To a distinct section of baseball fans the Marlins came into 2014 as darkhorse contenders for a playoff spot. These brave folks were validated for their bold predictions early in 2014 when the Marlins came out strong and hung around the NL East race in April and May. The loss of future Detroit Tiger Jose Fernandez for the season doomed nascent hopes of Marlin relevancy and since then the Marlins have fallen to their customary place near the bottom of the NL East. The Marlins make their way to Turner Field for the first of a four game series against the Braves as the Braves look to continue their good run of form against the dregs of the National League. They will need to, as the Braves enter the series tied with the Nationals for first in the NL East and the Nats do not seem interested in going on a losing streak.
Game one of the series will feature Braves certified ace (we finally got the official paperwork on this) Julio Teheran taking on the Marlins’ Tom Koehler. Koehler has performed well in his first season as a full-time starter for the Marlins. His ERA and FIP are nothing to write home about (both hovering right around 4) but he has managed to throw 112 innings for the Marlins and has been a reliable option to give the Marlins a chance to win every fifth day. A sign that he hasn’t been dominant is the fact that he still trails Ferandez (and closer Steve Cishek) in fWAR despite doubling them in innings. He has limited homers this year which has been vital because he does walk a lot of batters. If the Braves can bring a patient approach to the plate they can likely get Koehler in trouble.
Koehler’s best pitch is definitely his fastball which sits around 94 mph. Koehler has thrown his fastball nearly 50% of the time in 2014 and when he gets ahead of batters he is dangerous. The problem for Koehler is that while opponents don’t make good contact with his fastball, he has struggles commanding it sometimes. Koehler’s curveball and slider complement his good fastball with a sinker mixed in occasionally too. The slider is a hit or miss pitch for Koehler as it induces the highest whiff percentage of any of Koehler’s pitches but also the highest line drive percentage.
On Tuesday the Braves send their guy who is totally better than his 2014 ERA says he is (Mike Minor) against the guy the Marlins better hope isn’t as much of a trainwreck as his 2014 numbers say he is (Jacob Turner). Jacob Turner’s 2014 got off to a disastrous start and Tuesday will be his first start after a hiatus in the bullpen and AAA. Turner’s story is similar to Minor’s in that his peripherals say he shouldn’t be nearly as bad as his 6.22 ERA would indicate. For one thing Turner’s FIP is at 3.83 and his xFIP is right in line with that at 3.78. Both of these numbers are improvements on Turner’s performance in 2013 when he had a 3.74 ERA.
Now FIP and xFIP aren’t magical numbers that come out of nowhere. Specifically, in 2014 Turner has improved upon his strikeout rate and walk rate. Turner’s walk rate has declined massively going from 4.12 to 2.40 in 2014. Turner’s groundball rate is also up, suggesting he hasn’t necessarily been allowing harder contact. In 2014 Turner is striking out more guys, walking fewer batters, getting groundballs at a higher rate, and allowing fewer fly balls. This kind of improvement is a recipe for better results as a pitcher. His line drive rate is up slightly (19.5% to 20.3%) but he is also suffering from the ole babip run of bad luck. In 2013 Turner allowed a .284 babip and this year it is .365. To top it all off the best metric for future ERA is SIERA and Turner’s SIERA is 3.81. SIERA, FIP, and xFIP are all in agreement about what kind of season Turner is having with ERA being the only holdout. This is the same old song and dance, Turner isn’t nearly as bad as his ERA says he is. Don’t be angry when the Braves get one run off the guy with the 6.22 ERA. Please? Fine, get mad but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Wednesday will see the Marlins send Nathan Eovaldi out to face Ervin Santana for the Braves. Eovaldi has a 4.08 ERA this year and along with Henderson Alvarez has been a consistent source of innings for the Marlins in 2014. Eovaldi has struggled more than Alvarez as his 4.08 ERA would indicate but he is a solid pitcher that will likely give the Braves trouble. Eovaldi’s recipe for success has been limiting walks, limiting home runs, and letting hitters put the ball in play. Eovaldi is a fireballer who relies almost entirely on his four seam fastball and slider. Eovaldi has averaged 96.64 MPH on 1,123 fastballs in 2014. By comparison Craig Kimbrel has averaged 97.80 MPH on his fastball in 2014 while only throwing 455 of them. In short Eovaldi can bring it.
The problem for Eovaldi is his fastball has never missed the amount of bats you would expect a guy putting up those kinds of radar gun numbers to miss. Eovaldi was plagued by walks for much of his career but has done a lot to get that under control in 2014. The decline in walks hasn’t come with an increase in strikeouts or more groundballs, and his babip has gone up slightly in 2014 as well. SIERA predicts a future ERA of 3.94 for Eovaldi this year right in line with his actual results. Basically if you are going to pound the strikezone like Eovaldi does you need to miss more bats.
On Thursday the Braves will send walking luckbox Aaron Harang to the mound to face a tough competitor for the Marlins that mlb.com lists only as TBD. I wasn’t familiar with TBD so I asked some of my twitter followers for a scouting report on him since most of them are more up on the players on other teams than I am. Zackary Richards made the point that TBD is a little better than PTBNL which should be concerning for Braves fans. Talking Chop head honcho Ben Duronio, pointed out that TBD historically owns the Braves which my own research confirmed. Talking Chop’s own prospect guru Ethan Purser said TBD is the Marlins top ‘spect with 80 grade stuff. After this research I am very concerned about this game and don’t really give the Braves much of a chance. (Also Henderson Alvarez is probably starting this game even if MLB dot com doesn’t know it. He is the Marlins best starter now that Fernandez is gone.)
A preview of the Marlins lineup begins and ends with Giancarlo Stanton who if you weren’t aware can crush pitches just a little bit. Stanton is having a monster year at the plate once again, posting a 295/394/551 line. The disparity between Stanton and the Marlins lineup isn’t as severe as in past years but once again this is the guy to worry about. Casey McGehee and Marcell Ozuna are legitimate concerns for any pitcher and the lineup isn’t the cake walk it was last year.
The Marlins as a whole play much better at home than on the road. When the Marlins go on the road they score fewer runs and their pitchers give up more runs. The Marlins are 28-24 at home and 17-28 on the road. Marlins Park is a pitcher’s park, yet their hitting numbers actually decline when they leave the friendly confines of the light up home run sculpture. Overall, the Braves are a much better team than the Marlins and should win this series. As with the Mets series if I prove to be overly optimistic please direct your bile to the comments section of my game recaps.