by: Ryan Waldis
Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 13th team preview of the series, featuring the Miami Marlins.
Before I go any further, I understand that what one particular individual did was deplorable. He put not only his life but the lives of others at risk because of his actions and thought process on one September night in 2016. Still, the death of Jose Fernandez ultimately killed the Miami Marlins. Not even taking into account the impact he had on the Miami community, the Miami fanbase, and baseball in general, you can’t just replace the production that Fernandez gave your team every fifth day in one offseason. He was an ace, a budding star, and was set to contend for Cy Young Awards for the next decade. It’s impossible to fill a hole that big.
People forget that the Marlins were 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot after games on August 28th concluded. Their pitching was ultimately their downfall—over their final 29 games, the Fish allowed five or more funs 17 times. Fernandez obviously can’t start all 29 of those games, but is it really that far-fetched to believe that, with him on the mound every fifth day, the Marlins remain in Wild Card contention deep into September instead of quickly falling out of the race as the calendar turned to September? Admittedly, the Marlins offense fell apart during a stretch from August 28th to September 15th. During that period of time, Miami compiled an ugly 2-16 record, scoring two runs or less in 11 of those 18 games. That 11 of those games were against beatable opponents—Atlanta and Philadelphia—makes it seem even worse to onlookers. So, maybe having Fernandez doesn’t do anything of note. Still, his loss was essentially impossible to overcome.
J.T. Realmuto experienced another productive campaign in 2017. The young backstop slashed .278/.332/.451 and posted a wRC+ of 105. The strikeout rate remained exactly the same from the year before (18.3%), he increased his walk rate by one percent (5.1% to 6.2%), and Realmuto hit 17 home runs, a new career-high. The catcher was 10th in the league among catchers in adjusted FRAA with a 10.9 mark; he also finished 13th in Framing Runs with 8.3. For a catcher, the eight steals were also nice, and Realmuto proved that he has 20/10 potential.
First baseman Justin Bour had the best season of his career last year, finishing with a 133 wRC+. The .289/.366/.536 triple-slash was intriguing, the 25 homers he cranked were a career-high, and he exhibited a solid approach at the plate, posting strikeout and walk rates of 22.1% and 11.0%, respectively. Per UZR, Bour was also a slight positive in the field. He logged 862.1 innings at first base last season and finished with a career-high 2.2 grade in the category.
Dee Gordon missed half of the 2016 season due to suspension and his production seemingly suffered because of it. While Gordon was still below average at the plate in 2017 per his 92 wRC+, his performance at the plate was a marked improvement over the prior campaign. Gordon’s slash-line of .308/.341/.375 was passable; since he has non-existent power, the infielder will always produce an empty batting average—of his 201 hits, 170 were singles. Still, he swiped 60 bags and posted a 6.4 UZR at the keystone, which was the best mark in the league among second basemen.
The shortstop duties in 2017 were split between Miguel Rojas and prospect J.T. Riddle, and both were okay but not spectacular. Rojas slashed .290/.361/.375 and contributed a 1.8 UZR on the defensive side. Riddle was promoted two separate times due to injuries to Adeiny Hechavarria and Martin Prado, and stuck for good after the second promotion. He hit .250/.282/.355 in his first big league season over 247 plate appearances, but suffered a shoulder injury in July and ended up getting shut down.
Derek Dietrich broke out in 2016, slashing .279/.374/.425 in just over 400 plate appearances. The .343 BABIP was a career-high, so most people figured his 2016 performance would end up being an outlier. He proved those people right in 2017—he received 464 plate appearances and put up a slash-line of .249/.334/.424 and a wRC+ 99. He did manage to hit 13 home runs, but with a 20 point drop in wOBA and a -1.6 UZR grade at the hot corner, he wasn’t exactly one of Miami’s biggest contributors.
You could definitely make the argument that Miami had the best outfield in all of baseball in 2017. Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton, all under the age of 28? That’s overkill. Stanton led the way, slashing an insane .281/.376/.631 and sending 59 balls out of the yard, by far a career-high. It’s no coincidence that Stanton put up these numbers while appearing in the most games—159—of his career. He even managed to lower his strikeout rate by six percent (23.6%) and increase his walk rate by two percent (12.3%). An Ozuna breakout was on the docket for a while and it finally happened in 2017. On the back of a .355 BABIP, Ozuna hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 dingers, posting a 142 wRC+. The young outfielder also graded out positively in the field with a 3.4 UZR in left field. Yelich fell off a bit from 2016 but was still above average at the dish, finishing with a triple-slash of .282/.369/.439. The 115 wRC+ was actually the lowest of his career, which speaks to how consistently good Yelich has been since he broke into the league in 2013. He hit 18 home runs and stole 16 bases, showcasing his 20/20 potential.
The Marlins finished 26th in the league in terms of ERA, pitching to a combined 4.82 total. They were better than just the Orioles, Mets, Reds, and Tigers in terms of pitching. The rotation was especially hard to watch at times—they were one of six groups around the league to post an ERA over 5.00. It’s hard to pick the best of the bunch simply because there wasn’t really one. Jose Urena had the best ERA (3.82) and finished with the highest WAR among Marlins pitchers, but his BABIP was .249, which is completely unsustainable, and his strikeout and walk rates (15.6% and 8.8%) weren’t entirely appealing. This culminated in a FIP of 5.20. Dan Straily was a little better, pitching to an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 4.26/4.58/4.70. His strikeout and walk rates of 22.1% and 7.8% were more than passable, but the 1.54 HR/9 mark was ugly. Straily’s FB% has sat between 45% and 55% since his debut with the Athletics six years ago, though, so that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Edinson Volquez tossed a no-hitter in early June but he struggled with control through 17 starts before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. The 13.4% walk rate was unsightly, and after five seasons of at least 170 innings and 31 starts, Volquez finally broke down last year.
Three other arms made double-digit starts for the Fish in 2017 and there wasn’t one member of that trio that was reliable. Adam Conley struggled mightily after two promising years to begin his career, Tom Koehler was awful before being traded (to his credit, he performed better after the change of scenery), and Vance Worley was probably better left in the bullpen (and even that might not be entirely accurate).
Conley: 20 starts, 6.07 ERA/5.53 FIP, 15.6 K%, 9.3 BB%, 1.61 HR/9
Koehler: 12 starts, 7.42 ERA/6.62 FIP, 18.0 K%, 11.3 BB%, 2.23 HR/9
Worley: 12 starts, 7.39 ERA/5.51 FIP, 12.9 K%, 9.1 BB%, 1.38 HR/9
The Miami bullpen was better than the rotation, finishing tied for 20th in the league with a combined 4.40 ERA. Over 612.0 innings (most in the league), they struck out 559 and walked 271, allowing opponents to hit .259 off of them. The trio of A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough, and Drew Steckenrider were the leaders of the ‘pen in 2017. Ramos provided 39.2 solid innings of relief before his trade to the Mets, pitching to a 3.63 ERA and 3.91 FIP. His strikeout rate climbed by one percent to 27.9%, but his walk rate increased as well, moving up to 13.2% which isn’t exactly ideal.
Bear Claw struggled with a shoulder injury towards the middle of the campaign but still managed to post a 3.00 ERA and 3.66 FIP. The 26.6% strikeout rate would have been nice if it wasn’t 10 percent lower from the previous season. The Marlins young reliever increased his LOB% by five percent (79.1%) but posted a FB% (33.9%) that was six percent higher than it was in 2016. Steckenrider impressed in his major league debut, tossing 34.2 innings of 2.42 ERA/3.10 FIP ball. The 35.8% strikeout rate was impressive and the 26-year-old showcased his 70-grade fastball.
David Phelps and Brad Ziegler were also solid veterans in the ‘pen. Phelps posted a 3.45 ERA and 3.71 FIP over 44 appearances, while Ziegler took the mound 53 times and pitched to a 4.79 ERA and 3.73 FIP. The 12.3% strikeout rate was the lowest of Ziegler’s career, though, which was a little concerning. Batters also hit .302 off of the 37-year-old, which isn’t ideal. Jarlin Garcia and Nick Wittgren also deserve recognition; while their ERAs weren’t phenomenal some of their peripherals indicated that they could be effective major league relievers.
The Marlins were extremely active in the offseason, completely gutting their team and setting themselves very well to tank in 2018. Their biggest addition was Lewis Brinson, the former top prospect of the Brewers. At just 23, Brinson will receive a plethora of playing time in his first full major league campaign, and will be attempting to prove that he can be a focal part of the Marlins core whenever the organization is ready to compete again.
I mean obviously Giancarlo Stanton was the biggest loss but, as Jason Kelce said in his Super Bowl speech, “It’s the whole team!” The Marlins lost their entire starting outfield via the trades of Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna, as well as their second baseman in Gordon. Those four players I just named were four of the top five WAR getters for the Fish in 2017 (for those wondering, Realmuto was the other member of that top-five). It’s actually kind of remarkable that none of them will be back in 2018.
All Additions: Lewis Brinson, Jose Devers, Jorge Guzman, Starlin Castro, Daniel Castana, Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, Jordan Yamamoto, Cameron Maybin, Scott Van Slyke, Jumbo Diaz
Best Case: Realmuto, Bour, Castro, Prado, Dietrich, and Maybin all play well enough to garner interest around the league. The Marlins are able to trade all six of these players and continuing building up a farm system that was seemingly neglected for years. Still without an ace (or even a suitable #2), the rotation struggles. Having said that, Urena, Conley, and Dillon Peters provided glimpses of their potential. Brinson is the lone bright spot in a tough season, receiving the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Worst Case: Remember 2013, when the Marlins went 62-100? It’ll be like that, but worse, especially since there won’t be a Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, or Christian Yelich on the team to take away from how ugly the product on the field is. Brinson struggles in his first full major league season, the fanbase that still remains is pissed, and the word “relocation” gets thrown around a ton.
PECOTA Projected Record: 66-96, 676 RS, 832 RA