2004 Marlins Starting Rotation Preview

The Florida Marlins young pitchers have long held the potential to be one of the finest starting rotations in the major leagues. In the 2003 post season they turned that potential into production. But many questions still remain. Is Beckett going to pitch like a staff ace over the course of an entire season? Is Dontrelle Willis going to regain his first half magic? Who will replace Mark Redman this year? Marlins Insider discusses all of this and more in its 2004 Starting Rotation Preview.

2004 Starting Rotation Preview

2004 Starting Rotation Preview

      Heading into the 2003 season the Marlins pitching staff was considered the envy of many general managers in the major league. This envy was not the result of on-the-field production but rather the enormous potential of each of the young talents in their starting rotation. In the development of any young pitcher there are going to be ups and downs. Some outings the ability shines and the pitcher performs brilliantly, and other nights where the pitcher looks lost and overwhelmed on the mound. This aptly described the careers of each of the highly regarded but extremely inconsistent core of the Marlins rotation. Right-handed pitcher's AJ Burnett, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, and Carl Pavano were each considered extraordinary talents that had not yet reached their full potential. If the Marlins were to have any success in 2003 the starting pitching rotation would have to turn that potential into consistent production.  

      Early season performance indicated that the Marlins pitchers had not yet turned the corner in their careers and that the inconsistency would continue. In late April, the situation went from bad to worse when staff ace AJ Burnett was lost for the season with an elbow injury that would require total reconstructive surgery. Josh Beckett also went on the DL with a strained shoulder, and newly acquired LHP Mark Redman went on the DL with a broken thumb. Putting the situation in further disarray, manager Jeff Torgorg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg were fired in early May.

      At this point the Marlins were desperate just to find anyone who could just fill innings, let alone perform at a high level. To fill one of the holes in the rotation, newly hired manager Jack McKeon and pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal made the decision to call up LHP Dontrelle Willis from Double A Carolina. Little did they know they had found the answer to their prayers. Willis came up and took the baseball world by storm. His performance over the next 3 months, along with a quiet outstanding summer stretch put in by Mark Redman, the Marlins were not only kept afloat but suddenly found themselves in contention for a wild card spot.

      Down the stretch it all seemed to click. Jack McKeon and Wayne Rosenthal took an aggressive approach when dealing with their young pitchers. Out the window went the dealing with kid glove treatment employed by the past Marlins managers. The young Marlins staff responded to the new approach as a much needed challenge. Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, and Carl Pavano pitched like All-Star veterans down the playoff stretch leading the team to a wild card birth and the World Series Championship.

      Going into the 2004 season, the Marlins starting rotation can no longer fall back on youth as an excuse. The experience of pitching in the pressure situations of the playoffs and World Series should give them the confidence to handle any situation.

      Here is a review of the expected opening day starting rotation for the 2004 Florida Marlins along with projections for the upcoming season.


RHP Josh Beckett - The Marlins used the 2nd overall selection on Beckett out of high school in the 1999 amateur draft. Coming out of high school in Texas, Beckett's potential was compared to that of Roger Clemens. For the first few years of his career with the Marlins he often showed glimpses of that potential. But his development had been stalled by a variety of minor injuries ranging from blisters on his pitching hand to strained elbows and shoulders. Early in the 2003 season it appeared that very little was going to change. Josh spent almost 2 months on the DL with a shoulder strain. When he made his return in July, Beckett consistently showed the ability that made the Marlins believe he would be their ace of the future. Beckett responded perfectly to the no-non-sense, straight forward approach employed by McKeon and Rosenthal. Throughout the playoffs and the World Series management put their faith in Beckett to deliver. And did he ever. In the post-season Beckett pitched in 6 games and only allowed a 2.11 ERA while holding batters to an average of .145 against him. He also K'ed 47 batters in 42.2 innings. Beckett concluded his amazing post-season with a shut out of the New York Yankees, pitching on only 3 days rest, in a dramatic Game 6 to win the World Series.

Repertoire: Beckett throws his fastball in the 93-97 mph range, he compliments this pitch with a terrific over-hand curve, and a fork-changeup that has tremendous tail movement at the end.

Outlook:No one has benefited more than Beckett from the hiring of Wayne Rosenthal. Rosenthal has worked extensively with Beckett in slowing down his delivery and using more of his legs and body to pitch than just his arm. This was an effort to sharpen his control. Management is also working extensively with Beckett in his approach to pitching. Rosenthal has been using  All-Star Curt Schilling as the example that Beckett should take in his preparation and pitching style. The results have been over-whelming to this point. Beckett has both the ability and confidence to be as good as he wants to be and after his post-season performance in 2003 much is expected. What must be remembered though is that Beckett has still not pitched more than 150 innings in a season and has never won more than 9 games. That will all change this year.
2004 Projection:

Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

34

34

225

17

6

0

170

90

240

3.15




RHP Brad Penny - Penny was probably the most overlooked Marlins pitcher in 2003. While Beckett and Willis garnered all of the attention Penny quietly won a career best 14 games. Penny was brilliant in the late part of the season going 3-0 in the month of September and 3-1 in the post-season including 2 wins in the World Series. Penny is considered to have as much talent has any young pitcher in the game but is known to be emotionally brittle at times. Too often he gets down on himself for mistakes and ends up compounding the problem into a situation much worse than it should've been. If Penny is to continue to get better, he must learn to better control his emotions. He must also remember to challenge hitters with his better than average stuff and not try to over-finesse his pitches. Penny must also work on his conditioning so that he will be able to pitch at a high level further into games.

Repertoire:Penny throws a 4-seam fastball that can reach up to 98 mph. He also throws a very heavy sinker that runs in the 90-92 mph range, a very good power curveball, and a change-up that typically comes across in the low 80's.

Outlook: Penny must become confident in himself and his abilities if he is going to become a top-notch starter. With his outstanding performance in the latter part of 2003, he should now have the experience and confidence necessary to take the next step.

2004 Projection:

Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

33

33

210

15

10

0

195

65

165

3.85




RHP Carl Pavano - Pavano came up through the Montreal Expos system where he was once considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. His career up to 2003 had been filled with injuries and average performances. His best year coming in 2000 when he went 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA. Pavano was acquired by the Marlins in 2002 as part of the Cliff Floyd trade. His 2003 season was much like the rest of the Marlins staff, slow early season start, and a spectacular finish. In his 13 post All-Star game starts, Pavano went 6-3 with a 4.14 ERA. Pavano saved his best performances of the season for the playoffs and World Series. In the playoffs he was relegated to bullpen duty and came away with two wins in the playoff series against the Giants. Because of his outstanding playoff performances he was given the starting nod in the critical Game 5 of the World Series. He pitched brilliantly in that game throwing 8 innings and only giving up 1 ER. He took a no-decision in the Marlins 4-3 win. His final statistics for the postseason were 19 IP for a 2-0 record with 15 Ks and a 1.40 ERA.

Repertoire:Pavano relies on a fastball-slider-change combination. His fastball top outs in the mid-90s while his heavy slider usually runs around 90-93 mph. His slider is extremely effective against right handed batters while his change is used primarily against lefties.

Outlook: Pavano entered the 2003 as the Marlins 5th starter. Thus, little was expected of him other than to pitch around 200 innings and maintain somewhere around a .500 record. He delivered just that with a 12-13 final record in 201.0 innings pitched with a 4.30 ERA. 2003 was a career best year for Pavano in innings pitched, wins, and Ks. However, because of his post-season success, Pavano is expected to take his game up a notch and consistently perform at a level that is more in line with his ability. If he can again avoid the injury bug that has so often plagued him throughout his career. There is no reason not to expect a another career best year from Carl Pavano

2004 Projection:

Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

33

33

205

14

12

0

200

55

145

3.95




LHP Dontrelle Willis - What more can be said about Dontrelle's emergence in 2003? After his call-up in mid-May, Dontrelle took the baseball world by storm, won the hearts of the fans, the confidence of his teammates, and was one of the best feel-good stories of the 2003 season. In his first 13 starts, Willis went 9-1 with a 2.08 ERA with 79 Ks in 82.1 innings. His high leg kick delivery combined with his excellent fastball-slider-change combination had hitters completely fooled. As the season wore on, Willis began to tire out. When you consider that he pitched winter ball, then at Double A Carolina, as well as his time in the majors, Dontrelle pitched well over 200 innings in less than a 10 month span. Some speculated that once teams had advance scouting reports on Willis that they had him figured out and that was the reason for his second half decline. While that just might be possible, it can not be disputed that late in the season Dontrelle had lost 5 mph on his fastball. Also, Dontrelle's control depends so heavily on maintaining balance throughout his awkward delivery. Exhaustion would no doubt cause the control issues that seemed to plague Willis in the second half of the season.

Repertoire: Willis' fastball was regularly in the 93-96 mph range in the first half of the season. He also throws a sweeping slider and a still improving changeup. Willis is at his best when he is keeping hitters off balance by working his fastball inside and outside then working in his slider.

Outlook: Heading into the 2004 season Dontrelle will be given a position in the starting rotation. Whether he stays there when AJ Burnett returns in early May will all depend on how well he performs. In the minors, he was projected as a potential closer type and some in the organization feel long term that he is still best suited for that role. Many questions surround Willis as he enters his 2nd season with the Marlins. Was his early season success due to his novelty and has he now been figured out. Or was his late season problems a result of exhaustion. We're projecting success for one of the hardest working and most likeable members of the team.

2004 Projection:



Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

36

31

185

13

9

0

170

75

155

3.80




LHP Darren Oliver - Oliver is the most recent addition to the Marlins rotation signing a 1 year deal with the Marlins after spending the 2003 season with the Colorado Rockies. His record last season was 13-11 with a 5.04 ERA with 88 Ks in 180.1 innings pitched.

Repertoire: Oliver relies on changing speeds and location to get hitters out. His fastball is far from over-powering, topping out at only 88 mph. But it still can be very effective due to both his excellent slider and changeup. His cut fastball is very effective on right handed batters. He would benefit greatly from learning to work both sides of the plate to help keep hitters off balance.

Outlook: As the 5th starter in the rotation, Oliver is not expected to give more to fill innings and turn in a near .500 performance. The upside of his signing is that he is very much like Mark Redman was the Marlins going into last year. They are almost exact in repertoire, style, and approach. Redman had virtually no success in the majors prior to last year and look how well he performed. With the spacious outfield in Pro Player Stadium and the heavy humid air of South Florida to help keep balls in the park. Oliver could be primed for a career best year in 2004.

2004 Projection:

Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

33

33

195

12

14

0

210

70

95

4.35




RHP AJ Burnett - Heading into the 2003 season much was anticipated of AJ Burnett. He was considered by many to be the most talented of all of the Marlins starters (that includes Josh Beckett). In spring training AJ sustained an elbow strain and started the season on the 15 day DL. He rushed back and after only 4 starts was told that he needed total reconstructive elbow surgery, a.k.a Tommy John Surgery. The estimated time for recovery is usually 12-18 months. Burnett's rehabilitation has been well ahead of schedule and as of late February he was reportedly taking bullpen sessions at about 85-90 percent velocity. Management is aiming for a target of May 1st as a possible return date but may push that back if they feel that AJ is not ready. It would be a wise decision not to rush this still young and extremely talented pitcher back if he is not 100% ready.

Repertoire: Burnett is widely considered one of baseball's hardest throwers having a fastball that was regularly clocked at 101 mph in 2002. In a poll of major league hitters in 2002 his over-the-top knuckle curve was considered by many as the best pitch in the majors. AJ also threw a plus quality changeup. Basically, Burnett had all the talent and stuff to become one of baseball's best.

Outlook: As previously mentioned, management is going to be very cautious with Burnett's comeback. You can expect that initially he will be put into bullpen duty so that he doesn't have to worry about throwing 75+ pitches an outing. How long he stays in the bullpen is a matter of how his elbow responds. We believe that the presence of pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal will be a tremendous benefit to Burnett's career. Rosenthal is a master at working with young pitchers on their mechanics and we are quite certain that if he is the right man at the right place to guide AJ in his recovery and eventually get the most out of his vast potential. Don't expect too much from AJ this year. Just be happy with the fact that he is back on the mound and throwing with the potential for big things in the future. Fifteen years ago, Tommy John Surgery often meant the end of a pitcher's career, but these days many pitchers come back from the surgery and not only regain their previous form but often come back stronger.

Projection:


Year

Team

G

GS

IP

W

L

SV

H

BB

SO

ERA

2004

Florida

30

8

80

5

2

0

65

50

65

3.75



Marlins Mania Top Stories