whiffs in 315 innings in total. This season, none of the common projection systems have him replicating his 2017 figures. For this series of articles, we will be using the “Steamer” projection system.

Steamer has Urena putting up an 8-12 record over 29 starts, with an ERA approaching five, a 6.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 rate. He has, in the past, shown a repeatable ability to strand runners through his career, leaving 71% of them on base.

I’ll take the “over” bet on eight wins, though, barring injury.

Dan Straily

Chance at joining the rotation: 100%

Straily relies on a fastball/curveball/two-seamer/slider/changeup combination which produced an 8.42 K/9 rate in 2017. He remains a likely trade-candidate, especially after the all-star break, when a desperate contender may be willing to empty their cupboard for a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Straily, already disappointed by the turn of events which resulted in Urena’s opening day start, is now trying to rehab from mild right forearm inflammation. It shouldn’t be an issue. He was shut down for approximately a week on March 20th, so he should be back in plenty of time. He is expected to start game two against the Cubs, on Saturday.

Straily, who has also pitched for the Athletics, the Astros, the Cubs, and the Reds, is entering his seventh major league season. In 119 appearances (109 starts), he has racked up a 37-30 record, a 4.25 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and has struck out 549 in 631 innings.

Steamer seems to think that Straily, who throws his fastball at 90, will be approximately the same pitcher as Urena is. The forecast model has him at 9-12 in 29 starts, with a 4.60 ERA an 8.0/9 K rate, and the same ratio of bases-on-balls that Urena has, 3.5/9.

Odrisamer Despaigne

Chance at joining the rotation: 90%

Despaigne probably wouldn’t make the rotation of probably 27 other teams in the major leagues, but Miami has just the spot for him. He has a six-pitch repertoire, including the Sinker, a 92 MPH Fastball, a Cutter, a Changeup, a Curveball, and a Slider.

Despaigne will be entering his fifth major league season. He’s also in the past pitched for the Padres and the Orioles. In 87 games (including 42 starts), he’s earned an 11-21 record with a 1.36 WHIP, a 4.72 ERA, and 182 K’s in 309 2/3 innings.

None of the rotation models figure Despaigne to repeat any measure of success from earlier in his career. He’s expected by steamer to start 19 times and go 5-8 with the same strikeout and walk rate as Urena.

Despite the models that predict Despaigne to underperform, he has a good chance to stick with this unit, and maybe turn some heads.

Justin Nicolino

Chance at joining the rotation: 65%

Nicolino was initially a second-round pick of the Blue Jays back in 2010, and boasts the same six-pitch attack as does Despaigne – even down to the 92 MPH fastball.

Nico is 10-13 in his three major league seasons, all with Miami after the last infamous sell-off with Toronto. He has a 4.65 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in the majors, with just 86 whiffs in 201 innings.

The Steamer projection has Nicolino getting into 21 major league games and starting just 11 of them. It also says that he’ll go 4-5 with a 5.4K/9 rate and a walk rate just under three per nine. I’m again betting the over on this guy. I think he could end up surprising everyone by simply pitching every fifth day.

Jacob Turner

Chance at joining the rotation: 55%

Turner was a 2009 first-rounder, picked by the Detroit Tigers ninth overall. He never quite lived up to what was expected out of him, and is with the Marlins on a minor-league deal. He couldn’t have picked a better club for a chance at getting back to his initial career projections.

Turner has two fastballs which he uses nearly 2/3 of the time. He’s also reliant on a curve, a cutter, and a changeup. He’s made 55 starts at the major league level out of his 97 overall appearances. Aside from his time with the Tigers and the Marlins, he’s also pitched for the Nationals, the Cubs, and the White Sox – and he’s still only 26. He’s gone 14-30 with a 5.09 ERA, a shaky 1.50 WHIP, and 233 K’s in 360 innings. Although he did do this for the Fish:

Steamer projects Turner to start over half the season in Miami’s rotation, with 19 starts. If the projection is correct, he’ll go 5-8 and pitch 110 innings, with 6K’s and 3.5BB’s per nine innings.

Wei-Yin Chen

Chance at joining the rotation: 75% (if healthy)

Chen has inherited the mantle as Miami’s most expensive player, with three years left on a five-year, $80 million deal. Two seasons in Miami has yielded a 7-6 record and a 4.72 ERA in 27 starts.

Having already had Tommy John Surgery, Chen elected to treat his latest elbow troubles with plasma-rich injections. Steamer is understandably Bearish on his return, projecting him to pitch a mere nine innings this season. Any return at all will surprise the experts and delight suffering Marlin fans.

Chen’s Slider-Changeup-Curve mix never induced a great deal of strikeouts, but he also walks very few batters. Despite recurring elbow ailments, his two-fastball mix has averaged 91 MPH through his seven-season major league career between the Marlins and the Orioles.

Caleb Smith

Chance at joining the rotation: 50%

Smith still hasn’t used up his rookie eligibility. He’s struck out more than a batter per inning in his spring training with the Marlins. His major league career consists of nine games for the Yankees last season. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and 18 whiffs in just under 19 frames.

Fastball-changeup-slider goes Smith, who touches 94 on the gun. Steamer doesn’t expect much of Smith in terms of major league success this season. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t eventually meet the meager expectation of 33 innings.

Elieser Hernandez

Chance at joining the rotation: 40%

Hernandez is a rule V pick out of the Houston organization, and will return to the Astros if he doesn’t break camp with the Marlins on opening day. Miami seems to have sidestepped this issue temporarily by placing Hernandez on the DL. He’ll open the season on the list due to a Wisdom Tooth extraction.

Hernandez projects as either a starter or as a reliever, and should enjoy relatively high strikeout totals through his career. He walks a few too many, but would rank above average amongst the other seven pitchers that are featured here.

Thanks for reading today’s article. Check back here tomorrow for the starting lineup. In the meantime, “like” us on FaceBook, follow us on Twitter, and keep coming back for the latest in Marlins’ news.

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