The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Marlins Starting Rotation Officially Set

Marlins Manager Jack McKeon officially set the rotation for the start of they year yesterday. While the names he settled on were far from surprising, the actual order they'll appear in (at least at first) is somewhat surprising. Here's the rotation:
  1. Josh Beckett (R)
  2. Al Leiter (L)
  3. A.J. Burnett (R)
  4. Dontrelle Willis (L)
  5. Ismael Valdez (R)

That Beckett got the nod for the opening day start was not a surprise in the slightest. Josh took the hill for the Marlins on opening day in both 2004 and 2003. This year there were some questions as to whether Beckett would maintain that role this year, or if Burnett would take the duties from him. Others even speculated that Al Leiter might receive the honor, more out of recognition for his accomplishments over his career than for his present day abilities.

After Beckett's opening day start is where the question marks start to pop up. Conventional wisdom would put Burnett in the second spot because he is the team's best or second best starter. However, McKeon strayed from this logic for a number of reasons.

First, Beckett and Burnett are similar pitchers in that they are both power, right-handers. The thought here is that by breaking them up in the rotation, you'll get better results from both, as opponents won't be able to lock in on one type of pitcher for two nights in a row.

Given that, the logical thing to do would be to put a left-hander or a junkballer in between Beckett and Burnett. While the Marlins don't have a junk ball specialist, they do have two lefties. Again, conventional wisdom would probably have you choose Willis over Leiter for the second spot in the rotation, but Jack dug a little deeper here too in going with Leiter in the second spot.

McKeon is worried that Leiter and Valdez will depend more heavily than the other starters on the bullpen, so by having Leiter second in the roation and Valdez fifth, he can better manage the workload of his staff.

Give those constraints (breaking up the right-handed power pitchers and preserving the bullpen), the rotation pretty much just falls into place. The only real decision here is whether Beckett or Burnett takes the hill on opening day.

Over the course of the season, it's likely that this order will benefit Burnett and Willis the most. While both starters are capable of being "top of the rotation" guys on many other teams, having them 3rd and 4th in the rotation will likely match them up against the bottom of other team's rotations quite frequently. While they'll still have to pitch well to be effective, their won - loss records should benefit significantly from the Marlins lineup teeing-off against inferior opposing pitchers. As you know, a pitcher's win - loss record isn't always the best indicator of a pitcher's effectiveness, but for Burnett and Willis these favorable matchups may go a long way in helping them through tough outings and gaining them some national acclaim as folks overstate their accomplishments by falling in love with their won - loss records.

Beckett and Leiter fall on the other side of this spectrum. Beckett will often find himself matched up against opponents' aces. The fact that he's never won more than nine games in a major league season says that he hasn't proven that he can handle that burden. Sure, he's capable of it (the 2003 playoffs speak volumes to that), but he hasn't proven it - yet - over the course of a regular season.

On the other hand, Leiter could have handled the 2nd slot in the rotation quite well a few years ago. However, in 2005 he's likely to be frequently over-matched by his opposing starter. Still, with the Marlins strong lineup, Leiter should be capable of keeping the team in more than its share of games.

There are still two weeks to go in Spring Training and the Marlins rotation is already set. Things are looking good in Marlin-land.

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