“Innings Management” is key in handling Marlins starting pitchers
Starting pitching is the strength of the Miami Marlins organization. Still, there are plenty of questions in how the organization is going to map out innings for a talented, but mostly inexperienced group of starters
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
Remember this term. Repeat several times in your head. Put it into memory. Bold face it: Innings Management. Italicize it: Innings Management. Now, repeat it after me, one more time: Innings Management.
Got it? Good.
Innings Management is the key to the Miami Marlins season. It’s the most important task of the organization — the front office and coaching staff. We’re talking specifically with the starting pitchers, because that position is crucial not only for the Marlins having a successful 2021 season, but also for the club’s primary goal: to achieve sustainable success.
Make no mistake, the Marlins have some very talented starting pitchers. In terms of “stuff,” the Marlins’ rotation stacks up with pretty much everybody.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has done a tremendous job in developing and getting the most out of all the pitchers in camp. Much of the credit we’ve seen in the improvements of Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, and this spring, Trevor Rogers, is tied to how Stottlemyre has handled the young, promising staff.
MO2’s concern isn’t the pitchers the Marlins have on staff, or their abilities, it is in how will they be able to handle the workload of a 162-game season, and perhaps the playoffs to follow?
The wear and tear of the season takes its toll, and rotation depth is needed.
The innings management issue makes Sandy Alcantara the single most important player on the team. The 25-year-old is the ace of the staff, and he’s also the starter who has shown he can hold up for an entire season. He’s already come close to throwing 200 innings. The rangy right-hander logged 197 1/3 in 2019, the year he made the All-Star Game.
In Spring Training, Alcantara threw 20 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, and he had 42 innings, plus playoffs in 2020. He’s ready.
But no one else on the roster has thrown as many as 150 innings in an MLB regular season. For that matter, not even 120. The closest is Pablo Lopez, Miami’s No. 2 starter threw a personal high 111 1/3 innings in 2019. A year ago, the right-hander had a team-high 57 1/3 innings. He’s also dealt with shoulder issues in the past.
Elieser Hernandez, the projected No. 3 starter, posted 25 2/3 innings in 2020, and his MLB high is 82 1/3 innings.
Rogers, one of the top stories in Spring Training, is an imposing left-hander who has 28 MLB innings under his belt. The hard-throwing 6-foot-5 southpaw, threw 19 innings in Grapefruit League games. Rogers was terrific in Spring Training, but he has yet to show he’s ready for 120-150 innings in the big leagues. How far does the organization want to push the 23-year-old?
Sixto Sanchez, who perhaps has the most electrifying stuff of the group, will start the season off at the alternate training site in Jacksonville.
Sanchez got a late start in Spring Training, after he dealt with a visa issue arriving. And once in camp, he had a false positive COVID-19 test. The delays resulted in him making his Grapefruit League debut on March 15, and he threw just eight innings on main fields.
The decision to start him off in the Minor Leagues allows the club time to build him up, with the expectation that he will have his innings controlled so he will be available late in the season.
If everything falls into place, and everyone stays healthy and on track, the Marlins have a formidable starting five.
But the reality is, teams typically need at least 10 total options to make it through an entire season.
Last year, in a 60-game MLB season, the Marlins used 13 different starters. Now, due to the pandemic, the Marlins played their share of doubleheaders.
With COVID-19 protocols still in place, there’s certainly a chance for at least some doubleheaders this year. In 2019, the Marlins used 10 different starters, their fewest in the past five years. They went through 13 in 2018, 12 in 2017 and 13 in 2016.
This is why Gio Gonzalez’s retirement should not be taken lightly. The veteran lefty had a forgetful final Grapefruit League game, giving up seven earned runs in one-third of an inning. Had he performed and stayed, he is a veteran who could provide valuable innings if their is a rotation opening.
Gonzalez’s departure also means eight total Spring Training projectable starting pitchers saw at least some action in Grapefruit League games. Nick Neidert and Daniel Castano each can either start or be used as long relievers.
Lefty prospect Braxton Garrett threw four innings before being sent down to the Minors. The reviews MO2 heard from evaluators are mixed on how Garrett performed.
Before finalizing their Opening Day roster, the Marlins could be exploring trade options for starting candidates. Or they can check the market for potential starters who were let go from other camps.
Aside from Alcantara, Lopez and Hernandez, the Marlins will do some sort of innings management with the rest of their starting pitching candidates.
Max Meyer, the club’s No. 3 prospect, was in big league camp, but never saw action in a Grapefruit League game. While he has a promising future, is he a realistic rotation option in 2021? Edward Cabrera, their No. 5 prospect, is dealing with ailments to his throwing arm, and it’s questionable if he will be available. Cabrera has tremendous upside, and will not be rushed in any way.
Jordan Holloway has started, but he’s also a bullpen candidate.
Rule 5 pick, Paul Campbell, who is making the club, has been in the bullpen mix. But Campbell has starting experience in the Minor League. In his Minor League career, he has 49 total games, with 33 starts. So, Campbell could be a multi-innings candidate, and potential starting choice.
To guard against rushing prospects or risking overusing some of their top starters, the Marlins may have to make a move for additional rotation depth. One more deal could go a long way in assisting their innings management.