Miami Marlins

Here’s how Marlins manager Don Mattingly evaluates pitchers and who is standing out

Miami Marlins pitcher Trevor Richards pitches during the second inning of a Major League Baseball interleague game against the New York Yankees at Marlins Park on Aug. 22.
Miami Marlins pitcher Trevor Richards pitches during the second inning of a Major League Baseball interleague game against the New York Yankees at Marlins Park on Aug. 22. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Step inside Don Mattingly’s live evaluation room, better known as the third-base dugout at Marlins Park.

Today’s focus is on starting pitching.

Forget looking solely at ERA when it comes to production and overall success, Mattingly said. The Marlins’ manager prioritizes a few intricacies that go into that final product.

The main two at hand: Strikeout-to-walk ratio and swing-and-miss potential — more colloquially known as making a batter “whiff.”

“That’s really what it is,” Mattingly said. “Less baserunners, less runs.”

This approach comes to the forefront as strikeout totals continue to climb — MLB is on average for a league-record total 16.9 strikeouts in any given game as of Tuesday.

Coaches and managers have to take into account their pitchers’ ability to make batters swing and miss.

“If you’re striking out guys ... that means we’re not putting the ball in play,” said Mattingly, whose starting pitcher rotation ranks 20th out of 30 MLB teams with 611 strikeouts.

In turn, theoretically, that should limit opponents from scoring runs in a perfect world.

And it’s done by crafting a second, third — and, ideally, fourth — pitch in one’s arsenal to complement a fastball.

“I think that’s where you’ve got to get to,” Mattingly said. “... As a hitter, you don’t know what you’re dealing with” when you go against a multipitch pitcher.

Trevor Richards is a prime example of this. The 25-year-old’s strength is in his changeup.

According to Baseball Prospectus, he’s the 10th-best starting pitcher in the league this year when it comes to swing-and-misses on the changeup, with opposing batters whiffing on 42.23 percent of the time they swing.

“I don’t think anybody quite realized just how good that changeup was,” Mattingly said. “It’s really the pitch that sets him up where you have a plus-plus pitch. ... He’s really opened some eyes.”

Heading into his Tuesday start against the Phillies, Richards was one of two Marlins starters averaging more than a strikeout per inning (103 in 101 1/3 innings). The injured Caleb Smith (88 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings) was the other.

“Honestly the development of a breaking ball really takes him to another level because he’s not going to be all of a sudden throwing 95,” Mattingly said. “He’s going to be a 91, 92, 90 guy where he has to locate, he has to get the ball to both side of the plate and the area he wants for success and be ahead in counts. He has to be a control-type guy.

Pablo Lopez is showing signs of developing his secondary pitches as well. His sample size is small with just 10 starts, but Lopez’s curveball has played a valuable role in his production as of late..

And don’t forget about Smith, who was arguably the Marlins’ most consistent starter before cutting his rookie year short by undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery at the end of June

Of the 156 MLB starting pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 pitches this season entering Tuesday’s games, Smith ranked 26th and sixth among left-handed pitchers with an overall swing-and-miss rate at just less than 28 percent. He did so by effectively mixing his fastball, slider and changeup on any given at-bat.

As for the Marlins’ other starters:

Jose Urena: Urena leads the Marlins in total strikeouts (a career-best 117) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.7) even though his swing-and-miss rate on the low end of the spectrum at 20 percent (129th out of 156). His fastball, which regularly touches 96 and 97 mph, is Urena’s strength, but he has begun to use his slider more during the past two seasons after removing his sinker from his repertoire.

Dan Straily: Straily is just behind Richards in changeup effectiveness, ranking 11th among starters at 41.71 percent.

Wei-Yin Chen: Chen is known as a fly ball pitcher. He has 92 strikeouts in 114 innings.

This and that

Sandy Alcantara will make his second-career MLB start on Wednesday. He had a promising debut on June 29, giving up one run in five innings during an 8-2 win against the Mets before going on the disabled list with on July 4 with a right axillary infection.

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