Relive all of the ups and downs of the 2023 Miami Marlins with our Fish On First Season Review, containing detailed articles about a wide variety of players. The FOF staff analyzes the individual impact that each of them had and what it means for their future with the organization.
This installment focuses on reliever A.J. Puk.
- February 11—traded by Oakland Athletics to Miami Marlins for OF JJ Bleday
- March 31—made Marlins debut and recorded first save with the team
- May 13—placed on the 15-day injured list (left elbow nerve irritation)
- May 30—sent on a rehab assignment to Pensacola Blue Wahoos
- June 6—activated from the 15-day injured list
- July 30—removed from closer’s role (overtaken by David Robertson)
Season stats: 3.97 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 12.39 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 15 SV and 56.2 IP
Just mere hours after the Miami Marlins had wrapped up their annual FanFest, news broke that former first-round draft pick JJ Bleday had been dealt to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for A.J. Puk, himself also a former first-rounder. A change of scenery made sense for both players. Bleday struggled as a rookie and was blocked from getting playing time in the Marlins outfield moving forward. Puk had been adjusting to life as a reliever on an A’s team that was nowhere close to be competitive.
Entering Skip Schumaker’s first spring training as Marlins manager, he explained that high-leverage situations would be handled based on specific matchups. He didn’t announce a full-time closer. Puk had saved four games with Oakland in 2022. Teammates Tanner Scott, Dylan Floro and Matt Barnes all had experience in that role as well.
Within the first week or two of the regular season, it became clear that Puk was Miami’s go-to guy in the ninth inning. In the month of April, Puk appeared in 10 games and had a 0.00 ERA with four saves.
Puk brought refreshing reliability to the closer’s role that the Marlins hadn’t seen in several years. He combined swing-and-miss ability with soft contact.
However, Puk wasn’t quite the same after his IL stint. Things really fell apart for him during the month of July as he allowed home runs at the worst possible times.
Using the July 7 game against the Philadelphia Phillies as an example, Miami was leading and Puk was one out away from recording the save. Going up against light-hitting Cristian Pache, Puk’s 0-1 sweeper was taken deep for a two-run homer to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead. The Marlins lost.
Giving up the long ball would become Puk’s issue. Through the end of June, he pitched 25 innings and allowed only two home runs, but the lefty gave up eight homers the rest of the way (31.2 IP).
All 15 of Puk’s saves came in the first half. David Robertson and Tanner Scott took over those responsibilities over the final two months of the season.
Even after the demotion, Puk showed good control in his first Marlins season. He walked only 5.4% of total batters faced, which is much better than the MLB average.
Puk made an interesting change to his arsenal in 2023, but one that worked well. He turned his slider into a sweeper and used it 42.6% of the time.
Puk did make the Marlins postseason roster. When he previously made it as an Oakland Athletic, he didn’t make an appearance. This time around, he threw one inning, which included a Bryce Harper strikeout with his sweeper.
Future with Marlins
Despite the inconsistency, the expectation is to see Puk back in the Marlins bullpen. Puk was still a strikeout machine, as he ranked 12th amongst qualified relievers in K/9 to go along with the low walk rate mentioned earlier.
Puk will be tendered a contract for the 2024 season. Assuming that Tanner Scott and Andrew Nardi are back, he probably won’t see many save opportunities. The question is how will Skip Schumaker put him in the best position to be successful.