Teams have learned time and time again that in order to be successful you need a lot of solid, consistent pitching. This especially becomes true once October rolls around. Oh and of course, the younger the better.
There are some teams don’t follow the “younger the better” philosophy. Just look at all the money teams like the Yankees and Mets have spent in recent years on old talent. And how many championships (or even World Series appearances) have they won recently? Exactly.
Now that’s not saying that having a veteran presence in your rotation isn’t a good thing, because it is. But on the same hand when you are relying on numerous pitchers in their late-30’s to early-40’s, you are eventually going to get burned when they break down in July and you are left scrambling to fill their slot. I also understand the other side of the coin that when you rely too heavily on young and inexperienced pitching, that can come back to bite you too.
In 2008 the Florida Marlins surprised everyone by finishing with a 84-77 record and sticking in the NL East playoff race for the majority of the season. Their offense showed a lot of power and run production with their centerpiece, Hanley Ramirez, posting yet another MVP caliber season. But the biggest surprise was the Marlins young rotation that seemed to come together perfectly. They are young, they are talented and they still have a ton of potential. Take a look below at how the five men who will fill out the 2009 rotation fared last season:
+----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | PLAYER | AGE | IP | W-L | ERA | ERA+ | SO | WHIP | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | Ricky Nolasco | 26 | 212.3 | 15-8 | 3.52 | 121 | 186 | 1.10 | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | Josh Johnson | 25 | 87.3 | 7-1 | 3.61 | 118 | 77 | 1.35 | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | Chris Volstad | 22 | 84.3 | 6-4 | 2.88 | 148 | 52 | 1.33 | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | Anibal Sanchez | 24 | 51.7 | 2-5 | 5.57 | 76 | 50 | 1.57 | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+ | Andrew Miller | 23 | 107.3 | 6-10 | 5.87 | 72 | 89 | 1.64 | +----------------+-----+-------+-------+------+------+-----+------+
As you can see, the first three did an incredible job last season all posting well above league average in ERA+. The scary thing is none of them appear to have reached their peaks yet. The bottom half of the rotation didn’t fare as well, but if you look at their ages and their experience (especially Miller) you can cut them some slack. Miller has all the tools as a former top prospect both in Detroit and Florida and Sanchez had an incredible rookie season in 2006.
The problem is that not too many people know these names. As good as they are, they don’t get national attention. Do you remember ESPN or Fox having any of their games broadcast nationally last year? Neither do I because it didn’t happen (I highly recommend checking them out as much as possible if you have MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV as you won’t be disappointed). So for those of you not familiar with the names or if you want to learn a little more about their make-up and scouting report, let’s take a detailed look at each and why this rotation is going to make a huge difference in the NL East race.
Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Nolasco has always had the label “impressive upside” attached to him and it seemed to finally blossom in 2008. After missing most of 2007 with elbow inflammation, he bounced back in a major way and has adopted the “ace” label for the staff. Nolasco has a power arm that comes out of a 3/4 arm slot which is all packaged with a very laborious delivery. His rough delivery ends with a stiff front leg and recoils with a high arm finish. His repertoire includes two plus pitches, a fastball (91-94 mph) with good life attached to it and a knee-buckling plus slurve that kills hitters. He also mixes in a decent changeup and a cutter to the mix as a third and fourth pitch. The big knock on him in the past was due to his strenuous delivery, he at times was inclined to fly open upon his follow through and lose his release point. He looks to have spearheaded this issue as watching him last season he appeared to have worked out the kinks. The only other thing is he is a flyball pitcher who gives up a few too many home runs. Either way Nolasco is extremely competitive and is one of the best young pitchers in the game today.
Josh Johnson, RHP
Johnson is the other ace of the group who is a tall power pitcher who is very imposing on the mound with his 6-7 frame. He has a very smooth, sound delivery and takes advantage of his stature by producing a fantastic downhill angle to the plate which gives the appearance that the pitch is coming down on the hitter. His pitch arsenal includes both a two and four-seam fastball (sitting between 92-96 mph) which is lively both up and down in the strike zone. Johnson does a great job pitching inside on hitters which helps open up the strike zone for him where many pitchers are affraid to go. His secondary (strikeout) pitch is a power slider that he is able to change the break on depending on if he is facing a lefty or a righty and keeps hitters honest. Also adds a decent changeup as a third pitch. Johnson looks to have completely recovered from his Tommy John surgery he had two years ago and looks to be the second ace for Florida.
Chris Volstad, RHP
Volstad is a tall, lanky righty with a very smooth and repeatable delivery. His claim to fame is the minuet number of homers he gives up every year. He has always been a fantastic groundball pitcher thanks to his best pitch which is a plus hard sinking fastball that drops off the table to hitters. Volstad also has a plus curve that he baffles hitters with and a very strong changeup which helps keep hitters on their toes when looking for the sinking fastball. He has very good make-up on the mound with great control of his pitches. One thing that Volstad has been working on for a while is that he needs to find a way to finish hitters off better as he tends to struggle with this. Due to this he has never been a strikeout pitcher but when you keep the ball on the ground, it ends up evening things out. Volstad has had the label of “front line starter” attached to him for a while now so it is nice that he is able to settle in to the middle of the rotation and not worry about being the man right now in Florida as he gets ready for his first full season in the bigs.
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Sanchez had a fantastic rookie season in 2006, missed most of the season in 2007 due to a torn labrum and tried to put things back together in 2008. 2009 should hopefully be Sanchez’s bounce back season now that he’s fully recovered from his injury. His smooth, 3/4 delivery will certainly help with that as it is a nice fluid delivery which doesn’t cause a lot of unnecessary stress on his body. His repertoire includes a two and four-seam fastball which sit in the neighborhood of 90-95 mph with good life up and down in the zone and can be placed on both sides of the plate. He does a great job intimidating hitters with these as he isn’t affraid to come inside and back hitters off the plate. With hitters looking for his explosive fastball, he is able to trick them with his changeup which looks just like his fastball coming out of his hand. The only troubles he has is that he can open up too quickly during his delivery which can cause his fastball to loose control. If he can stay closed he is a very good strikeout pitcher and can begin working back to his 2006 form.
Andrew Miller, LHP
Andrew Miller looked to be the best pitcher to come out of the 2006 draft which was filled with quality pitchers. But due to injuries and significant mechanical issues he has yet to live up to his projections. Part of Miller’s problem is his inconsistent, long 3/4 delivery in which he throws too much across his body. Because he doesn’t have a repeatable delivery and tends to loose control of the strike zone which ends up driving up his pitch count. His pitches include a fastball (88-95 mph) with late movement, an above average sharp breaking curveball and an average sinking change-up. For Miller to become a more effective pitcher, he will need to work on developing a more consistent and fluid delivery. This is important for any pitcher to have but even more so for a pitcher like Miller who tends to lose control of his accuracy. Remember he’s still only 23 so there is plenty of time to right the ship but the longer it takes to fix, the harder it will be.
Quite an impressive rotation, but let’s not forget their new closer.
Matt Lindstrom, RHP
The Marlins traded their former closer Kevin Gregg to the Cubs without any worries knowing full well what they had waiting in the wings. Matt Lindstrom (who turns 29 in a few days) has a cannon-loaded arm and has just the make-up you would want in your closer. He has a nice clean delivery which helps him keep control of the strike zone. His best pitch is without question his nuclear fastball that sits between 95-99 mph and will at times hit 100 mph on the radar. It gets on hitters in a hurry with a late explosion that seems have a life of its own as it approaches the plate. He utilizes it best when the blows it by hitters up in the zone where they have little chance to catch up to it. But when hitters are looking fastball, he frustrates them by throwing a hard, slanted slider that sits around 86 mph and darts away from righties. Also mixes in an occasional changeup for good measure. Now that he is the man to shut the door on opponents, he needs to make sure to keep his pitch selection in check and not get too revved up and let his fastball get away from him. He’s a fantastic choice to take over this role and he should be just what the Marlins need close games out.
I’ve stated a few times this winter how the Marlins are my big surprise pick for 2009 and it is in large part due to this rotation. In fact I’d like to go on record right now stating that they are my pick to win the National League and make their triumphant return to the World Series.
Think I’m nuts? The Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997 when they weren’t supposed to. Then six years later in 2003 they won it again when they weren’t supposed to. Well guess how many years it’s been since they won it in 2003?
You guessed it. They are due.
By Matthew Whipps
“The Diamond Cutter“
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist