The Miami Marlins are Redefining “Pitching Staff”

Nine games into the 2020 season, the Miami Marlins have already deployed 27 pitchers.

None of the 27 have pitched more than nine innings, which would be the minimum requirement to appear on the National League leaderboard. In fact, the Miami Marlins opening day starter, Sandy Alcantara, leads the staff with 6 2/3 innings pitched. He’s been sidelined with coronavirus since the Marlins resumed play this past Tuesday.

Digging through the box scores through the first few games of the campaign, I found out the Miami Marlins use between four and seven pitchers per contest, with five as the mean, the average, and the median.

Only four players have as many as five innings pitched, and two of those players, Brandon Kintzler and Stephen Tarpley, have those innings spread out over five or four games, respectively. In today’s game against the New York Mets, Pablo Lopez will be the first “starter” with a second start.

How Don Mattingly and the Miami Marlins have deployed their pitchers through the first little bit of the season has been an eye-opener. No team in Major League Baseball history has ever started nine different pitchers through their first nine games of the season, and the lines between “starter,” “reliever,” and “specialist” have never been blurrier.

Miami Marlins

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JULY 16: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

The big takeaway from the Marlins experiment here is that it’s working. Most of the pitchers are outplaying projections. That’s taking into account that a lot of these pitchers didn’t even have projections coming into this season.

As a unit, Miami Marlins pitching has surrendered 58 hits and 33 walks through 75 innings, a solid 1.213 WHIP. They’ve also held the opposition to a National League third-best 3.60 ERA, and struck out 66 for a 7.92 K/9.

In seven of nine games thus far, the pitcher didn’t reach the five-innings pitched plateau, and so didn’t qualify for a winning decision. The win-loss stat has long been falling out of vogue, and now it means even less when it’s applied to a team’s stable of starters, especially, it seems, these Miami Marlins.

With Lopez’ start today, it will be interesting to see how long they let him pitch. In his first start, against the Philadelphia Phillies before the team quarantine was put into effect, he struck out seven and surrendered two hits, zero walks, and zero runs over five innings of work. If he can replicate those results against the Mets, it will be difficult to endorse pulling him before five innings have passed.

On the other hand, could Lopez do well to continue longer than five? Even as many as seven? Lopez’ stuff holds up surprisingly well even as late as running through the opposing batting order for a third time. He gives up a .253 batting average the first time through, a .269 clip the second time, and just .232 the third time.

Never mind all that though, it’s far likelier that Lopez pitches somewhere between three and six innings and the Marlins employ four or five pitchers to get through these Mets to try and take their third straight series to open the 2020 season. Thanks for reading.