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The Marlins Have One of the Best Rotations in Baseball. They Just Can’t Use It Right Now.

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about Marlins righthander Max Meyer, an electrifying arm whose debut campaign two years ago was cut short by Tommy John surgery. I had been a big fan of Meyer’s game dating back to his days at the University of Minnesota, but in the pros he’d stumbled into a situation that’s fascinated me for years: the Marlins’ starting rotation.

The Marlins are a weird organization, battling from the bottom up against a tightfisted owner. They’ve seen off numerous well-regarded figures in both front office and field management — Michael Hill, Don Mattingly, and most recently Kim Ng — and from a cultural perspective they’ve vacillated between Florida’s two great cultural signifiers: the blue blazer and the pink flamingo.

But by God, they’ve tried stuff. And sometimes, they’ve been successful. Over the past five seasons, they have more playoff appearances and more postseason series wins than the Mets, Giants, Cubs, or Mariners. Most of all, they’ve been good at developing pitching.

And it’s not like they’re just getting lucky; the Marlins have had to contend with Meyer’s Tommy John-enforced sabbatical, plus Trevor Rogers and Sixto Sánchez falling off after a year. The crown jewel of the system, Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, is currently recovering from a torn UCL as well. Nevertheless, with Meyer back in the fold the Marlins had not only quality but depth. Especially if Rogers, who had to write off everything since mid-2022 because of back, lat, and biceps injuries, is capable of contributing. Here’s what I wrote in the article that ran March 6:

“…the Marlins have Jesús Luzardo, Eury Pérez, and (presuming his shoulder soreness isn’t terminal) Braxton Garrett at the top of their rotation. I’m skeptical of the A.J. Puk-return-to-the-rotation experiment, but if [Rogers] can pitch anything like he did in his dominant rookie year, or Edward Cabrera can lower his walk rate from abominable to merely problematic, that’s a rotation you can win with.”

Let’s start with the good news. Luzardo is just chugging along as usual. I’ve been burned by Puk too many times to get too excited about 8 1/3 spring training innings, but he’s yet to allow a run in Grapefruit League play since moving to the rotation.

And that’s about it. Garrett, who showed up to camp with a sore shoulder, has only just started throwing batting practice. He’s not going to make it back for Opening Day. Cabrera got pulled from a start with shoulder tightness, which was diagnosed as an “impingement” after an MRI. He’s also likely to start the season on the IL.

But the big one — literally — is the 6-foot-8 Pérez, who has best-pitcher-in-baseball potential. As a 20-year-old rookie last year, he pitched only 91 1/3 innings; the Marlins demoted Pérez for a month to lessen his workload. He then suffered SI joint inflammation late in the season, which caused him to miss the last week of September, as well as Miami’s brief postseason run.

If the lanky youngster had pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, he would’ve been seventh in both ERA and K%. As a 20-year-old.

Pitchers that age are delicate, especially when they have long levers and 98 mph fastballs. I don’t think anyone expected Pérez to throw 200 innings this year, but even acknowledging that reality, expectations for Pérez were high coming into the season. Certainly having another half-season of a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm could make Miami’s 2024 campaign.

Or not having him, as the case may be. Pérez left his start last week with discomfort stemming from a broken fingernail. That’s not a huge deal; pitching is about as hard on your fingers as bare-knuckle boxing while playing a 12-string guitar. Blisters, busted calluses, and broken nails are pretty routine. But the next day, Pérez reported that his elbow was sore, and while there’s no further news as of yet, it looks like he’ll start the season on the IL as well.

It’s been an absolutely brutal spring for starting pitcher injuries, both minor and major: Gerrit Cole, Kyle Bradish, John Means, Justin Verlander, Sonny Gray. Holdover injuries from 2022 like Alcantara, Jacob deGrom, Andrew Painter, and almost the entire Tampa Bay rotation — it feels like a new exciting pitcher suffers a new and frustrating injury every other day.

Pérez going down — especially after all the discourse around his workload last year — reminded me of a scene from early in Saving Private Ryan. Giovanni Ribisi’s Wade is patching up a wounded soldier on Omaha Beach, having been unable to save several others before. And just as he shouts, “I got it! We stopped the bleeding!” the GI he’s working on gets shot in the head. Wade, frustrated to the point of incoherence, starts to stand up as he yells, “[EXPLETIVE]! Just give us a [EXPLETIVE] chance, you son of a [EXPLETIVE]!”

Maybe that’s a little melodramatic. It’s elbow discomfort, after all, not the existential struggle against global fascism.

But surely the Marlins must be feeling a similar sense of helpless irritation. Because they still have a playoff-quality rotation — it’s just mostly going to start the season on the injured list. Here are the projections for the Marlins’ current projected rotation. (I added both Meyer and Yonny Chirinos, in case you’d like to choose your own adventure.)

ZiPS Projections, Current Marlins Starters

NameK%BB%ERAFIPWAR
Jesús Luzardo26.9%8.3%3.883.852.7
Trevor Rogers23.5%7.8%4.063.911.7
Ryan Weathers18.0%9.0%4.764.621.2
A.J. Puk30.6%7.3%3.723.570.8
Yonny Chirinos13.8%7.0%4.894.940.5
Max Meyer21.9%9.9%4.254.251.0

There is some reason for optimism here beyond the projections. Meyer, Rogers, and Puk have all shown incredible flashes of talent, even if their track record in a major league rotation is minimal. And the last time Chirinos was healthy for a full season, he was great. Sure, it was way back in 2019, but still. And Weathers has reincorporated a sinker into his repertoire this spring. The last time he threw a sinker regularly was back in his rookie year, 2021, and while he got kicked around pretty bad (5.32 ERA), he got kicked around even worse in 2022 and 2023. Moreover, Weathers is throwing harder now, with a new breaking ball, a slower sweeper compared to his mid-to-upper-80s slider. And he’s been pretty effective this spring.

Still, take even the best-case scenario for that crop of pitchers, and compare it to these names.

ZiPS Projections, Injured Marlins Starters

NameK%BB%ERAFIPWAR
Sandy Alcantara22.0%5.8%3.533.564.0
Eury Pérez26.9%8.0%3.633.712.6
Braxton Garrett21.3%6.6%4.024.101.9
Edward Cabrera24.1%11.0%4.414.531.1

If you offered me the choice of the Braves’ rotation or the healthy version of these four pitchers, I’d probably take Atlanta’s, but I’d have to think about it. That’s how much pitching talent Miami is going to be down to start the season.

To paraphrase a former Marlins manager, this is not what you want if you’re a team expected to be on or around the playoff bubble. If the best-case scenario for the likes of Rogers and Weathers does not come to pass early, even missing a few starts of Garrett or Pérez could lead to one or two losses that could make the difference at the end of the season. And that’s assuming that Pérez’s elbow is merely uncomfortable and not seriously injured. It’s not how the Marlins wanted to start the season; now they’ll have to go back and find even more pitching.

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