Nick Wittgren finished the 2018 Miami Marlins season with a club-best 125 ERA+, despite not getting enough innings to qualify.
Throughout the 2018/2019 offseason, Marlin Maniac will devote one article each for every player who appeared in the Miami Marlins system for the 2018 season. Every. Single. Player. This is Part 200 of 286. For the first 100, click here.
Nicholas James Wittgren is a 6’3″, 205 lb. right-handed relief pitcher from Torrance, California. The town produced 29 major leaguers before Wittgren came along, most notably pitcher David Wells and shortstop Chase D’Arnaud. Wittgren attended McCutcheon HS in Lafayette, IN before joining Purdue University for a pair of Division I seasons. In 55 games, including 54 trips out of the pen, Wittgren went 5-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 94 K’s in 92 innings. You can follow him on Twitter @N_Witt.
In the 2012 MLB Amateur Entry Draft, the Miami Marlins chose Wittgren in the ninth round. Taken 287th off the board, Wittgren joins a group that places 14 per cent in the major leagues. The group is led by Clint Barmes (2000, Colorado Rockies, 15.6 career WAR), Dave Bergman (1971, Chicago Cubs, 6.7 WAR), and Aaron Altherr (2009, Philadelphia Phillies, 2.5 WAR).
Wittgren worked his way up through the Miami Marlins system over the next five seasons, with stops for the Jamestown Jammers, in the short-season-A New York-Penn League, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, in the single-A South Atlantic League, the Jupiter Hammerheads in the high-A Florida State League, the Jacksonville Suns in the double-A Southern League, and the New Orleans Zephyrs in the triple-A Pacific Coast League. He was considered the number 21 prospect in the Marlins system in the 2016 MLB pipeline.
"Wittgren may not have traditional closer stuff, but everything he throws plays up due to his deceptive delivery and excellent control. The right-hander commands his low-90s fastball to both sides of the plate and has a similar advanced feel for an average curveball. His changeup has come along as he’s moved up the ladder, though it still lags behind his other two offerings. – MLB Pipeline"
2016 would see Wittgren make his major league debut on April 19th, and allow a run without recording an out in a 7-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. His ERA was infinity for three days, but luckily it could only get better. On June 2nd, he pitched three perfect innings, striking out three in a 4-3, 12-inning win against the Pittsburgh Pirates (see below). He struck out the side on June 11th, in a 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Overall, Wittgren’s rookie season would see him go 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA and 42 K’s in 51 2/3 innings, along with a solid 1.161 WHIP. He also played 10 games with the Zephyrs.
Wittgren spent nearly the entire season with the Miami Marlins major league club in 2017, playing in only five games for the New Orleans Baby Cakes. In 38 games, he struck out 43 in 42 1/3 innings with a 1.394 WHIP, a 3-1 record, and a career-worst 4.68 ERA.
Despite splitting the season nearly evenly between the Baby Cakes and the Miami Marlins in 2018, Wittgren posted a team-best 125 ERA+ in his time at the major league level, although he did not meet the minimum innings pitched for the leaderboard. In fact, no player who met the minimum in innings pitched for the team-leaderboard finished with an ERA+ of better than 100, marking all of them as “below average.” By this token, Wittgren, along with fellow non-qualifier Sandy Alcantara, were the only pitchers who finished the season “above average.”
Wittgren’s fastball sits at 92 MPH, and has been there since making his debut. He relies on it for 72 percent of his pitches, also using a slider (15 percent) and a changeup (12 percent) according to the Baseball Cube. 2018 would see him go 2-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 31 whiffs in 33 2/3 innings along with a 1.307 WHIP. A FIP of 3.13 suggests that the numbers weren’t all just smoke and mirrors. Going by WPA, Wittgren’s best game of the season was on May 15th, in a 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wittgren earned his second win of the season, stranding two inherited runners and pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
Wittgren is still under team-control until the 2023 campaign, and will be arbitration eligible prior to the 2020 season. If the Miami Marlins are looking for a dark-horse closer, this is the guy.
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