Second Time Around: Who Leads the Miami Marlins Rotation?

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 31: Sandy Alcantara #22 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Marlins Park on March 31, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - MARCH 31: Sandy Alcantara #22 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Marlins Park on March 31, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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Ten games into the 2019 campaign, and the Miami Marlins sit at 3-7. They’re projected to win somewhere between 60 and 70 games this season.

The Miami Marlins starters, in order comprised of José Ureña, Trevor Richards, Pablo López, Sandy Alcántara, and Caleb Smith, have now started twice each. How do they stack up against one another on these pretty small sample sizes. We’ll start with who’s doing the best. The first metric, Wins Probability Added, measures success and failure relative to game situation, and measures a player’s effectiveness at impacting the outcome of a game. The second metric, GameScore, is closely tied to getting deep into the game, strikeouts over walks, and keeping the opponent off the board. I’m ordering by GameScore.

Sandy Alcántara .323 WPA GS 60.5

Alcántara’s second start was marked by a total loss of control, resulting in five walks over four innings of work. He only allowed two runs on four hits, but struck out zero. His efforts resulted in a GameScore of 40, which ranks sixth over his eight career starts. The Marlins dropped that one by a 4-2 final to the Atlanta Braves.

Miami Marlins
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 06: Sandy Alcantara #22 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust on April 06, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

Alcántara still ranks first based on his first start of the season, a six strikeout eight inning shutout in which he walked zero and surrendered only four hits. His resultant 80 GameScore in that one is the best of his career to this point, and weighed heavily into Miami’s second victory of the season, a 3-0 win against the Colorado Rockies.

Alcántara’s fastball is up almost three miles per hour over last seasons’ offerings, per Statcast, from 93.1 to 95.8, and he relies on a pretty balanced five pitch mix, with the fastball about a third of the time, and his curve, sinker, changeup, and slider between 18 and 15 percent of the time each, respectively.

Trevor Richards -.030 WPA GS 58

The Miami Marlins lost both of Richards starts so far. His first start resulted in a 62 GameScore and a Quality Start. He struck out four and allowed only one run on four hits, walking two to take no decision in an eventual 6-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies. It was the 10th best outing of his now-27 start career.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – APRIL 03: Trevor Richards #36 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on April 3, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Richards second start, Miami’s series closing 6-4 loss to the New York Mets, would see him post a 54 GameScore, his 14th best mark. He again earned a “Quality Start,” allowing three earned runs over six innings of work while surrendering five hits and two walks. He also struck out seven. Richards is the only member of the rotation with Quality Starts in each turn so far.

Richards relies on his plus-plus changeup as often as he does his four-seamer, about 38 percent each. He also now has a slider and a nascent curveball. While relying on his vaunted changeup, he allows opponents a .138 average, and induces a 34.3 percent chase rate on pitches out of the zone.

Caleb Smith .054 WPA GS 57.5

Smith’s first start in over nine months would see him strike out eight over five innings, while allowing two runs on four hits and one walk. The effort resulted in a 58 GameScore, although the Miami Marlins lost the contest, 7-3 to the Mets.

Miami Marlins
ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 7: Caleb Smith #31 of the Miami Marlins throws a first inning pitch against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on April 7, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Last night, Smith racked up his first Quality Start of the season, striking out seven in six innings. He gave up three runs on four hits and two walks, finishing with a 57 GameScore.

Smith uses his fastball just under 50 percent of the time, and also has a hard breaking slider and a decent changeup. Most of his pitches are unchanged from last season, but he’s added about three MPH to his slider. He’s struck out 40 percent this season, and when his opponents do make contact, they’re tracking an 84.8 MPH exit velocity on average.

Smith’s two starts rank as his eighth and ninth best efforts of his 16 start major league career, right in the middle. This guy could go either way, so stay tuned.

Pablo López  -.269 WPA GS 47

López’ career now has seen him start 12 times, and his two starts this season rank as his sixth and ninth best affairs, by GameScore. He turned in a 53 in his first, a 7-3 victory against the Rockies, and a 41 in the second, a 4-0 loss to the Braves.

Miami Marlins
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 05: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on April 05, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

López has struck out 12 over 10 1/3 innings, but hasn’t broken 5 1/3 innings of work yet, or 89 pitches. He’s given up seven earned runs over that time for a 6.10 ERA, although his 3.72 FIP hints that his primary metrics are skewed. We can expect better from him. López has only issued one free pass over that time.

López relies on a four-pitch mix, with a decent four-seamer, a sinker, a changeup, and a hard-breaking curveball. On the advanced metric side, opponents are making contact on just 48.1 percent of chased pitches out of the zone, an improvement from last season’s 60.6 percent rate. This improvement is likely tied directly to his increased K rate, but it’s still a small sample size.

José Ureña -.655 WPA GS 28

Ureña’s two starts resulted in GameScores of 25 and 31, respectively. These rank as his 79th and 73rd best starts of his career, out of 82, again respectively.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FLORIDA – APRIL 02: Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins reacts after giving up a run in the first inning against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on April 02, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Like López, Ureña’s FIP is much lower than his ERA, even more significantly even. He’s sporting a 10.38 ERA to a FIP of just 3.75. Still, he’s allowed 16 hits and a pair of walks in just 8 2/3 innings, for a 2.077 WHIP.

Ureña uses his sinker-ball over half of the time, and mixes in about 30 percent sliders with a smattering of changeups and curveballs. Opponent’s exit velocity ranks near the bottom of MLB this season, at 94.8 MPH.

Could we be in for a repeat of last season with Ureña? He lost seven times before he turned in his first victory in 2018. Hopefully, he can pull it together. He’s the next man up, against Derek Dietrich and the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday at 6:40 PM.

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