A year ago the Miami Marlins entered the season with the smallest opening day payroll in baseball ($41.8 M). They ended the season with their best player suffering a gruesome injury and with the lowest attendance in the National League. Their 77-85 record landed them fourth in the NL East.

What a difference an off-season makes. There are a lot of reasons for optimism around Miami heading in to 2015 and what follows is a season preview for the Marlins.

Are you ready, Marlins fans?

IT’S YOUR TEAM IN A BOX! YOUR TEAM IN A BOX BABE! (Justin Timberlake voice)

Run Production

How do they score runs? Are they notably home-run dependent? Notably light on power? Is their lineup predicated on depth or on production from stars?

Offensively, the Marlins were a middle of the road team in many ways in 2014. They finished 7th in the National League in RS/G with 3.98. As a team, the Marlins hit .253/.317/.378. In those three categories they finished seventh, sixth, and eighth in the NL. The team also finished with a True Average of .261, which was good enough for eleventh in all of baseball. These numbers paint the picture of a team that was far from bad on offense but still has some room for improvement.

What these numbers don’t show is just how dependent the Marlins were on their outfield for most of their offensive production last season. On a recent Baseball Tonight podcast, Buster Olney called this the best outfield in baseball. Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich did much of the heavy lifting for Miami’s offense last season. They were the only three regular hitters on the team to have an OPS+ of 100 (league average) or better. Those three players (Stanton 5.8, Ozuna 3.3, and Yelich 2.6) also led the team in oWAR.

Stanton was the star of the group hitting .288/.395/.555 to go along with 37 HR and 105 RBI. His wRC+ of 159 was good enough for seventh in the league of batters with at least 100 plate appearances. Unfortunately his season was cut a few weeks short when he was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch, but he still finished second in MVP voting in the NL (behind Kershaw).

In his first full season in the majors Ozuna had a very productive 2014. He hit .269/.317/.455 and finished with a wRC+ of 114. He finished second to Stanton in homeruns (23) and RBI (85). However, it’s likely for Marlins fans to expect some regression from Ozuna in 2015. During the season he had a high BABIP of .337, a below average K% (26.8), and a below average BB% (6.7). Yelich was also in his first full season with the club. He contributed by hitting .284/.362/.402. He also led the team in SB with 21.

The Marlins offense outside of those three wasn’t great or terrible…it was just kind of there. Almost every other offensive starter for the Marlins was just above or right at replacement level. Casey McGehee was the best of that bunch with a 1.4 OWAR. As a team they did a decent job of drawing walks with an 8.1 BB%, but they also struck out a lot (22.9K%). The Marlins were pretty dependent on Stanton and Ozuna to provide power for the lineup. They combined for 60 of the Marlins 122 HR.

Stolen bases had very little to do with the Marlins offensive production last year. They attempted to steal fewer times than any other NL team. They ended up with 58 stolen bases, which was good enough for thirteenth in the league. The lack of base stealing threats might be part of the reason that they traded for Dee Gordon this offseason. We’ll talk more about him in just a minute.

Does the manager use pinch-hitters and platoons liberally? Does the team have the platoon advantage in an especially large or small percentage of their plate appearances?

Mike Redmond was in his second season as manager of the Marlins last year. Over the course of the season he ran out 102 different lineups, which was the second fewest in the NL. Only Matt Williams and the National deployed fewer lineups (100).

However, Redmond deployed the third most pinch-hitters in the league a season ago (245). Marlins hitters had a platoon advantage 50% of the time last season, and this was the fourth worst percentage in the NL. Again, a lot of that stems from Redmond largely staying with the same lineup every day. Many assumed that the Marlins were heading for a platoon at 1B this season with Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker. However, with Jones being traded to the Yankees it now seems like for the most part their lineup will hold steady.

 

What is the team’s collective approach? Do they look to take a large number of pitchers? Does the manager put on the 3-0 green light very often? Are players benched or criticized by management for striking out too much?

For the most part the Marlins are a patient team. Their O-Swing% was 30.9 (12th best) and again their walk rate was the fifth best in the NL. In the latest Bill James Handbook, five of their everyday hitters are listed as very patient (Yelich, Saltalamacchia, and Stanton) or patient (Jones and Ozuna). So what explanation is there for a team who seems to lean patient but strikes out so much? Their 77.6 Contact % came in at thirteenth in the NL.

 

Does the manager call for steals and hit-and-runs often? Is the team aggressive in taking the extra base on hits and outs? Do they lay down sacrifice bunts with regularly or irregularity?

As mentioned above, the Marlins did not attempt to steal often in 2014. However, the Marlins did have the second most sacrifice hits in all of baseball with 71. Their Extra Bases Taken Percentage (XBT%) was 40 and was above the NL average.

Another way to assess their success on the base paths is by looking at Fangraph’s UBR (Ultimate Base Running) rating. This stat attempts to account for the value that a player adds to their team via base running. An average UBR is 0 and the Marlins finished with a UBR of 2.7 (4th in the NL). While they didn’t add much value through stolen bases the Marlins as a team were still productive running the bases.

 

What are the pressure points? Who might need to be replaced? What is their optimal batting order? Is it likely to be adhered to?

The biggest offensive need that the Marlins had was an upgrade at 2B. Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich ate up most of the innings at this position. Solano really struggled offensively over 340 PA’s as evidenced by his 75 wRC+. Dietrich was a much better hitter, but struggled so much defensively that it was difficult to play him regularly.

This helps explain why the Marlins were willing to go out and get Dee Gordon. Not only is he a clear upgrade at the position, but he also figures to help them steal more bases this season. Many expect Gordon to regress some from his 3.2 oWAR season of a year ago, but he will still be an upgrade over the combined 1.2 oWAR of Dietrich and Solano.

The Marlins also made two more additions this off-season that will impact their offensive production. Michael Morse was brought in and will be the starter at 1B now that Garrett Jones has been traded to the Yankees. This looks to be an upgrade as Morse tallied a 133 RC+ while Jones came in 99.

Martin Prado is the other addition to the Marlins starting up lineup this year. However, he posted worse offensive numbers than Casey McGehee who was the Marlins full time third-baseman a year ago. Prado came in below league average with an 89 wRC+, but he looks to give the Marlins a little more power. Also, Prado figures to be a significant upgrade defensively at the hot corner.

Since Redmond is unlikely to change up the lineup much, lets take a look at what the typical Marlins batting order will look like.

 

Dee Gordon – 2B

Christian Yelich – LF

Giancarlo Stanton – RF

Michael Morse – 1B

Marcell Ozuna – CF

Martin Prado – 3B

Jarrod Saltalamacchia – C

Adeiny Hechavarria – SS

 

Are park factors a large or small consideration? Does the team’s park favor a particular type of batter or handedness? Will the schedule or overall level of competition they face vary widely from the league average?

According to the Bill James Handbook, Marlins Park plays pretty neutral. However, it did give up 95% more triples last season than the average ballpark. Look for newcomer Dee Gordon to take advantage of that. It also appears to be much more generous to RH power than LH power (although you wonder how much Stanton and Ozuna might influence that statistic).

The Marlins will have the advantage of playing the National League East this season. PECOTA projects the Phillies to be the worst team in baseball, and it also projects the Braves to come in at 73 wins. The Mets also figure to be better than a year ago but are still beatable. Outside of the Nationals there are wins to be had for the Marlins in this division.

 

Run Prevention

What is their balance between pitching and fielding? How is responsibility for keeping runs off the board apportioned?

Defense wasn’t the strong suit of this Marlins team a year ago. They had the fourth worst defensive efficiency in all of baseball according to Baseball Prospectus.  Every infielder on the Marlins had a negative Defensive Runs Saved total according to Bill James (the outfielders all came in with positive numbers). Again, Prado figures to be a defensive upgrade at third base, but according to UZR, Gordon will be a downgrade at second compared to Donovan Solano. Morse could be a slight upgrade over Jones at first though last year he was still below league average.

 

Is the starting rotation generally a flat one, or one dominated by one or two aces? Does the manager allow his starters to go especially deep into games? Do the starters share common characteristics, or are there any philosophies the team’s pitching coach seems to drill into each?

Last season the Marlins had three pitchers make at least thirty starts. Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler, and Nathan Eovaldi were the regulars in the rotation. Baseball’s collective heart was broken when Jose Fernandez was shelved after only eight starts last year. Jarred Cosart made ten starts after a mid-season trade, Brad Hand took the mound sixteen times, and Jacob Turner started twelve games.

The Marlins rotation figures to look a little different in 2015. Mat Latos and Dan Haren have both come over in off-season trades. Highly touted prospect Andrew Heany was sent out in the Dee Gordon deal. Alvarez (ERA+ 144) and Koehler (ERA+ 100) were the best pitchers in the regular rotation last season. Cosart was great in ten starts coming in with an ERA+ of 160.

Fernandez should return to the rotation at some point this summer and when healthy the starting five looks to be: Fernandez, Alvarez, Latos, Cosart, and Haren/Koehler. Health will be a big issue for this rotation as Fernandez is coming back from Tommy John and Latos only made sixteen starts for Cincinnati last year due to injuries.

Fernandez, Eovaldi, Cosart, and Koehler all averaged over ninety pitches per game in their starts. Hand, Alvarez, and Turner all averaged over 80. However, according to Bill James, Redmond only allowed for 8 Long Outings (more than 110 pitches) this season. Only Ron Gardenhire, Kirk Gibson, Clint Hurdle, and Walt Weiss came in with fewer LO’s.

Of all the Marlins starters, Jose Fernandez was the only pitcher who threw his fastball less than 60% of the time. The Marlins developed something of a reputation for pursuing high velocity guys. Alvarez, Cosart, Fernandez, and Koehler all average at least 92MPH on their fastball a year ago. Newly acquired Mat Latos only averaged 90.7, but the hope is that if he’s healthy he could gain a little bit of velocity back.

 

When the middle and late innings come, does the manager have a long or a quick hook? Does he often make multiple pitching changes during innings? Is he aggressive and aware of matchups? Is the bullpen strictly hierarchical? Is it dominated by a set-up man and closer, or are there a large number of usable, interchangeable arms?

The Marlins had the fifth most wins in relief in all of baseball in 2014 with 30. The Marlins bullpen was slightly above average when it came to the percentage of inherited runners who scored last season (29%). Marlins relievers only entered the game with the lead 180 times a year ago. That marks the sixth fewest opportunities to enter the game with a lead in all of baseball (league average was 208).

Redmond was right at the league average when it came to allowing his relievers to make fewer than three outs. The Marlins had 139 appearances by relievers who worked less then an inning (league average was 142). You can also see this in that Redmond allowed his relievers to retire 3.1 outs per game in relief. According to Fangraphs ERA-, the Marlins bullpen a year ago (90) was above average. Steve Cishek should return to the closer role this season. He’s saved at least 34 games each of the last two seasons.

 

Does the team deploy a large number of infield, or even outfield, shifts? Do they turn double plays well? Does the outfield control runners on hits into the gaps and on flyouts? Are any players out of position? If so, is it strategic, or does the team overestimate the defensive abilities of those players? Are any players on the bench used as late-inning defensive replacements?

The Marlins rolled out the third fewest shifts in the NL last season with 208. They were middle of the road in the NL turning double plays with 207, but they came in with a negative contribution in Double Play Runs Saved (rGDP). The Marlins outfield once again showed its contributions to the club,  tallying 2 rARM (Outfield  Arms Runs Saved).

 

Does the primary catcher frame pitches well? Does he control the running game? Does the backup complement him, either by being excellent all-around or by doing things the starter does poorly?

No… the primary catcher does not frame pitches well. According to BP’s advanced catcher metrics, Jarrod Saltalamacchia came in dead last in “Extra Strikes Added.” His rating of -125.6 means that over 125 pitches that one would expect to be called a strike were called balls when Saltalamacchia was catching. Jarrod is also well below average in controlling the running game. In 2014 the league average for catchers was to throw out 28% of attempted stolen bases, and Saltalamacchia came in at 19%

The backup catcher Jeff Mathis fared much better in “Extra Strikes Added” (8.4). He also threw out 33% of stolen base attempts to come in well above league average. This difference in defense at catcher can be seen in Mathis’s 0.9 dWAR rating (second best on the team) to Saltalamacchia’s -0.3 (fifth worst).

 

Manager/Miscellaneous

Is the farm system well-stocked? Have any recent performances or additions changed the perceived standing of that system? Are there players on hand, in the upper levels of the minors, who are ready to take over roles with the parent team in the event of injury? Are there players who make especially good potential trade chips?

 

According to Keith Law’s latest farm system rankings, the Marlins have the 24th best system in baseball. As Scott Gelman of Fish Stripes notes, “Miami lost several key pieces this offseason, and in a handful of deals lost prospects Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brian Flynn. Law reminds readers in his rankings that the Marlins “rarely rank high because they promote players to big league roles so quickly.”

In this year’s BP Annual, the Marlins had no prospects listed in the “Top 101 Prospects” list. Baseball America lists left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino as a player to watch.

 

Speaking of injury, who is particularly fragile, or coming off off-season surgery that might impact their season? How deep is the team at the positions where they have injury-prone players?

The starting rotation includes several players that will be watched carefully. How does Jose Fernandez do in his return from Tommy John? Can Mat Latos overcome a couple of injuries from a year ago? New addition Michael Morse has struggled with injuries for much of his career and a strained oblique put him on the shelf for over a month in 2014.

What’s likely to happen? Will the composition of the team change? Will they compete? Will they win anything? Make a prediction or two, as specific or as vague as you would like, but make a prediction.

This off-season Giancarlo Stanton signed a well-publicized thirteen year $325 million dollar contract. That gave most people the impression that the Marlins were willing to try and win now. I’ll let Jonah Keri describe the reasons that he is bullish on the Marlins this season:

“The Marlins have the best outfield in baseball, they upgraded their infield, they’re getting a very good pitcher in Mat Latos to anchor the rotation, starter Jose Fernandez could be back by June after undergoing Tommy John surgery last May, and Miami will get to feast on the brittle bones of the Phillies and Braves in intra-division play.”

PECOTA projects the Marlins to finish with 81 wins. In the projected standings, that would put them within striking distance of a wild card spot. If the starting rotation stays healthy, and the offense outside of the outfield produces at all it’s not hard to imagine the Marlins playing baseball in October.

Regardless of whether or not the Marlins are in contention I’ll be watching them the entire season. Why? Because like Ben Lindbergh I too like to watch Giancarlo Stanton hit towering home runs, and he should hit plenty more in 2015. There are a lot of fun pieces on this team, and if nothing else the Marlins will definitely be interesting this season.

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One Response to “Season Preview Series, Part 15: The Miami Marlins in a Box”

  1. Joel Kinsey

    No wonder they’re not stealing. You got Giancarlo stepping to the plate. It’ll be interesting to see if Gordon’s SB’s go down because of that.

    Good read. This writer’s got potential.

    Reply

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