The Miami Marlins bullpen compiled a team ERA of 4.97 and a WHIP of 1.45 last season, and while those numbers are unappealing, the group still ranked as the 25th-best bullpen in baseball. The Marlins also ranked fourth-to-last in save opportunities while only converting on 55% of their 49 chances. No one on the current roster had more than eight saves and holds combined last season, so the team may look to bring in some cheap outside closing experience. There has been some buzz around a potential Sergio Romo reunion, but the market for him should be a lot stronger this offseason.
Once-hyped relievers Adam Conley and Tayron Guerrero find themselves on the outside looking in heading into 2020, as both are potential non-tender candidates. The biggest impact on this bullpen may well come from a member of the starting rotation entering the late-inning mix, maybe someone like Elieser Hernandez, whose stuff would certainly play up as a short reliever. As far as who will be the team’s Opening Day closer, it seems like many options are on the table, but assuming the pieces stay the same, this is a bullpen to fade in most 2020 fantasy drafts.
|Jose Urena||Drew Steckenrider||Ryne Stanek||Jeff Brigham||Jarlin Garcia||Austin Brice|
Closer – Jose Urena
The Marlins’ “incumbent” closer, Jose Urena could just as easily find himself in the rotation or with a new team by the start of next season, but with a lack of alternatives, it makes sense for the team to take a longer look at him in the bullpen. Urena came off a long IL stint in September, and while he didn’t exactly prove to be closer material in his short stint, his stuff makes him worthy of a longer look. In 10 relief innings over the season’s final month, Urena allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits, blowing two out of five save opportunities in the process. Yet there were some positives, as he was able to get his fastball velocity to sit around 98 mph in the role, and his 16.4% swinging-strike rate in September is above-average as far as closers go.
Urena’s problems may lie in his consistent attacking of the strike zone despite having stuff that gets hitters to chase, as shown by his 41.7% O-swing in September, which ranked 13th-highest amongst 200 qualified relievers. No one will argue against his stuff, and with a little bit of tweaking to his approach, Urena could surprise us all as a Jordan Hicks-lite reliever. That would certainly be worth the arbitration cost, especially considering the potential trade value he could bring the team down the road.
Setup – Drew Steckenrider
2019 was a lost year for Drew Steckenrider, who this past winter was considered the favorite for the closer role before losing out to Romo. Steckenrider was only able to manage 14.1 innings this past season due to an elbow injury, seeing a career-low K% (24.1%) and a career-high ERA (6.28) to go with an ugly 7.96 FIP. Despite this, Steckenrider’s still worthy of a bullpen spot to start 2020, assuming he’s healthy.
Although the small sample size may be a bit deceiving, it was interesting to see Steckenrider’s fastball usage drop 14 percentage points from 2018, and he also completely scrapped his cutter, which he threw just under 16% of the time that season. The extra 30+ percentage points were added to his slider usage, which at 38% was far and away a career high and may be related to his elbow issues. That pitch, however, was very effective for Steckenrider in 2019, as he had a 50% K rate with it and just a .357 OPS against over 90 sliders thrown. Steckenrider will be 29 to start next season, and it’s fair to wonder if he will ever hint at his 2017 upside ever again. But given the alternatives in Miami, look for him to begin the year in a high-leverage role.
Setup – Ryne Stanek
After being dealt to Miami at the trade deadline along with Jesus Sanchez for Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards, Ryne Stanek was believed to be the Marlins’ answer to their closer opening, but things just didn’t quite go as planned. Stanek possesses the best pure stuff of anyone in that bullpen, but command issues, potentially related to lingering injuries, plagued him mightily over the second half of last season. Stanek’s K:BB ratio was 54:19 over 49.2 first-half innings, which dropped drastically to 35:20 over his 27.1 second-half innings.
With a full offseason to focus on working late in games, not just the first inning, Stanek and his strong three-pitch mix—a 98+ mph fastball, 50+% K-rate splitter, and 40+% whiff-rate slider—could very well find themselves in the ninth inning of games, or at the very least, setting up whomever closes.
Middle – Jeff Brigham
Despite cruising to the tune of a 1.50 ERA and 0.71 WHIP through 24 innings at Triple-A, Jeff Brigham pitched 38.1 MLB innings that looked pedestrian, at least on paper. While Brigham’s 4.46 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 15.5 K-BB% aren’t anything to get excited about, he was able to add some velocity this season, as his fastball sat around 97 mph and his slider was nearly unhittable with a .173 wOBA against over 430 thrown. Overall, 2019 was a step forward for the soon-to-be 28-year-old, and following his great September (1.69 ERA), I’d expect Brigham not only to be a lock for the Marlins bullpen but also a candidate for saves early in the season.
Middle – Jarlin Garcia
Entering 2019, I doubt anyone would have pegged Jarlin Garcia as the man to lead the Marlins in ERA and WHIP for the season, but here we are. Garcia’s 3.02 ERA and 1.11 WHIP came with very little strikeout support, as the lefty finished with just an 18.9 K% and 8.8% swinging-strike rate. Typically called upon to get lefties out, Garcia happened to have slightly better splits against right-handed hitters, due to an above-average changeup, making him more than just a lefty specialist. While there’s not a lot to get excited about here, Garcia should be back in the Marlins bullpen to start 2020, and if all things break right, he may end up being a solid holds option.
Middle – Austin Brice
Austin Brice, who along with Luis Castillo was part of the Marlins’ trade package to land Dan Straily in 2017 (insert facepalm emoji here), found himself back in the Miami organization this past season and seemed to be turning a corner until a forearm strain derailed his second half. So let’s focus on the first half then, where Brice was able to post a 1.93 ERA over his first 37.1 innings after finishing the 2017 and 2018 seasons with 4.97 and 5.79 ERAs, respectively.
A big contributor to his success in 2019 was the use of his slider (or curveball, depending on who you ask), which saw a usage increase of 15 percentage points. Before his forearm injury, the spin rate on this pitch ranked 14th in all of baseball, right between stud SPs Walker Buehler and Gerrit Cole, and was in the top 4 percent in baseball. This sounds like the making of a potential closer, but his fastball/curveball combination was much more effective against right-handed hitters, as lefties were able to post a .786 OPS against him across 82 batters faced. There’s still a lot to like about Brice, especially as a right-handed specialist, but if he’s able to improve upon his fastball command and/or maybe he adds some more velocity, he may be the answer to the Marlins’ search for a closer.
Kyle Keller, Jose Quijada, Jorge Guzman, Jordan Holloway
Kyle Keller only saw 10 games last year at the MLB level, the first of his career, but he has shown an ability to strike people out at the minor league level, having K rates of over 30% since 2016. He, along with lefty Jose Quijada, figures to see some action in the Marlins bullpen early on in 2020. Quijada needs to work on improving his breaking stuff to be more productive against left-handed hitters, but a 14.4% swinging-strike rate over his first 29.1 MLB innings makes the 23-year-old worth monitoring.
Two prospects, both of whom are already on the Marlins’ 40-man roster, could also find themselves working out of the bullpen next season. Jorge Guzman has an electric fastball (80-grade by MLB.com), but concerns about his command and secondary offerings have some scouts believing a move to the bullpen may be for the best. Drafted in 2014, Jordan Holloway has suffered injuries that have prevented him from reaching Double-A to this point, but the big right-hander has two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball. But like Guzman, Holloway has had trouble commanding them for prolonged periods. With plenty of depth in the rotation, don’t be surprised to see Holloway and Guzman get a chance to crack the Marlins bullpen this spring.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)