Who’ll Hook a Spot in the Marlins’ Rotation?

The Florida Marlins figure to have a fantastic one-two punch at the top of the rotation this season, with Josh Johnson (inked to a four-year, $39 million deal during the off-season) followed by Ricky Nolasco, whose 2009 xFIP was 1.8 runs lower than his ERA. Anibal Sanchez, assuming his shoulder doesn’t start shooting flames, looks to be the third man. After that, things get a little..fishy (sorry).

Chris Volstad, Rick VandenHurk, Andrew Miller, Clay Hensley and Hayden Penn are all looking to earn a spot at the back of Florida’s rotation.

Volstad, 23, was the 16th overall pick in the 2005 draft. The 6-8 right-hander didn’t post huge whiff totals in the minors (6.3 K/9), but his low-90’s fastball, high-70’s curve and low-80’s changeup generated grounders at a 57.4 percent clip and he displayed plus control with just 2.4 BB/9.

Over the last two years in the big leagues, Volstad has posted rates of 5.88 K/9 and 3.51 BB/9, with a 4.43 xFIP. Volstad remains a groundball-oriented hurler, with a 50.9 GB% in the majors. His hook (+0.86 runs per 100 pitches for the curve) and changeup (+0.73) have been effective, but that fastball has been smacked for a -0.55 runs/100 value.

Volstad’s upside doesn’t appear enormous, but he’s a good bet to bounce back in 2010. His ERA was 5.21 in 2009, compared to a 4.35 xFIP. The reason? Nearly 18 percent of fly balls hit against Volstad left the yard last year, by far the highest rate among starters with 150+ innings pitched. If that number regresses back to the 10-12 percent range, then Volstad’s ERA should dip to mid-fours.

A 24 year-old Dutchman, VandenHurk has been Marlins property since 2002. The 6-5 righty features low-90’s Gouda and a hard slider, which has helped him punch out a batter per inning on the farm, with 3.8 BB/9.

Sadly, VandenHurk is often hurt. He had Tommy John surgery in 2005. More recently, he was shelved in both ’08 and ’09 with elbow ailments. VandenHurk has never come close to a full starter’s workload: his 121.2 IP last season between Florida and the minors was a career high.

In 2009, he had 7.69 K/9, 2.41 BB/9 and a 3.05 FIP in 59.2 innings at the Triple-A level, and 7.52 K/9, 3.22 BB/9 and a 4.78 xFIP in the majors. VandenHurk will miss bats, but health, control issues and extreme fly ball tendencies (27.6 GB% in the majors) make him unreliable. CHONE predicts a 4.66 FIP next year, with 8.54 K/9, 4 BB/9 and 1.38 dingers per nine innings.

R.J. Anderson covered Miller’s journey from highly-touted Tar Heel and Tiger to aggravating underachiever. The lefty is still just 24, and his career xFIP in the majors (4.70) is considerably lower than his ERA (5.50). Even so, scouts expected much more than mediocrity from the 6th pick in the 2006 draft.

First, the good: Miller has 7.22 K/9 in the major leagues, and he keeps the ball on the ground, too (48.1 GB%). The bad is, well, everything else.

Miller has generously handed out 5.09 walks per nine innings, tossing a first pitch strike just 52.1 percent of the time (58 percent MLB average). Batters aren’t chasing his low-90’s fastball, slurvy upper-70’s breaking ball or low-80’s changeup out of the zone (20.6 outside swing%, compared to the 25% MLB average).

When the 6-7 southpaw isn’t getting behind in the count, he’s hurt: he hit the DL in 2008 with a right knee injury and missed time last year with oblique and right ankle problems (injury info from the Fantasy Pitch F/X DL Tool).

As R.J. suggested, Miller might be best served by going to Triple-A and working out the kinks. He logged just 131 innings in the minors. CHONE still sees Miller through powder blue-colored glasses though, forecasting a 4.30 FIP, 7.62 K/9 and 4.79 BB/9 in 2010.

Hensley, 30, posted a 2.1 WAR season with the Padres back in 2006. The next few years wouldn’t be nearly as kind. Hampered by a shoulder injury (requiring labrum surgery after the ’07 campaign), Hensley was smacked around in the majors and became known as “the dude who gave up Barry Bonds‘s 755th home run.”

The former Giants prospect briefly passed through Houston’s minor league system last year and then latched on with Florida. In 114 innings with the Zephyrs, Hensley had a 3.73 FIP, 6.47 K/9 and 3 BB/9.

Hensley’s something of a slop-ball pitcher, featuring a fastball that might crack 90 on a good day, a low-80’s slider, a mid-70’s curve and a low-80’s changeup. He’s not a great source of strikeouts, and he doesn’t have the sort of control that one usually associates with a finesse type. However, he does keep the ball on the ground. CHONE calls for a 4.79 FIP next year, with 6.3 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9.

Like his fellow competitors, Penn is no stranger to strains surgical scars. The former Orioles prospect has a promising minor league dossier. But you name it, and Penn has hurt it: surgery to remove his appendix in 2006, elbow surgery in 2007 and shoulder soreness in 2008. The 25 year-old righty is projected to post a 5.04 FIP next year, with 7.53 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9.

Volstad, VandenHurk and Miller remain mildly interesting fantasy options, though none should be on draft boards in mixed leagues.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

6 Responses to “Who’ll Hook a Spot in the Marlins’ Rotation?”

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  1. Scott says:

    “A 24 year-old Dutchman, VandenHurk has been Marlins property since 2002. The 6-5 righty features low-90’s Gouda and a hard slider, which has helped him punch out a batter per inning on the farm, with 3.8 BB/9.”

    A low-90’s Gouda? That’s a finely aged cheese.

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  2. kampfer says:

    Rocky Nolasco <- I don't even know… is it a typo or is the Rocky referring to his ERA?

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  3. John says:

    I wish someone had a little backbone and would go out on a limb instead of hiding strictly behind numbers and do a little first hand “eyeball” scouting, come out from behind the stat books and realize the enormous potential of a young lefty who can ring it up at near 95. Andrew Miller will put it together one of these years and instead of playing it safe, take a chance on the high end talents and not site stats that represent a young man rushed to the majors at too inexperienced a time frame and plan if all things go south cutting losses instead of hoping Bronson Arroyo will catch lightening in a bottle in Great America Ballpark in 2010.

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    • cpebbles says:

      By “first hand ‘eyeball’ scouting,” you refer to judging him solely on his fastball velocity, I take it? Certainly not on his iffy mechanics or the fact that he is just starting to develop a third pitch (Which he can’t throw for strikes any better than his fastball or slider).

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    • Jason B says:

      The Tigers did just that when they drafted him; the Marlins did the same when they traded for him, and rushed him through the minors. How’s that workin’ out for ‘em? Not. Too. Good.

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