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Soooo...Why Is Adam Conley Still on the Miami Marlins?


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by David A Marcillo

 

My goal when I started research for this article was, “let me write something positive about Adam Conley.” Conley has been good for the Miami Marlins in the past, as recently as 2018 actually, and there’s a lot of talk in Marlins circles focusing just on how bad he was in 2019. Now, granted, Conley was really bad in 2019, but at least some of that blame has to fall on Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s bullpen management, as Conley was routinely put in positions to fail. But more on that in a later article. For now, here’s an exhaustive list of all the good signs from Miami Marlins left handed reliever Adam Conley from 2019:

 

 

 

-THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK-

 

 

 

So yeah, Conley had an awful, awful season in 2019. He ended up with a 2-11 record and a 6.53 ERA. Advanced stats liked him a little better than that, with xFIP landing at 5.41 and SIERA at 4.97. Neither number is good, but both are well over a full run better than his ERA. Conley regressed in just about everything after what was a legitimately solid 2018 season. His strikeout rate dropped from 24.8% to 18.7% and his walk rate rose from 8.9% to 10.3%. His HR/9 ballooned from 0.89 to 1.48. Basically, EVERYTHING went wrong for Adam Conley in 2019.

 

Handedness wasn’t much of a factor, as Conley actually did almost the same against lefty batters (.336/.398/.495 line, .377 wOBA) as he did against righties (.286/.377/.543 line, .373 wOBA). He was overall just a bit better at getting lefties out, but he gave up far more home runs to right handed hitters. His xFIP against righties was 5.97 and he allowed a staggering 2.27 HR/9. Against lefties, he allowed a 4.61 xFIP and just 0.36 HR/9 (only one lefty hit a homer off of him last season).

 

At home, he posted a 6.55 ERA (5.01 xFIP) and on the road it was 6.49 (5.94 xFIP).

 

Give Conley credit for one thing: he was consistent in 2019. Consistently bad, sure, but consistent anyway. If you conveniently ignore the month of August, Conley was even consistent from one month to the next. Here are his ERAs for each month of the season:

 

March/April: 7.59

 

May: 6.52

 

June: 7.71

 

July: 6.97

 

August: 3.75

 

September/October: 7.11

 

Even Conley’s best month by ERA, August, was more about good luck than anything he fixed or did right. This can be seen by his wOBA per month:

 

March/April: .411

 

May: .284

 

June: .395

 

July: .393

 

August: .392

 

September/October: 3.30

 

As we can clearly see, Conley’s summer months were actually remarkably consistently bad, and he just got a bit lucky in August in terms of his decent ERA posting that month.

 

But there has to be SOMETHING Adam Conley was at least decent at last season. There has to be SOME reason the Marlins have kept him on the roster this long despite needing quite a bit of 40-man roster space to be cleared up over the winter.

 

I found an answer, but I don’t think it’s the right one. Adam Conley struggled a lot in high leverage situations last year. He posted an unbelievably awful 5.8 K%, 17.3 BB%, .448 wOBA, and 8.74 xFIP. In high leverage situations, opposing batters slashed .389/.531/.556 against Conley. In other words, batters in the batter’s box against Adam Conley with the game on the line basically became the greatest player in baseball every time.

 

In situations defined as medium leverage, Conley wasn’t much good either. He was better than he was in the high leverage events, but still not a guy you want on the mound. He put up a decent 19.4 K% but a still troubling 12.9 BB%. That led to an ugly 5.73 xFIP.

 

So high leverage? Not Conley’s thing. Keep him out of any close games in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Medium leverage? Not Conley’s thing. Keep him out of any close games regardless of the inning, really. Don’t let him make a surmountable deficit into a sure loss (something that seemed to happen a maddening number of times with the bullpen last season). So where can Conley go?

 

Adam Conley, folks, would make for a pretty solid opener. Now, I know the Marlins have yet to play with the idea of an opener, but Conley could make a legitimate impact in the position.

 

The opener was made popular by the Tampa Bay Rays and it’s basically exactly what it sounds like. It’s a relief pitcher who works in the opposite role as the closer. The opener starts the game, pitches an inning or two, and then yields to what is called the bulk reliever, who will ideally pitch four or five innings from there. It has been successful in varying amounts for different teams, and after the Rays popularized it, other teams began using it as well. The Marlins, predictably, have never used an opener.

 

But Adam Conley! He would probably do well in the role! In low leverage situations, with the very beginning of baseball games famously being just that, Conley performed his best by far. He still wasn’t outstanding by any means, but he was more than passable. He put up a solid 22.5 K%, a strong 7.1 BB%, and a un-cringe inducing 4.50 xFIP. That was all with a bloated .378 BABIP (compared to .268 in medium and .361 in high leverage spots).

 

He was also by far at his best with the bases empty (24.5 K%, 8.6 BB%, 4.58 xFIP) and did not do well at all with runners anywhere on base (13.2 K%, 11.8 BB%, 6.14 xFIP) or in scoring position (11.5 K%, 12.6 BB%, 6.46 xFIP). All of these stats just point to Conley being able to get guys out when the team needs them the least. Of course, the lowest leverage of all is a blowout game, but even with the 26-man roster premiering this season, no smart team needs to keep a pitcher for just those situations (although…having a guy in the bullpen who can pitch four or five innings any time a game is over by the 4th inning would be interested and likely quite useful).

 

Instead, Adam Conley can be most useful to the Miami Marlins as an opener. Too bad that will probably never happen. So to answer the question in the title of this article: I have no idea. And Don Mattingly might not either. All that being said, I liked the upside I saw in Conley in 2018 and there were a few innings in 2019 where it looked like Conley was starting to “figure it out”. He had an excellent change up in 2018 that somehow suddenly turned terrible in 2019. The team clearly likes his arm and thinks there’s something there that we didn’t quite get to see last season. Hopefully we’ll get to see it in 2020, regardless of the leverage.

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Conley was fine in high leverage in 2019. Looking at a single season in relief -- especially when the guy was clearly dealing with some issues and not his true pitching self -- and then slicing that season into three segments isn't really a recipe for identify reliable trends. Consider: If we added up all the plate appearances he had in high and low leverage situations (52+62) it's still only 40% of his season (169 BF in low leverage situations).

 

The problem is that he's a lefty throwing 96. He needs to perform in high leverage situations at some point, because that's what he's going to be asked to do. I'm hopeful he'll rise to that occasion this year. There's no way his changeup can go from plus to minus-minus in a single season and then stay there.

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