Florida has spent years turning around and developing pitching. This is the same team that produced Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. The same team that gave life to some of the best closers the game has ever seen in Robb Nen and Trevor Hoffman.
Other teams are taking the same route. Minnesota's rotation is another strong one, but doesn't seem to have the same ceiling and star power that we see in South Florida.
In a cost-conscious environment, producing home-grown talent is the best way to control costs. Teams simply can't afford to spend money on both sides of the ball.
The larger question, for fantasy purposes, is which of these pitchers is the better long-term and short-term investment? When should they be owned? Both good questions, and both deserve evaluation.
Johnson, to me and many others, is the current anchor of this staff. His Tommy John surgery in 2007 scared many, but he returned incredibly strong last season. In 14 starts, he lost only one. More than that, there was no concern with his command.
He had a mini-breakout in 2006, a season where he won 12 games and struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings. Surgery cut his season short in 2007, but when he returned in 2008, so did the same strikeout ratio.
Sure, we would still like to see his K/BB rate jump up slightly, but what we saw in 2008 was impressive.
While Ricky Nolasco may get much of the hype, Johnson's numbers this season may serve to impress the most.
2009 projection: 15W, 160K, 3.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 2/3 Fantasy Starter
Nolasco became a fantasy favorite last season, putting together an impressive stat line. His 15 wins were a huge step in the right direction for value, and may have caused him to be slightly over-drafted early on.
Why? It puts great expectations on a young shoulder. Like Johnson, he was injured much of 2007. His innings increase from 2007 to 2008 is, therefore, only slightly alarming.
The Marlins are looking to Nolasco to be their ace, and there is no doubt he has the stuff. He got progressively better during each part of 2008, lowering his ERA in the second half by a full point.
What I like best is his command. He struck out nearly 4.5 batters for each one he walked, meaning he was keeping batters off the bases that weren't getting hits.
His first few starts this season have been rough, and I think the work from last season and the increase in innings could catch up to him at some point in 2009.
That in mind, Nolasco likely still has a ceiling of being a top-15 pitcher in baseball.
2009 Projection: 16W, 185K, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 1 Fantasy Starter
Volstad doesn't profile as the potential ace that Johnson and Nolasco do. He doesn't strike out many hitters, tends to nibble too much, and doesn't have an overpowering fastball.
The 22-year-old is a groundball and contact pitcher. He doesn't give up home runs, as evidenced by the three he gave up in 29 total starts between majors and minors last season.
The key with him will be expectations and innings management. The Marlins will need to make sure he doesn't ramp too quickly, and experience the similar let downs seen in Johnson and Nolasco (granted Johnson's was less controllable).
Volstad's early two starts have strongly resembled what was seen last year. He's efficient with his pitches, keeps the ball on the ground, and keeps hitters off-balance.
I'd be hard-pressed to find a scoring system that doesn't value what Volstad can bring to the table.
2009 Projection: 12W, 110K, 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 3/4 Fantasy Starter
Much of the limelight in the Josh Beckett trade was focused on Hanley Ramirez. Yet Sanchez has made a little name for himself as well. He's already thrown a no-hitter, and his mound presence is mature for such a young pitcher.
He suffered a labrum tear after his rookie season that shelved him for a while, but he has regained the velocity he had prior to the injury. Problem is, in getting the velocity, he still continued to get knocked around.
Of all the Marlins pitchers, he remains the toughest to project. He's likely to improve off his numbers from a year ago, especially as he regains comfort on the mound.
With all this in mind, he still has the type of stuff that can dominate; he simply needs to work on harnessing it. At this point, his value is in spot starts for mixed leagues, but he should be valued more highly in NL-only formats.
Mixed-league owners should watch and observe, but capitalize on favorable matchups.
2009 Projection: 9W, 100K, 3.65 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 5 Fantasy Starter