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The 2016 Marlins faced one of the most difficult seasons in recent memory, as the sudden death of Jose Fernandez in a tragic boating accident left a scar on the team, the city, and all of baseball.

In the wake of Fernandez's death on September 25, the future of the Marlins' rotation was on no one's mind and rightfully so. In those moments we must remember that baseball is simply a game, a sport, a job, a hobby. It's comprised of human beings who have a purpose, a story, and a life beyond the diamond. No one should have been asking baseball questions.

But the reality is that the Marlins will play a 2017 season and must go on without their ace. In early August, before Fernandez's death, I wrote about how much the rotation needed to rely on his greatness just so it could be mediocre overall. He carried the rotation like few other pitchers in baseball.

As of early August, this is how the Marlins' rotation looked overall with Hernandez and what it would have looked like without his Cy Young-caliber pitching included in the totals:

ERA

FIP

ERA

K%

Contact%

With Fernandez

4.01

3.89

22.8

77

W/o Fernandez

4.43

4.31

18.2

81

The final product of the rotation sans Fernandez finished with a 4.70 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 9.2 percent walk rate, and 18.4 percent strikeout rate, putting it near the bottom of every barrel.

Already the Marlins have brought in veteran rotation help, adding right-hander Edinson Volquez and left-hander Jeff Locke. Obviously with those two signings the Marlins are not looking for anyone to come close to replacing Fernandez’s talent, which would be nearly impossible no matter what. Instead, they added inexpensive veteran depth.

Take a look at the new-look Marlins starters and their individual 2016 numbers:

GS

IP

ERA

FIP

DRA

K%

BB%

Volquez

34

189.1

5.37

4.57

4.90

16.3

8.9

Koehler

33

116.2

4.33

4.60

5.22

19

10.7

Conley

25

133

3.85

4.22

5.14

21.2

10.6

Chen

22

123.1

4.96

4.50

4.74

19.2

4.6

Locke*

19

106

5.86

4.93

5.73

12.4

8.4

*Locke’s DRA is based on all innings pitched in 2016, not just innings as a starter.

Not exactly world-beating statistics, and it’s not much of an upgrade from last year's non-Fernandez group. Miami will clearly need to lean very heavily on its bullpen, which was impressive in 2016. It was stacked with guys of all shapes and sizes, and I don’t mean physically. David Phelps could start in a pinch, A.J. Ramos posted a 2.81 as the closer, Kyle Barraclough struck out nearly 37 percent of batters faced. While the Marlins' rotation without Fernandez was among the bottom third in baseball, the bullpen was sitting pretty in the top half with a 3.43 ERA despite having to cover for a starting unit that logged the fifth-fewest innings. The bullpen pitched a lot and pitched well, with lots of multi-inning appearances.

The question now is whether that's sustainable with another huge workload in 2017 and whether they'll be adding a big-time closer to the mix. If the Marlins are able to sign Kenley Jansen to a massive long-term contract, their bullpen-heavy plan will be a full-go. If he chooses another team, general manager Michael Hill may scamble to find other late-inning help like, say, fellow free agent Brad Ziegler?

Let’s compare Jansen and Ziegler in 2016:

IP

ERA

FIP

DRA

K%

BB%

Ziegler

68

2.25

3.10

2.99

20.1

9.0

Jansen

69

1.44

1.44

1.95

41.4

4.4

The odds of this experiment working out rely on a lot of things breaking the right way, a lot of good management (my faith in Don Mattingly to deliver on this front is quite strong), and a lot of luck. While some of those factors can’t be helped, insuring that you have the strongest possible pitcher to close out what’s sure to be a lot of nail-biting games–and push everyone else in the bullpen into lower roles–is one of the biggest controllable factors.

Thank you for reading

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granbergt
12/09
Wait, is Don Mattingly considered a strong manager of the bullpen now? My anecdotal view as a Giants fan was that his moves in LA were frequently a comedy of errors and, last I checked, BMAR (Bullpen Management Above Random) had him at roughly average or slightly below...