Player Profiles 2020 – Miami Marlins Starting Pitchers
Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff with be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.
Marlins At A Glance
We often consider the Marlins a team of opportunity. Miami doesn’t get the same spotlight as other teams around the majors, but they do have sneaky good starters who can provide value in the long term as well as occasional streams. Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara could find their grooves this year as the remaining three spots could be granted to a trio of upside plays in Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, and Jordan Yamamoto. There’s a chance Miami acquires a cheap veteran arm in free agency and Hernandez or Yamamoto falls to the wayside early, but keep an eye on them as the year progresses.
Don’t overlook this rotation as we enter the year, even if wins will surely be harder to acquire than with most other teams. There’s sizable growth that can come from any of these arms.
Caleb Smith – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Agency
2019 In Review
Smith began as a lottery ticket for mocks in October 2018 and ballooned to a 17th-20th round upside play by the end of March. At first, it seemed justified; Smith’s first eleven starts returned a staggering 3.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 34% strikeout rate, but it wasn’t meant to last. Smith hit the IL with hip inflammation on June 6th and wasn’t the same the rest of the year, featuring a declining fastball and a lack of feel in his changeup that returned a horrific 2.24 HR/9 and 5.46 ERA.
Fastball (54% usage)
I think I like Smith’s fastball…? It featured a 10%+ swinging-strike rate and limited batters to just a .210 average last season, though there is cause for concern. There was intent to elevate at times, but his command turned pitches that were high out of sequence into longballs frequently, returning 20 gopherballs across 1427 heaters. Ouch.
Meanwhile, the pitch’s velocity dropped a full tick in the second half, possibly a product of his hip injury. Smith will need to command his fastball in the zone better at its average velocity to avoid another homer-heavy season.
Slider (32% usage)
There’s a sense that if Smith were to take a distinguished leap, it would be with his slider. The pitch went from a 6.3 pVal to -1.1 in 2019 despite keeping nearly the same SwStr rate at 15% due to its volatile locations. This is a pitch that should mimic Patrick Corbin’s in sticking below the edge of the zone and nicking the low corners when needed. Instead, it floated up often, allowed 8 longballs and even carried a 40% flyball rate and low 34% groundball rate.
The potential is there to turn this 30% strikeout pitch into a 40%+ offering, though we may not see the light if Smith relies heavily on his slider as a strike-getter and not a deadly weapon to keep batters at bay.
Changeup (15% usage)
It’s a slowball that hints at a money pitch—37% O-Swing, 40% Zone rate, and 16% SwStr—but like his changeup and heater, his feel for the pitch goes in-and-out. Overall, it’s used earlier than you’d want for a whiff heavy offering, holding just an 18% strikeout rate and even returning a high 11% walk rate as he couldn’t execute it effectively when needed.
Like his other two offerings, though, there’s room for growth. The movement and deception are already there, it may be a pitch that turns into a legit force if Smith can sequence it with his heater often and deftly fall under the zone. And, you know, not lose it for an entire second half of a season would be a positive too.
Smith is currently lumped into the group of risky strikeout arms including Robbie Ray, Matt Boyd, Dinelson Lamet, and Chris Archer, and understandably so. There’s plenty of volatility here with his longball, lack of precise gameplan, and the sense even during his successful games that he’s not quite sticking to the gameplan.
It creates a haze that we can’t quite escape. At 28-years-old and 2019’s 153 IP season marking the first true sample size we’ve seen thus far, it’s hard to make out if Smith is destined to be a standard Three-True-Outcomes type of pitcher with homers, strikeouts, and walks (think Michael Pineda of old).
There’s room to grow and unlike the others mention, Smith has three pitches that can each take a step forward in 2020. Drafting him with that expectation is a bit risky, especially when he’s done a poor job of evading the injury bug thus far. The risk is worth taking, but not at a hefty price.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.80 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 25% K rate in 80 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 30% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Caleb Smith 2020 projection:
4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate in 160 IP
Sandy Alcantara – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Squirrel
2019 In Review
For the second season in a row, Alcantara was the decider for many during the final week of fantasy leagues. His 3.88 ERA and 1.32 WHIP weren’t much of needle-pushers, but a 22% strikeout rate across his final eight starts suggested there could be something more in the tank down the road for the 24-year-old. Now with a full 197 IP season under his belt, Alcantara is sure to get attention in this winter as we imagine what could develop in 2020. Is he the 3.88 ERA man or the 5.28 SIERA lying below?
Fastball (57% usage)
Alcantara nearly split his heaters down the middle with four-seamers and sinkers and while both had their shares of success—.239 BAA and 2.8 pVal on four-seamer, .233 BAA and 11.8 pVal for his sinker—the heavy sinker was the clear weapon. Its 32% O-Swing is what you want to see indicating that Alcantara effectively jammed right-handers and got left-handers to chase off the outside edge. Paired with a near 50% zone rate at 95/96, it’s one of the rare sinkers that you can actually approve of. Seeing a 60% groundball rate linked with the pitch creates a path of success if paired with at least one whiff-inducing secondary offering.
His four-seamer…is a bit sporadic. Alcantara doesn’t nail its location often, constantly leaving it in the heart of the plate. He mostly avoided punishment with its 96 mph velocity, but expect a shift to more sinkers while saving heaters to elevate in deeper counts and possibly exclusively focus on elevating inside to both sides of the plate.
Slider (23% usage)
Considering his sinker sits just under a 50% zone rate, Alcantara needs a strong secondary offering as an alternative strike. His slider was featured as such with its 48% zone rate and there’s a chance it could be more. One of the hallmarks of Alcantara’s development has been the development of a true breaking ball (see the lackluster curveball below), though there’s still a bit missing at the moment. Its sub 15% SwStr rate leaves more to be desired, especially when his changeup—like Caleb Smith—isn’t in a position to become a strikeout offering. For those looking to Alcantara to take a firm step forward, it will have to come on the back of his slider’s development and I’m not quite sure he can get there.
Changeup (13% usage)
You may be picking up a common theme with Marlins pitchers—they all have a breaker and a changeup, but have questions when it comes to their consistency to put away batters. Alcantara’s changeup is by definition a money pitch—44% O-Swing, 41% Zone rate, 17% SwStr—but it returned just a 17% strikeout rate. Its low usage rate may be surprising at first, but becomes clearer when understanding its inconsistency. Alcantara simply had it or not, losing confidence through its four longballs in 400 pitches (generally, 1 per 100 thrown is the start of the questionable threshold) that pushed his slider above his slow ball in laborious at-bats.
Keep an eye on Alcantara’s changeup usage and its effectiveness in 2020—if he’s increasing his focus on the pitch, steering himself into RHB slow balls, it could be key for him taking a leap forward.
Curveball (7% usage)
Alcantara barely touched this curveball, using it primarily as a show-me offering and rarely deep in counts. It’s not inherently poor, but it’s not much of a utility to surprise batters. Expect this pitch to either stick around for 0-0 counts or to get pushed out entirely by his slider.
I’m not a huge fan of Alcantara. I’ve often labeled him as “raw” in that his sinker can be a formidable tool to carve lineups on a given day, but we have yet to see him have the feel for it over a lengthy period of time. Meanwhile, his breaker(s) and changeup are currently not the supporting cast needed to transform him into a bonafide starter, though there is a chance he makes a few tweaks to get more out of each offering. Look to his changeup early to see if he’s featuring it more often and executing well.
I have nothing against targeting Alcantara late in your drafts, as long as you’ve reached the point where you’re willing to drop him for other starters out of the gate. Don’t hold tight, it could be rocky through the full year.
Realistic worst case projection: 4.90 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 18% K rate in 120 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 200 IP
Nick’s reluctant Sandy Alcantara 2020 projection:
4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 21% K rate in 180 IP
Pablo Lopez – Likely Starter
2019 In Review
We had high hopes for PabLo after he came out of the gates with a full tick of extra velocity on his fastball and earning a 25% K rate, 1.08 WHIP, and 4.03 ERA through his first seven frames. Then a horrible 10 ER day launched the start of constant turmoil for Lopez, dancing between starts of 0 ER and 7 strikeouts and 6 ER with just a strikeout to salvage. He never quite looked like his exciting self by the end of the season, carrying with him an extended injury stint and a ghastly ERA above the 5.00 mark. There’s work to be done.
Fastball (59% usage)
I really bought into the excitement of PabLo’s increased velocity last March, showcasing not one, but two ticks above 2018’s numbers early in the spring. That 94/95 turned into 93/94 come the season, but 94 mph velocity with solid tail on a four-seamer can still work very well. When his command of the heater worked, he was able to pair it with his changeup with ease and life was bliss. However, it constantly evaded him. Lopez isn’t a pitcher nailing corners, game planning with heat in mind. And while his changeup is a strong offering, it doesn’t work without this fastball laying the groundwork.
Among this four-seamer, was a sinker that did a great job inducing swings out of the zone (37%+ O-Swing!) and I wonder if he’ll use the pitch more often in 2020, raising its usage from the current 18% mark. If it’s closer to 30% with four-seamers acting as more of a high offering late and jammed pitches early, it’ll help setup his other stuff better. For now, he can’t get away with the status quo.
Changeup (22% usage)
The slowball is Lopez’s best offering by far, even if it wasn’t quite always there for him this year. It’s a money pitch—46% O-Swing, 43% Zone rate, 17% SwStr rate—as he could throw it in any count and as a strike-getter or a chase pitch. Just going fastball/changeup could work for Lopez on the days that his curveball isn’t there, which may be often. Look for a higher tick in usage this season and hopefully a push toward the 20% SwStr mark if he’s locating fastballs well to set up the pitch properly.
And let’s say his curveball turns into a strong option he can throw for strikes without fear. You can expect this changeup jumping from a 25% strikeout rate toward 30% and beyond quickly. It’s certainly good enough.
Curveball (19% usage)
Lopez was in a constant tug-of-war with his curveball, feeling the pitch on a given night, then losing all faith as it hung in the zone constantly in the next. While it was ultimately far from detrimental—.210 BAA and just a .687 OPS allowed—he didn’t have a pitch that he could rely on for strikes. Its swing rate dropped six ticks, SwStr down from a strong 16% mark to just 11% last season, and batters elected to resist plenty more with its O-Swing dropping from 34.5% to 27% last season. It was just…not good.
The deuce used to be an asset for Lopez, another weapon to surprise batters on of his strong changeup, but he’ll have to work hard to improve it for 2020. It needs to be plenty better.
2019 was far from the ideal for PabLo, but he has a great opportunity ahead to refine his craft over a sizeable workload. Health permitting, his curveball could turn into a strong third option (please locate it low!), changeups could become a major weapon deep in counts, and it’s possible for a healthy four-seamer/sinker mix to set the foundation.
It wouldn’t be wise to bank on polish arriving sooner rather than later, but don’t rule it out. Watch the outings and see if success is carried by true development of his repertoire.
Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 80 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Pablo Lopez 2020 projection:
4.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 23% K rate in 160 IP
Elieser Hernandez – Likely Starter
Nickname: Mister E.
2019 In Review
With Urena on the IL, Gallen shipped to Arizona, and Straily/Chen firmly out of the rotation, Elieser got his chance in early summer to step into the Marlins rotation and took advantage. Despite a 4.05 ERA, Elieser carried an impressive 29% strikeout rate and 1.05 WHIP through his first five starts, on the back of his slider missing plenty of bats. We all didn’t know what to do with Elieser—was he this good? Can this carry across a larger sample?
After a stint in the bullpen, Hernandez returned to the rotation at the end of July and it wasn’t what we hoped. Ten starts of 4.88 ERA ball with a considerable drop in strikeouts and the magic wore off. Given a full season in the rotation, there’s still hope his slider and possible changeup development can transform him into a back-end option for strikeouts.
Fastball (56% usage)
It’s a four-seamer heavy attack for Elieser, but it’s not one to write home about. The pitch allowed a near .300 BAA last season, failing to record a significant amount of whiffs and was incredibly prone to the longball with 12 allowed in 777 thrown.
It’s easily the weakest part of Hernandez’s game, sitting 91 mph and needing to dance around the zone effectively in order to avoid damage. When it works, though, his secondary stuff is certainly good enough to take advantage.
Slider (33% usage)
In an effort to defuse batters salivating as his heater, Hernandez relies heavily on his slider in the zone (nearly 50% zone rate!) and is remarkably effective despite its constant call for swings. Its .152 BAA is all kinds of impressive and an 18% SwStr in the context of a pitch consistently landing in the zone is fantastic (Z-Contact of just 70% is great). There is a bit of wonder as to its sub 30% O-Swing, hinting at too many overthrown sliders that aren’t tempting enough to induce chases.
Perhaps raising its usage rate while reducing heaters can help with its development and continue its effectiveness. Growth in his changeup as well will only help Hernandez shift the pitch in more of a weapon in two-strike counts.
Changeup (11% usage)
Despite allowing just a .178 average on his changeup this year, there’s a lot to be done with the pitch. Its .125 BABIP is sure not to last with a paltry 6% SwStr rate, while mistakes were punished in the zone with four longballs on just 163 pitches.
It’s far from encouraging and while the pitch did have its moments, Hernandez needs a whole lot of polish with the pitch, as he needs another option to keep batters honest from cheating on heat.
Currently, Elieser’s success is heavily dependent on his fastball not getting crushed and allowing his slider to mop up those still around. There’s a lot to be desired in his changeup, but it’s possible for it to take a step forward as Hernandez gets more experience on the hill.
Don’t grab Elieser in drafts as he could be in for plenty of turmoil early, but there will certainly be opportunities to stream through the year that may turn into longer holds.
Realistic worst case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 20% K rate in 80 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 26% K rate in 170 IP
Nick’s reluctant Elieser Hernandez 2020 projection:
4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 23% K rate in 140 IP
Jordan Yamamoto – Likely Starter
Nickname: Fair Jordan
2019 In Review
Like Hernandez, Yamamoto got his call in June and hit the ground running, allowing just 6 ER across his first six starts. The magic soon faded with his following five starts returning 23 ER and confusing owners heading into 2020. His “kitchen sink” approach can be seen as both a positive and a negative, adding more confusion to the mix. Having a variety of options can be helpful, but what if none of them are elite?
Fastball (50% usage)
Yamamoto’s fastball was his most successful pitch in 2019, a product of his solid command of the pitch and effectively mixing in his secondary options…plus a good amount of luck. Its .188 BABIP is sure to inflate in 2020, especially as it fails to return whiffs nor force poor swings outside the zone.
Sitting at 92 mph, Yamamoto will be relying on his ability to hit the edges and sequence effectively with cutters and sliders to keep batters off the hittable pitch. It’ll be a constant back-and-forth to get that feel (see his extreme success and failure from 2020), though there is a window for improvement if his secondary stuff maintains its growth.
Cutter (18% usage)
This cutter is just what Yamamoto needs. Typically with an fastball sitting in the low 90s, you need another pitch to confidently feature inside the zone, and this cutter does just that. At a 48% Zone rate and .231 BAA, he can turn to it constantly during at-bats, while also getting some poor swings as it hints the 40% O-Swing threshold.
When heaters just aren’t working, you can expect Yamamoto to turn to this pitch frequently as a backup plan. It’s not elite, but without it, Yamamoto has little chance on a given night.
Slider (15% usage)
I’m a bit surprised to see a small 15% usage rate for Yamamoto’s slider as it’s far-and-away his best offering. Across a small 206-pitch sample, the pitch allowed just five hits (.091 BAA!) while inducing an excellent 17% SwStr rate.
There’s still development to be had as it wasn’t quite the consistent strike-getter, nor tempting enough to push the 40% O-Swing we crave for secondary pitches to become putaway offerings, but the opportunity is there. It doesn’t have the upside of Hernandez’s sweeper, but there’s clear room to grow here.
Curveball (14% usage)
I’m not entirely sure why Yamamoto insists on using this breaking ball often. In just 190 thrown last year, the pitch allowed 13 hits—six for extra-bases—while missing bats rarely at just over 8% of the time. It’s often used as a surprise offering in two-strike counts, but the reward isn’t worth the risk as it gets clobbered often.
With his much better slider and cutter, look for this pitch to transition into an 0-0 offering and its 32% zone rate to rise at the expense of surprise strikeouts.
Changeup (3% usage)
Technically Yamamoto does have a slow ball as well, but it’s so rarely used and isn’t anything to consider moving forward. Over time, I wouldn’t be surprised if it disappears completely.
I’m really intrigued by Yamamoto’s cutter, but the heavy reliance on his fastball to squeeze out all of its value in each game is a tough ask. Even if he cuts his mediocre curveball, there may not be enough here to encourage a look in deeper 15-teamer formats, but you do worse with a late-round pick. He’s likely to get his chance at the very least, even if the Marlins do make a signing as spring could surprise us and boot PabLo or Elieser from the rotation.
Realistic worst case projection: 4.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 120 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Jordan Yamamoto 2020 projection:
4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP
Robert Dugger – Fringe
Nickname: The Shovel
With the Marlins rotation hurting at the end of 2019, Dugger found himself starting a fair share of games for the Marlins and surprisingly produced across a four-start stretch for owners that were willing to but in against a trio of good matchups.
Dugger gets by with a pair of fastballs that bore inside to right-handers and fade from lefties and mixes in a slider that is good-but-not-great. His curveball is there as a surprise offering, but has a touch of potential if he removes its terrible and wasted variants.
Expect to see some Dugger this year as the first-option available out of the gate (save for a FA signing), but outside of a delectable streaming matchup, he’s not someone to consider.
Jose Urena – Fringe
Nickname: The New U In Blue
Rick Graham wrote an excellent piece today on the Marlins’ bullpen, highlighting Urena as the likely closer to enter the year. I’d imagine with the young options inside the Marlins’ system plus the possible add of a veteran arm, Urena stays put in the pen.
And honestly, that’s likely for the best. Urena was never expected to be more than a volume 4.30 ERA arm who could have moments when he’s spotting heaters off the inside corner to right-handers and mixing in sliders that could induce whiffs. There was never enough there to preach a redraft pick on him as a starter, but as the closer? That could work.
Sixto Sanchez – Fringe
This could be the year that we see Six-Toes Sanchez reach the majors with Triple-A likely in his sights to begin the season. Andy Patton took a look at Sanchez in his Marlins’ Prospects piece (it’s Marlins week!) and did a great job highlighting the potential heavy heater with two great secondary pitches. It’s what you’re looking for when considering a prospect in redraft leagues, but you’ll have to be patient. The Marlins are unlikely to promote Sanchez until they are confident the Super-Two has passed, which likely means late June/July as the earliest. Keep in mind, this could eat into the inning potentials of one of the young arms, though it’s often rare for a team to feature the same five starters through the entire first half in the first place.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)