Last Updated: 2018-03-01
Major League Baseball should be ashamed. Former Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t exactly develop a myriad of fans and well-wishers during his time as the team’s financier, but what has happened in the days, weeks, and months since the group featuring Derek “YEAH, JEETS!” Jeter took over, the fire sale has been swift, ugly, and overwhelming. Dee Gordon is gone. Giancarlo Stanton is gone. Marcell Ozuna is gone. Christian Yelich is gone. JT Realmuto will soon be gone.
Maybe the Marlins needed to rebuild. The tragic death of Jose Fernandez sent aftershocks through Major League Baseball, but the earthquake was in Miami, where the Marlins not only lost an endearing personality with a passion for the game, but also one of the game’s top starting pitchers. Miami has been unable to develop a lot of pitching talent and entered the offseason well behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East hierarchy. The trade returns progressively got better, after Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton didn’t net a whole lot in terms of assets. The Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich deals had more upside.
The fact is that MLB and its owners willfully approved a group that did not have the money to run the franchise in its then current state. Bruce Sherman is the controlling owner. Jeter only has a four-percent stake in the team, but he will be the face as a future Hall of Famer. The Marlins were reportedly purchased with $400 million in debt, which is why Stanton’s huge contract was moved in the blink of an eye and for whatever fictitious denomination would be less than pennies on the dollar. Now the team, the ex-owner, and the current owners are being sued by Miami-Dade County.
As the first transactions happened, players geared up for what would be a raging inferno of fire sales. The team probably isn’t done either, with a coveted reliever like Kyle Barraclough and a top catcher in JT Realmuto still left to be moved. Starlin Castro also wants out.
Last year’s numbers are irrelevant at this point with such a huge chunk of offense spread among the league’s other clubs. Miami did go 77-85, with the same record per the run differential based Pythagorean Win-Loss and a slightly better 79-83 record per BaseRuns. But, as mentioned, what happened last year legitimately means nothing with the current makeup of the team.
The Marlins will be bad. They will be the penultimate bottom feeder in a league that has about a third of its members in various states of a rebuild. Just how bad will they be? That’s what we’ll attempt to find out.
Season Win Total Odds:
5Dimes: 64.5 (115/-135)
BetOnline: 64.5 (-105/-115)
Bovada: 64.5 (125/-155)
Additions: Starlin Castro, Lewis Brinson, Cameron Maybin, Garrett Cooper, Scott Van Slyke, Brett Graves, Elieser Hernandez, Chad Wallach, Bryan Holaday, Eric Campbell, Johnny Giavotella, Isan Diaz, Yadiel Rivera, Cristhian Adames, Magneuris Sierra, JB Shuck, Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Jacob Turner, Tyler Cloyd, Nick Niedert, Jumbo Diaz, Drew Rucinski, Alex Wimmers
Losses: Mike Aviles, AJ Ellis, Dustin McGowan, Ichiro Suzuki, Brandon Barnes, Christian Colon, Jake Elmore, Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Edinson Volquez, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich
Obviously the focus is on what the Marlins lost, with four big names with Major League pedigrees finding themselves with a new zip code for the 2018 season and beyond. As far as what the Marlins got, a lot of it won’t be on display for a few years because a good chunk of the prospects acquired are lower-level guys. Miami did acquire Major League talent in Starlin Castro and Lewis Brinson. Magneuris Sierra is pretty close and could very well make the team out of camp. Isan Diaz is fairly close as well.
A lot of cheap non-roster invites and minor league deals were signed by fringy, part-time players looking for a spot to play. The Marlins are an attractive destination for these reserves because an avalanche of trades means an avalanche of opportunities for playing time. The starting lineup is fairly in tact, but bench possibilities are there.
Why bet the over?
This offense still has a few pieces, at least for now. JT Realmuto is one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. Martin Prado has been a steady contributor at the big league level for quite a while. Starlin Castro will be playing as hard as he can to get out of South Beach. Justin Bour can rake and Lewis Brinson has a lot of upside. The top half of this lineup might not be too bad.
The 26-year-old Realmuto is known in traditional baseball circles for being a solid offensive piece. He’s posted wRC+ marks of 109 and 105 over the last two seasons, with almost identical .333 and .332 wOBA marks. What people probably don’t realize is that Realmuto is a pretty good defensive catcher as well. The league average caught stealing percentage was 27 percent last season. Realmuto was at 32 percent. Two years ago, he was at 35.4 percent. It is a really great weapon to have a catcher that can hit and can also make a difference defensively. Catchers league-wide posted a .245/.315/.406 slash line with a .309 wOBA and an 89 wRC+. Realmuto was 16 percent better than that and a plus defensively. That is highly valuable at a position where a lot of the league’s backstops play below league average.
Justin Bour is a really useful hitter on the fat side of the platoon. The left-handed first baseman has tormented righties over the last couple of seasons and yields a good amount of value as a result. Bour was limited to 429 plate appearances last season due to injury, but had career highs across the board in home runs, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+. His 133 wRC+ was quite solid and so was his .374 wOBA. Bour hit 20 HR over his first 270 plate appearances, but as injuries popped up, he lost his power production in the second half. He should be good for some solid full-season numbers in the middle of this order.
Martin Prado is coming off of knee surgery, so we’ll see to see how effective he can be, especially playing a challenging position like third base. From 2012 to 2016, Prado averaged about 3.25 fWAR per season. Last year, he was limited to 37 games and 147 plate appearances because of injury. In 2016, he posted a .335 wOBA with a 110 wRC+ and was an above average defender at the hot corner. Prado has played all around the diamond in his career, so he’ll be a really attractive trade piece if the Marlins are willing to eat some of the $28.5 million due to him between this season and next.
If Starlin Castro has the right mindset, he can be a useful piece in this lineup. Castro slashed .300/.338/.454 last season with a .338 wOBA and a 110 wRC+. He wasn’t great defensively, but a 110 wRC+ at second base is a pretty good showing. Because Castro doesn’t walk, many of the important components at Fangraphs, like wOBA and fWAR don’t really love his profile. To be fair, he’s also had some really bad years. If the 110 wRC+ is more of what we can expect, he’ll at least be an average player.
Lewis Brinson looked pretty overmatched in his 55 plate appearances last season, but the 23-year-old has raked at every level of the minors. Before getting called up, Brinson slashed .331/.400/.562 with a .410 wOBA for Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Milwaukee organization. We certainly have to take PCL stats with a grain of salt, especially those in the altitude, but Brinson has always been a prized prospect at the plate. He’s also pretty good defensive outfielder. The KATOH projection system of Chris Mitchell, which has been so successful that Mitchell is now working in the private baseball sector, ranked Brinson 11th coming into the season.
Derek Dietrich is a league average type of player with a 99 wRC+ last season and the ability to play multiple positions at something of an average level. JT Riddle showed above average fielding ability with a below average bat last year. Projected third baseman Brian Anderson cracked Fangraphs’s Top 100 prospects list and was ninth in the org per Baseball Prospectus and third per Baseball America.
Depth is a major issue. Trades have vaulted youngsters into starting roles and a lot of prospects aren’t quite there yet. Magneuris Sierra will probably be starting in the OF sooner rather than later. But, this is still an offense that has a bit of upside.
It will need it because the pitching staff doesn’t have a whole lot. Dan Straily had the best season of his career by fWAR and it was with a 4.26 ERA with a 4.58 FIP and 4.70 xFIP. Straily improved his strikeout rate and his walk rate, but ran into the league’s home run craze and had issues with the long ball. It was truly a tale of two halves for Straily, who held the opposition to a .283 wOBA with a .208/.273/.390 slash in the first half with 97 strikeouts in 103.1 innings of work. In the second half, however, those numbers ballooned to a .385 wOBA with a .299/.371/.558 slash. His K% did fall by three percent and his walk rate went up, but it was simply an issue of command. Straily’s probably somewhere in between the two halves, which means an average starting pitcher as the de facto ace of the staff.
The rest of the starting staff features hopes and prayers, to be totally honest. Jose Urena had a 3.82 ERA in 169.2 innings last season. Dillon Peters is a deceptive little lefty with good minor league numbers that could be more comfortable in his second trip around the league. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, Peters skipped Triple-A and only had 13 career starts at Double-A before getting the call. He was thrown into the fire quickly, so we’ll see if he can make adjustments. For the most part, he exhibited good control and a good feel for avoiding the barrel in the minors.
The bullpen isn’t too shabby. Strikeout artist Kyle Barraclough should be the closer, but it might also benefit the Marlins to have his services in the fireman role to be deployed as needed. Brad Ziegler’s quirky motion and arm slot helped him to a 3.73 FIP last season, even though his ERA didn’t follow suit at 4.79. Drew Steckenrider missed a lot of bats in his 34.2 innings of work with a 35.8 percent K%.
Many of these players are highly motivated, whether they are motivated to get out of town or prove that they belong at the big league level. You don’t want to underestimate what that means over the course of a season.
Why bet the under?
To be completely honest, I’m not sure where to begin. This is not a great situation. Veterans will spend the year wondering (hoping?) where they will be traded. Guys like JT Realmuto and Justin Bour have escalating costs because of arbitration. Martin Prado and Starlin Castro have salaries that ownership would love to move. Dan Straily is a trade candidate if he is effective because he is also in that arbitration window. Brad Ziegler is a lock to be traded at some point this season. Kyle Barraclough would net a big return as a reliever set to hit arbitration next season. The Marlins are eating $13 million owed to Edinson Volquez this season, but have cut next year’s guaranteed money to just under $47 million. They only owe $23 million guaranteed for 2020 and have zero guaranteed dollars on the books beginning in 2021.
The Marlins ranked seventh in batter wOBA last season, which does include the paltry contributions at the dish from pitchers. That was the fourth-highest of any NL team, trailing the three division winners. Of that 26 fWAR from position players, 6.9 (nice) belonged to Giancarlo Stanton, 4.8 to Marcell Ozuna, 4.5 to Christian Yelich, and 3.3 to Dee Gordon. That is 19.5 fWAR combined among those four players. Guys like Justin Bour and Martin Prado did miss decent chunks of the season, so they may make up some of the gap, but that is a significant amount of talent going out the door.
Starlin Castro is basically a league average type of player and his motivation level will seriously be in question this season. He’s getting paid no matter what. There aren’t a lot of teams that will be looking to acquire the almost $23 million that he is guaranteed the rest of the way. He’s only been worth 3.8 fWAR over the last three seasons and last year marked just his second season in the last six with a wRC+ above 100. Defensively, he’s below average at second base. He’ll be thrust into a prominent role here out of necessity and that probably won’t go well long-term.
As long as JT Realmuto is with the Marlins, he’ll be a useful player, but projections currently have him and his 6.2 percent BB% leading off. It will be hard for the Marlins to construct a lot of innings. Three of the guys that actually walked at an above average rate are gone. Brian Anderson had a good walk rate in his 95 plate appearances, but we’ll have to see how his skills translate over a full season. Justin Bour is a solid hitter, but he may be hitting a lot of solo home runs. Lewis Brinson will go through some more growing pains, especially hitting in worse environments. Colorado Springs and hitter-friendly Miller Park in Milwaukee are definitely not Marlins Park.
So much offensive production has been lost. Gordon and Yelich combined for 76 stolen bases. Stanton and Ozuna accounted for 96 home runs. Both guys had .376 OBPs. This offense is really not going to be very good.
And that’s a problem because the pitching staff could be extremely bad. Sandy Alcantara should come up and inject some life into this pitching staff at some point, but Dan Straily is the “ace”. Straily’s high fly ball rate is enough of a worry in today’s offensive environment and having a .288 BABIP against plus a high home run rate with a 34.2 percent GB% speaks to a lack of command. The numbers certainly back that up given the second half that he had.
Jose Urena is the #2 starter, technically, and he had that 3.82 ERA, but it came with a 5.20 FIP and a 5.29 xFIP. He doesn’t miss a whole lot of bats and isn’t a particularly useful starting pitcher. Dillon Peters made six starts with a 5.17/4.69/4.52 pitcher slash. Deception can only get you so far at this level. He virtually skipped Double-A and Triple-A, so the profile isn’t very refined.
Odrisamer Despaigne was somewhat effective in his eight starts, but he isn’t a long-term buy. He’s not even really a short-term buy with a 4.72/4.36/4.64 pitcher slash in 310.2 career MLB innings. Justin Nicolino has one of the worst swinging strike rates and strikeout rates of the last few seasons. He has a 5.12 xFIP in 201.1 innings at the MLB level with a 4.65 ERA and a 4.84 FIP.
This rotation is a debacle. The bullpen has three good relievers in Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, and Drew Steckenrider. Barracough had a 3.66 FIP to go along with his 3.00 ERA, so some regression is possible. Ziegler has poor strikeout rates and is very dependent on some of the luck metrics like BABIP and LOB%. Last season, they were against him, with a .346 BABIP and a 64.4 percent LOB%. He’s not closer material, but that will be his role, at least until he gets traded. Steckenrider looked good in his first 37 career appearances, but he isn’t exactly a proven commodity and does have some control problems.
The NL East got better around the Marlins. The Phillies signed Carlos Santana and have been proactive in other ways, not to mention they’ll have full seasons of dudes like Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams. The Braves have the top prospect in baseball in Ronald Acuna and some other exciting youngsters. The Mets should have better health with the pitching staff and have made some good upgrades. The Nationals didn’t need to do anything to remain atop the division.
There is no good division to play in when you’re in Miami’s situation. This may be the best-case scenario among the three NL divisions, but it is still less than favorable for them. Is Don Mattingly the right kind of manager for this situation? He’s been with winning teams in New York and Los Angeles. Is a rebuilding Miami roster destined to easily lose 90+ the right type of place? Can he be a patient teacher?
Pick: Under 64.5 (-115, BetOnline)
I’ve talked about this a lot, but I don’t play extremes. The Marlins are going to be extremely bad. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it. Furthermore, they, the players and the coaches and the executives, know it. Nobody will go out and watch this team. There is a significant lack of talent on offense and with the pitching staff. A lot of the prospects acquired in the trades don’t have particularly high ceilings and the ones that might are a long way away, so reinforcements won’t even be coming this season.
After the Trade Deadline, the Marlins will probably be rolling out a Triple-A team. There is no reason to take an over with this squad. But, with a team that needs to lose 98 games to go under the total, there isn’t a whole lot of equity in that either. This is an all-around no play and we’ll have to see how ugly their day-to-day game lines are.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
There were supposed to be things to celebrate over the offseason for the Miami Marlins. Christian Yelich had a breakout season. Marcell Ozuna got back on track. Giancarlo Stanton was healthy enough to play 119 games after playing just 74 the season before. Adam Conley had a quality season. David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough proved to be dominant relievers. Instead, the tragic death of star pitcher Jose Fernandez overshadowed it all.
It seems cruel that the starting rotation is far and away the worst group with this ballclub. It would have been the weakest area of the team with #16 going every five days anyway, but the thing that could keep a very promising team from its ceiling is the collection of guys that will start every five days. Expectations aren’t all that high for the Marlins anyway, so they could be a surprise team this season if some of the newly-acquired starters inject some life into the holdovers from last season.
The Marlins were 79-82 last season. By Pythagorean Win-Loss, they were a 78-83 team with a -27 run differential. Miami’s BaseRuns record was 79-82, so they didn’t have any big outliers. They were a little bit unlucky from an offensive standpoint, as BaseRuns had the Marlins with 4.19 runs per game instead of the 4.07 runs per game they actually scored, but the Marlins were pretty much as good as they were supposed to be per those two alternative standings metrics.
Most seem to believe that the NL East will be a two-horse race between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets and some believe that the gap is pretty big between those two teams. Can a surprise third-party join the fray down the stretch? If it’s going to be one of the three other teams in the East, the smart money would be on the Marlins, despite what the Braves did in the second half. The question is whether or not the Marlins can get to that point.
Season Win Total Odds
BetDSI: 76.5 (-104/-116)
BetOnline: 76.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 77.5 (125/-155)
Additions: AJ Ellis, Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa, Jeff Locke, Brandon Barnes, Kyle Lobstein, Severino Gonzalez, Javy Guerra, Elvis Araujo
Losses: Mike Dunn, David Lough, Bryan Morris, Andrew Cashner, Jeff Francoeur, Chris Johnson, Jeff Mathis, Fernando Rodney
The Marlins quietly had a strong offseason. They avoided overpaying Mike Dunn and swapped him out for Brad Ziegler instead. Junichi Tazawa will give the Marlins another reliable arm in middle relief. There’s also some bullpen/swingman depth with Jeff Locke, Kyle Lobstein, and Severino Gonzalez.
Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily will slot into the starting rotation as upgrades over what the Marlins had last season. AJ Ellis is a good defensive catcher that should be a very good mentor for JT Realmuto. None of the losses were overly significant except for one.
I didn’t list Jose Fernandez because he was not lost over the offseason and this section is for offseason transactions. The death of Jose Fernandez hit me much harder than losses of other professional athletes, including the recent death of Yordano Ventura. I never met Jose Fernandez. I never got to watch him pitch live. Selfishly, one of my many thoughts the day he died is that I will never have the chance and that is a major disappointment. The saddest part about all of it is the story of Jose Fernandez. The way he left Cuba. The way he saved his drowning mother. His emotional reunion with his grandmother. His zest for life and passion for the game. He was given another chance in the water that day he saved his mom and then successfully made it to North America. Then, he died from a boating accident. It’s unfair.
Like most, I simply shook my head when the toxicology reports and other accounts came out about what led up to Fernandez’s passing. While his final hours were littered with bad choices that resulted in deaths that could have been prevented, in all likelihood, I choose to remember the smiling pitcher that he knew was good and let other players know it, too. Some thought his antics were brash or arrogant. For a kid that had conquered so much to pitch on the biggest stage in the world, to me, he had earned that right.
Some of baseball’s problems stem from an inability to market its stars. Fernandez was one of them. It’s still surreal to speak about him in the past tense. He was a huge loss for baseball, a monumental loss for the Marlins, and a downright devastating loss for his family and friends.
Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years from now, those in my generation and the generations before and after mine will remember what could have been with #16. He already was great. Who knows what he could have become. Sadly, we will never know. RIP JDF.
Why bet the over?
This is a lineup that has a lot of potential. Last year, the Marlins were only 27th in runs scored and I feel like they underachieved in a pretty big way. Christian Yelich’s breakout season really stood out. Yelich posted a .298/.376/.483 slash line with a .367 wOBA and a 130 wRC+. Yelich hit 21 homers and made a ton of exceptional contact. He also nearly took 10 bases. The 25-year-old looks like a legit building block near the top of this order. He walked nearly 11 percent of the time and the spike in power would suggest that his pitch recognition skills have improved. His defensive value will be trimmed a bit by moving from left field, where he was +32 defensive runs saved over four years, to center fielder, where he is -6 defensive runs saved, but it’s a much more challenging position and that is weighted accordingly. He should be a four-win player once again.
Giancarlo Stanton’s health is such a key to the season. Stanton missed about a month last year with a strained groin and he just wasn’t the same hitter after missing more than half of the 2015 season. Stanton hit 27 home runs in 318 plate appearances in 2015. He hit 27 home runs in 470 plate appearances last season. His overall slash line went from .265/.346/.606 to .240/.326/.489. Stanton is a guy that has shown the ability to repeat high slugging percentages and carry well above average HR/FB% in the past. Hopefully he’s healthy because he’s one of the game’s most dynamic players when he is. Projection systems like about a 20 percent boost from Stanton relative to last season’s wRC+. He’s a slightly above average defender, so a bounce back offensively would net a lot of positive value for the Fish. Stanton is only 27, so it’s not like his best days are fully behind him. There’s a lot of hope here. He posted a 3.9-win season in 74 games in 2015 and only managed 1.7 fWAR in 119 games last season. Hopefully he gets back on track.
One of the problems in projecting out the Marlins is that they don’t have a lot of guys like Yelich and Stanton with well above average potential. They do, however, have quite a few solid big leaguers. Not many people speak about Martin Prado, but the versatile 33-year-old has carved out a very nice career. Last season, he posted his second straight 3.2-win season by carrying a .305/.359/.417 slash. There’s not a lot of power there, but there’s a ton of bat-to-ball and some good contact quality. Prado has also rated above average at the hot corner each of the last two seasons. The 33-year-old saw a batting average drop in the second half, but he other peripherals improved, so he should be okay in terms of the aging curve for another year or two. He also smashes left-handed pitching. Prado now has a .309/.377/.472 slash against southpaws. Overall, the Marlins should be a pretty good team against lefties this season, for those also thinking about game-by-game betting. I’ve said the same thing over the last couple of years. Last season, the Marlins were 22-12 against left-handed starters.
JT Realmuto hit 11 HR and stole 12 bases as a catcher. He’s also a very good defensive catcher, so he carried a ton of value with 3.5 fWAR. Realmuto is slated for some time at first base this season with a competent backup in AJ Ellis, but he’s really worked hard at the offensive side of the game and it shows. His prospect stock wasn’t all that high because of his hitting in the minor leagues, but he’s really picked it up at the MLB level. He batted .303/.343/.428 with a 107 wRC+ last year. As mentioned, Ellis is a good defensive backup, so this is one of the more valuable tandems in the NL.
Marcell Ozuna wasn’t very good in center field and only posted a .321 OBP, so his advanced metrics value doesn’t really do justice to what he meant for the Marlins. His 2016 season meant hope. After falling out of favor in 2015 and spending some time in purgatory between the minor leagues and the trade rumors, Ozuna stepped up and hit 23 HR last season with a 105 wRC+. It seems like Don Mattingly is going to move Ozuna to a corner to let Christian Yelich patrol center field, so that could help Ozuna’s overall value tremendously.
Dee Gordon doesn’t provide a whole lot of offensive value, but he creates value on the basepaths and in the field. He also only managed to play 79 games last season, but he wasn’t going to replicate his 4.7-win season in 2015. He carried a .383 BABIP all year and that was simply way out of range, even for a guy with his speed. With better health, Gordon could be in line for a bounce back. Remember, we’re looking for all possible gains to lead up to bigger gains. Gordon fits the mold there if he can elevate his BABIP back to career levels to post an average or better OBP with his usual contributions. There’s good defense up the middle at the shortstop spot with Adeiny Hechavarria as well. Like Gordon, he’s not much of a hitter, but he’s a great defender.
Justin Bour is carving out a nice niche as a player that has value, but it seems to be hidden from the advanced metrics. Bour plays the platoon role on the fat side very nice at first base. He’s hit 39 HR in 850 MLB plate appearances with a .265/.335/.467 slash. He’s pretty useless against lefties, but he’s a .271/.345/.494 guy against righties. There’s value in that.
My biggest miss in 2016 was Wei-Yin Chen. I thought this was an outstanding signing for the Marlins. Chen was coming over from the American League and had to bob and weave his way to success at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That’s not a good place for a pitch-to-contact guy. Chen’s K% actually declined, which was stunning to me in a league where pitchers hit. The biggest thing about Chen last season is that he lost his elite skill of inducing pop ups. Chen’s IFFB% had never been below 10 percent in any MLB season and was actually 14 percent in 2015. Pop ups are basically strikeouts caught by somebody generally not wearing a mask. Unfortunately, Chen’s command took a massive hit and his pop up rate dropped to 6.8 percent while his hard-contact rate went through the roof. As it turned out, Chen missed two months with a sprained elbow right in the middle of the season. I think we see a much better season from Wei-Yin Chen. It can be hard for some of these Asian pitchers to get comfortable in a city and then switch to a different city, especially one as vastly different as Miami. He has a better feel for the hitters and for his catcher. Who knows, maybe he’d do well to have AJ Ellis as a personal catcher. Either way, I think we see the home run rate drop. Marlins Park is such a good venue for pitchers and Chen didn’t get to experience that last season. If you’re looking at an NL-only league or the late rounds of a MLB fantasy draft, I like Chen to bounce back and carry a decent WHIP with a 3.50 or 3.60 ERA and a spike in strikeouts.
I’m not an Edinson Volquez fan, but the dude found another good fit. Volquez settled with the Kansas City Royals and rode that defense to one of his best seasons before the wheels fell off last year. Now, he draws into a Miami roster that features three plus defenders on the infield. Last season, his command evaded him and his walk rate went up and his home run rate skyrocketed. He’s back in the NL now with a better park to pitch in and another strong infield defense. There’s some room for a bounce back here as well.
I’m very intrigued by Adam Conley this season. The southpaw made 25 starts last year and threw 133.1 innings. He missed some time with left ring finger tendinitis, which, seems oddly specific, but he struck out 124 batters. Conley basically had one outlier of a month in May when a lot of balls found holes. He kept hitters to a .235/.328/.378 slash in 99.1 innings in the first half of the season. I think there’s a middle-of-the-rotation starter here and that’s a plus.
Dan Straily is another very interesting guy. Straily became an extreme fly ball pitcher last season and that didn’t really fit very well at Great American Ball Park. Straily posted a 3.76 ERA by carrying a .239 BABIP and posting a reasonable strikeout rate. He also gave up 31 home runs. Marlins Park is a lot more forgiving. The outfield defense for the Marlins isn’t great, but it’s about average, and that could help Straily out in a big way. For a guy that only throws 89-90, Straily had a pretty good rate of swings and misses inside the strike zone, which is a sign of his good tunneling and pitch mixing. Straily had one of the highest Zone% marks in the league at 48.6 percent, so his walk rate of 9.2 percent seems unnaturally high. There’s a lot of room for improvement here.
There’s not a ton of depth here, but Tom Koehler is a decent pitcher at home. Justin Nicolino misses virtually no bats, but can pitch to this above average defense. There are a couple prospects like Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia that could see some MLB time.
The best part of this team is the bullpen. It is deep and loaded with excellent arms. AJ Ramos has 160 strikeouts over his last 134.1 innings of work. He’s slated to start as the closer after racking up 40 saves last season, but Kyle Barraclough will be beating on the door. Barraclough struck out 113 in 72.2 innings last season. He’s a little bit erratic, but he’s also extremely hard to square up. He gave up one home run out of 306 batters last season. Brad Ziegler’s submarine arm slot is a different look for teams, especially with some of the hard-throwers with sharp breaking stuff that the Marlins can throw at the opposition. Junichi Tazawa posted good K/BB rates last season, but the long ball hurt him. Again, Marlins Park will help that. David Phelps struck out 114 over 86.2 innings. The Marlins pen is legitimately strong. For a reaffirmation of that, here’s Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.
Why bet the under?
The health of Giancarlo Stanton tops the list. Stanton is the straw that truly stirs the drink for this offense. Christian Yelich’s breakout season was excellent (more on that in a minute), but Stanton’s inability to stay healthy hurts this team a lot. Even though he made it through 119 games last season, he still wasn’t all there. It’s hard to say that about a guy that hit 27 HR in just 470 plate appearances, but this is a guy that has posted wRC+ marks of 154, 161, and 158. He posted a 114 last season. The league-wide power spike mitigated some of his production in that regard, but his batting average dropped 25 points, his OBP dropped 20 points, and his SLG dropped over 100 points. The Marlins finished 27th in runs for a reason.
I think Christian Yelich is safe offensively. He’s carried high BABIPs for three full seasons now, so we can’t really argue with the contact quality. The thing that worries me about Yelich is moving to center field. It is a much more demanding position. It will cut into his value first and foremost because he’s been better in a corner. Overall, it could help the team because he should be better than Marcell Ozuna in CF, but it could also cut into his numbers as we get deeper into the season. If anybody has seen any research on offensive production when moving from a corner to center, I’d love to see it. Maybe I could be proven wrong. I’d be okay with that.
I would be shocked if JT Realmuto has the same type of offensive season this year. Realmuto carried a .357 BABIP, which is just not sustainable for him. He has a bit of pop, so 10 or 11 home runs are certainly repeatable numbers, but the .357 BABIP is not. Let’s say he drops 30 points in BABIP down to .327, which is still high, but whatever. That would, theoretically, shave 20-30 points off of his OBP, thus making his OBP around league average. When Realmuto carried an 88 wRC+ in 2015 with a .259/.290/.406 slash and a .285 BABIP, he was worth 1.9 wins. Projection systems have his offense dropping off by a pretty decent amount. He’s still a high-floor players as a great defensive catcher, but, again, this is an offense that was pretty bad overall last season.
Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria are major negatives offensively. Martin Prado’s contact quality could go down as he ages. Marcell Ozuna already teeters around a league average on-base percentage. This could be a poor offensive ballclub once again. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on a rotation that basically has a bunch of 3-4-5 starters. Nobody stands out as a front of the rotation guy. If I’m wrong about Wei-Yin Chen, he’ll be another subpar starter in a group that features low-strikeout guys like Edinson Volquez and Tom Koehler.
Dan Straily’s home run problem might not get fixed. Wei-Yin Chen’s didn’t. Straily home run problem wasn’t that big of an issue because he limited baserunners by carrying a low BABIP on so much weak aerial contact, but you just never know with balls in play. Per the Fangraphs Depth Charts projections, which incorporate Steamer and ZiPS with playing time adjustments, only the Reds and Padres are projected to get less WAR from the starting pitchers and there’s a significant gap between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves in the “race’ for 27th on that chart.
The death of Jose Fernandez has long-lasting impacts on this organization. Obviously, it will be tough for the players to take the field without him for a while and it will never be the same. Also, he was their best starting pitcher by a wide margin. Last season, Fernandez was worth 6.1 fWAR. The next highest Marlin was Kyle Barraclough at 2.1 fWAR. Next was David Phelps at 1.9 fWAR and he only made five starts. Adam Conley was next at 1.4, tied with reliever AJ Ramos. Tom Koehler was the only other starter over 1 fWAR. To lose a player of Fernandez’s caliber is very devastating. That goes without saying, but he gave the Marlins 180 exceptional innings that absolutely nobody on this team can replace.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 76.5 (-115; BetOnline)
This is not a strong pick at all. It would have been, but the Miami bullpen is extremely strong and that’s going to be a saving grace in south Florida throughout the season. The starting rotation just isn’t up to par and there are a lot of below average players in the starting lineup. A similar season from Giancarlo Stanton is going to be a big problem. There’s no way to replace what Jose Fernandez gave the team.
I really wanted to like the Marlins. I wanted to buy a bounce back candidate like Wei-Yin Chen. I want to play on top bullpens because of how specialized the game has gotten. The Marlins will have a lot of five-and-fly types of starts with a deep bullpen like that and some guys like David Phelps capable of going multiple innings. I just can’t do it. There’s a very wide range of outcomes for this team. If Stanton is less than 100 percent and Christian Yelich’s breakout doesn’t carry over, this is a team that could win 72 or 73 games. If everything comes together, a .500 mark is not out of the question. That’s just too much variance for me.
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