You don’t have to dig all that deep to see the potential upside of the Miami Marlins. Last year’s 71-91 record isn’t indicative of much, except that a slugger in the middle of the order is a very important piece of the puzzle. The Marlins weren’t a great team with Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup last season, going 30-44 in his 74 starts, but his return and some interesting offseason transactions have created some buzz about the team.
The National League East has some interesting dynamics this season. There are two clear front-runners in the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals and two clear bottom-feeders in the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Marlins are the only team in the middle, so things could go in all sorts of different directions for this team. They could win 85 and threaten for a wild card. They could win 75 and be nowhere near the chase. They could be a .500 team, which would be a 10-game improvement from last season.
At the very least, there should be a lot more stability this season. Jeffrey Loria channeled his inner Notre Dame by firing another coach that he would have to pay to be unemployed when he let Mike Redmond go after just 38 games. Instead of paying another manager, Loria simply reworked the contract of GM Dan Jennings to send him to the dugout. Interim GMs took over while Jennings suffered in the dugout. For his troubles, Jennings was fired on October 29. The Marlins tabbed Don Mattingly as the next manager and he decided that facial hair was not allowed on the mugs of his players. Barry Bonds is also in the fold as a hitting coach. The inevitable ESPN 30 for 30 on Jeffrey Loria will be great TV, if you like watching train wrecks.
The fences are coming in at Marlins Park this season, which could be a blessing and a curse. It will obviously help Stanton and some of the other Marlins with power, like Marcell Ozuna and Justin Bour. It will also hurt a pitching staff that ranked eighth in fly ball percentage at 34.9 percent and added a fly ball pitcher in Wei-Yin Chen to the starting rotation. The best thing Miami had going for it was the home field advantage of being able to get by with marginal starters in a pitcher-friendly environment. It will be interesting to see if that can continue.
By Pythagorean win-loss, the Marlins were a 74-88 team. By BaseRuns, they were one game better at 75-87. They went 30-51 on the road, which isn’t all that surprising given the pitching staff, especially one without Jose Fernandez for too many turns through the rotation. They don’t have many outstanding outliers, outside of the road record, and went 35-41 in the NL East, though they had a losing record against all four teams in the division.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 79.5 (-130/100)
5Dimes: 78.5 (-140/110)
Bovada: 79.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Johnson, Edwin Jackson, Justin Maxwell, Craig Breslow
Key losses: Henderson Alvarez
Above, I said “interesting transactions”. Most of these aren’t all that interesting, but they are moves that can really help a team like Miami that is stuck in mediocrity. Wei-Yin Chen is an excellent addition. The Marlins were sixth in BB% and Chen doesn’t issue many walks. This park, even with the fences moved in, should be a good home yard for him to pitch in.
Chris Johnson hits lefties well, as does Justin Maxwell. The Marlins were 14-19 against left-handed starters last season, so these are two supplemental moves that could pay off from a platoon standpoint. Edwin Jackson could be a spot starter for a team that doesn’t have a lot of starting depth and Craig Breslow slots very nicely into a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) role in the middle innings.
Henderson Alvarez is a fairly notable loss, but he also wasn’t healthy and only pitched 22.1 innings last season. He found a home in Oakland, with a similar park setup.
Why bet the over?
Any time you have two superstars, you have a good core in place. That’s the case for the Miami Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. Stanton hit 27 home runs in 74 games last season, which is an absurd number. Battling injuries, Stanton’s numbers were pretty similar to what he has been putting up in the past, which is about 40 to 50 percent above league average. He’s an elite hitter with elite power and pretty good defense in right field. If Stanton’s K and BB rates regress back to normal, he’s in line for another top-10 offensive season.
The Marlins only got 11 starts from Jose Fernandez, but he racked up 2.1 fWAR in those 11 starts. He’s one of the game’s elite pitchers, with a devastating arsenal, plus control, and plus command. The only flaw right now is his health. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery and then experienced some shoulder discomfort last season. He’s going to be limited to 160 to 180 innings this season, barring an unforeseen playoff chase, but he’s going to accumulate plenty of value in those 26 to 30 starts. In his 2013 rookie season, Fernandez amassed 4.1 fWAR in 172.2 innings over 28 starts. He’s picked up 3.7 fWAR over 116.1 innings in the last two seasons. There’s a lot of upside here, even if his season will be shorter than most.
The supporting cast in the lineup is actually pretty good. Christian Yelich is just now hitting his prime at 24 and should be able to build off of two quality offensive seasons. Amazingly, Yelich has posted a 117 wRC+ in each of his three Major League seasons. Seventeen percent above league average is very good, especially for left field, which has become a pretty poor offensive position overall. Yelich has really good contact quality and the fences coming in might add a little bit of power to his game. He’s cut his strikeouts down in each of his three seasons and has 30 doubles in each of the last two years. He’s a really valuable player that gets overshadowed because his corner outfield mate is a superstar.
Much to Jeffrey Loria’s chagrin, it’s in the team’s best interest to play Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna has been the subject of lots of trade talks as a right-handed hitting power bat with pretty decent defensive skills in center field. He chases and strikes out a little bit more than you would like, but the trade-off is that he hits missiles when he does make contact. With 36 HR in 1,299 AB, he’s a good bet for 20 home runs and 30 doubles with good defense. His offensive profile isn’t beloved by advanced stats with a high K, low BB profile, but the power is there. The same can be said of part-time player Derek Dietrich, who has hit righties well, but doesn’t excel defensively in any facet. Dietrich has decent K/BB rates and hit 10 HR in just 289 PA last season.
It feels like Dee Gordon has been around forever, but he’s only 27, so the value of his legs shouldn’t go away anytime soon. Gordon puts the ball on the ground and legs out a lot of hits. He batted .333/.359/.418 last season with 58 stolen bases in 78 attempts. He’s not a big power guy, but his speed creates triples and that elevates his power stats like ISO and SLG. He also played really well defensively at second base last season. Moving away from shortstop is a help to him and having a healthy Giancarlo Stanton to drive him in will be fun.
Justin Bour’s minor league power came out last season when he hit 23 home runs and clubbed right-handed pitching to the tune of a .270/.326/.519 slash. He excels on the big side of the platoon, which is important, and that carries value. His 21.5 percent HR/FB% will come down, but the fences have come in, so that may mitigate some regression in that stat. His corner infield teammate at third, Martin Prado, is a really versatile player that owns lefties, holds his own against righties, and he puts a lot of balls in play. Quietly, Prado has been a really good defender at third. He’s a very valuable asset on this team. With Adeiny Hechevarria on his left, the Marlins infield defense isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s a pretty big plus if Hechevarria’s defensive gains stick around.
Wei-Yin Chen is a tremendous addition to this rotation. Chen can munch up 200 innings with spectacular control and moving to the NL should help his command immensely. Chen goes from band box Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the forgiving conditions of Marlins Park. He also faces one less hitter per trip through the lineup with the pitcher batting. A 3.25 ERA with higher peripherals is not out of the question for Chen, especially with a pretty solid defensive team.
Tom Koehler is an above average pitcher at home, but you hope and pray for rain on the road. Regardless, he’ll make about half of his starts in Miami, so he’s going to be useful. Jarred Cosart’s performance has never lived up to his stuff, but the 25-year-old has room to grow and only has 310 innings under his belt. He was hurt last season and he walks too many guys, but he’s got a very heavy, hard sinker, almost like a lite version of Anaheim’s Garrett Richards.
There are some guys in the mix for the Marlins rotation that aren’t going to move the needle, like David Phelps and Justin Nicolino. The best of the bunch is probably Adam Conley who struck out 55 batters in 58 innings as a starter. The lanky lefty did showcase some good command in the minor leagues. His walk rate is a little bit concerning, but league average is not a stretch with the home pitching conditions.
The big three in the Marlins bullpen – Carter Capps, AJ Ramos, and Mike Dunn – will do a good job of shortening games. In 31 innings, Capps struck out 49.2 percent of the batters that he faced. That’s a 16.84 K/9 and his season included a 5.9 percent BB%. That’s elite-level stuff. He has the league’s best fastball by perceived velocity. Capps hasn’t been handed the closer’s role and may actually work in a setup capacity. Truthfully, he should be used as a “relief ace”, in which he’s deployed in the highest leverage situation, but Mattingly (and almost every other manager) won’t do that. Ramos and Dunn are both good.
Why bet the under?
This team is screwed if any one of Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, or Wei-Yin Chen goes down long-term. The lineup, the top two starters in the rotation, and the top three guys in the bullpen are all really strong and that group has the potential to be well above average. Unfortunately, this team has absolutely no depth whatsoever. The starting rotation is incredibly thin behind Fernandez and Chen and teams average probably nine or 10 starters per season.
As it stands, the team has lost Carter Capps for an extended period of time. A Monday visit to Doctor of Doom James Andrews is on the horizon and the odds of Tommy John surgery being the answer nobody wants to hear are about -600. This bullpen is now below average and teams will pay a mint for bullpen help at the Trade Deadline. By August, this might be the worst bullpen in baseball.
(Author’s note: left Capps in the bullpen bit for the over until we know for sure)
Over 162 games, depth concerns show up. They showed up last season in a big way when the Marlins only managed 71 wins and that has to be a consideration for anybody thinking about playing their season win total over. If Ichiro Suzuki gets 438 plate appearances again in his age-42 season, the Marlins are in for a very long season. Injuries cripple a lot of teams, but the Marlins are a special case. Unlike a lot of teams with similar payrolls, the Marlins have a lot of everyday players. Platoon situations can sometimes survive through injury, especially if the injury occurs to the right-handed batter between the two players. However, the Marlins can’t afford to lose anybody, from Adeiny Hechevarria to Martin Prado even to Justin Bour.
Another consideration here is that noted cheap-ass owner Jeffrey Loria is going to bail on these players at the first sight of not contending. Martin Prado will be exceptionally valuable and AJ Ramos and Mike Dunn are both guys that could be traded. Like the other positions, the bullpen has very little depth. Bryan Morris had a fine season, but he’s more of a 6th inning type of guy. Edwin Jackson might wind up in the rotation after making 47 relief appearances last season and that just seems like a bad idea. The rotation is marginal at best already and Jackson’s declining skill set won’t be very helpful in that role.
There’s always the possibility that Marcell Ozuna doesn’t hit and strikes out too much for the organization’s liking. He’s already in the doghouse for some reason, so a slow start could ship him back to Triple-A, at which point the Marlins basically have to trade him because they’re holding him back and it makes no sense.
It’s really hard to make a long-winded case for the under because it’s exclusively about depth in the lineup and the bullpen. Everybody knows that the rotation is mediocre behind the top two and has guys that are only going to have success at home. With the new outfield dimensions, that’s not even a given. In his career, Tom Koehler owns a 4.54 ERA with a 4.66 FIP and a 4.58 xFIP in 277.1 innings away from home. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, Jarred Cosart doesn’t have a big sample size, but he had a 4.60 xFIP on the road in 33 innings last season. It’s a small sample size, obviously, but he’s not that good of a pitcher right now overall. Justin Nicolino struck out 23 of the 301 batters he faced last season, so you know that’s not a guy you want making starts. Adam Conley’s probably the best bet, but the Marlins don’t seem all that interested in going with the 25-year-old.
There’s also the unquantifiable element of dysfunction. One would assume that the worst of it is in the past with the Mattingly hiring and a new front office, but Jeffrey Loria’s mood changes make angsty teenage years seem like a walk in the park. There aren’t many organizations in baseball that give off as bad of an impression as this one. That’s always something that rear its ugly head at the worst possible time.
Pick: Miami Marlins Under 79.5 (Even – BetOnline)
I hate making this pick. I love the Marlins lineup. It’s full of young, toolsy offensive threats that have really good skill sets and this is actually a very fine defensive team. In fact, it could be a top-10 defensive team. Realistically speaking, this is a team that should have a ceiling in the 85-win range if Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez stay in tact. Unfortunately, the value side is the under. This is one of my weakest picks in the NL East and possibly the NL as a whole.
Wei-Yin Chen is a tremendous add to the rotation, but there’s not much certainty behind him. Marlins Park is moving the fences in, so maybe guys that have had success there, specifically Tom Koehler, lose some of that edge. I don’t want to say that a closer affects a season outlook that much, but Carter Capps is that kind of arm. The bigger issue is that Capps going out pushes somebody else into the closer’s role, which moves everybody up a spot. That weakens depth in a big way. Perhaps the Marlins find another arm and overcome this adversity. The likelihood is that they don’t.
This team has a high ceiling, but I’m not sure that they can reach it.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
The Miami Marlins are one of two up-and-coming teams in the NL East that are getting a lot of love this offseason. The Marlins are projected to take another step forward and finish close to .500 this season after a 77-85 campaign in 2014. The Marlins are hoping to snap a string of five straight losing seasons and they certainly got a lot of respect after last season and the fact that Jose Fernandez missed most of the season after he had Tommy John surgery.
In two postseason appearances, the Marlins have won the World Series, so they have really been an all-or-nothing franchise since they joined the National League in 1993. In terms of run prevention, it was the third-best season in franchise history for the Marlins, if you remove the 1994 and 1995 strike years. Consequently, it was also the third season in Marlins Park, which is a very good park for pitchers. The Marlins actually gave up 28 more runs last season than they did in 2013, but they also scored 132 more runs.
It’s easy to see why the Marlins have higher expectations. The offense was a lot better and the pitching staff is young and talented. The Marlins were actually buyers this offseason, as evidenced by trades like Andrew Heaney for Dee Gordon and Nate Eovaldi for Martin Prado. They’re going for one of those two wild card spots and that should energize a young team and a fan base that has a beautiful new ballpark to go to and an exciting team to support.
With two of the league’s most electrifying players in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez and a talented cast of youngsters and savvy veterans, the Marlins are definitely a team to watch in 2015. Oddsmakers have taken notice. Atlantis Sportsbook set the market by opening the Marlins win total at 81.5. Westgate Superbook followed suit and BetOnline opened one win lower at 80.5. BetOnline, 5Dimes, and Bovada are all at 81.5 now.
Key additions: Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Mat Latos, Andre Rienzo, David Phelps, Mike Morse, Aaron Crow, Dan Haren, Ichiro Suzuki
Key losses: Rafael Furcal, Kevin Gregg, Brad Penny, Anthony DeSclafani, Nate Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, Brian Flynn, Dan Jennings, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Chris Hatcher
That’s a busy offseason for a team that works under very strict payroll constraints with a vilified owner. Nevertheless, the Marlins traded some of their young depth for veteran depth and picked up a solid front of the rotation starter in Mat Latos. The Andrew Heaney trade was certainly surprising because he had some excellent upside as a cost-controlled middle of the rotation starter that could have developed into a #2. The Marlins got Dee Gordon, an interesting play with a different skill set than most players, but to see a deal like that was a surprise.
Martin Prado is an excellent fit for the Marlins as an unselfish veteran player with above average hitting skills and a lot of versatility. Mike Morse is a buy-low guy with some offensive upside. Dan Haren seems largely resigned to his fate of pitching for the Marlins this season and he could really thrive in a park that suppresses home runs.
Dan Jennings is a loss in the bullpen, but the Marlins really didn’t lose a whole lot outside of the promise of Heaney. Garrett Jones and Nate Eovaldi were the cost of doing business to acquire Prado. Eovaldi wound up leading the Marlins in fWAR and Jones had a solid season in a bad hitter’s park, but he was basically acquired for free, so that was a good use of an asset.
All in all, it looks like a pretty solid offseason for the Marlins with a lot of roster turnover and some players that really fit well into what the Marlins are trying to do.
Why bet the over?
Well, Giancarlo Stanton is a pretty good place to start. Stanton stayed healthy and posted a .288/.395/.555 slash line with a .403 wOBA, which was a major upgrade from last season’s .249/.365/.480 over 134 fewer plate appearances. Stanton is one of the game’s most valuable players because he’s also a pretty good defender. His walk rate stayed consistent from 2013 to 2014, but his counting numbers went up and he added 13 steals. Amazingly, Stanton could actually get better this season. He’s still young and with experience comes better strike zone knowledge and plate coverage. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stanton start to strike out less and that’s going to raise his batting average. He already posts high BABIPs because of the exit velocity of pitches off of his bat, so he could become a .300 hitter this season.
Stanton gets all of the attention, but there are some other good hitters in this lineup. Christian Yelich got regular playing time and posted a strong .284/.362/.402 slash with a .341 wOBA. He also stole 21 bases with a walk rate of 10.6 percent and was an above average defender. Yelich becomes even more interesting because Dee Gordon is going to bat leadoff, so Yelich’s bat-to-ball skills and good eye at the plate will play up batting in front of Stanton. There’s a high ceiling here in his second full year in the bigs.
Marcell Ozuna sort of came out of nowhere to hit 23 home runs for the Marlins last season. He’s a free swinger with a low walk rate and a bad contact rate, but there’s thunder in his bat and he hit over 20 home runs three times in the minor leagues. The Marlins started him slow, as he never advanced above Single-A until 2013. He had 47 plate appearances at the Double-A level, jumped to the bigs, and was an everyday fixture last season. The power appears legit. He’s got decent speed for a power hitter, so he could overachieve in the BABIP category and post batting averages in the .260s, despite being a free swinger in the box. He also played a terrific center field for the Marlins. He’s a very valuable player.
What, exactly, is Dee Gordon? Well, he’s a low walk, high-contact hitter with a ton of speed and an average defensive profile. On a Marlins team that has some good on-base guys at the top, Gordon can be a very interesting player that will wreak havoc on the basepaths. It’d be a surprise to see Gordon hit more than a couple of home runs, but he stole 64 bases and posted a .346 BABIP. If he can stay above the normal BABIP range and keep swiping bags, the Marlins will add a new dynamic to their offense. Gordon will also play second base with Adeiny Hechevarria at short, which should help Gordon’s defensive value.
Martin Prado is a great player to add to the roster and he fills a big need at third base. Prado doesn’t walk, but he puts bat to ball and has 10 homer upside with a good set of skills in the field. He’s consistently posted at least 500 plate appearances every season since 2009, so he’s durable and versatile. The power bump from Yankee Stadium won’t stick around, but he’s a reliable .280 hitter in the Senior Circuit and his addition will deepen the lineup.
Jose Fernandez won’t return to the Majors until mid-to-late June, but he’s going to have an impact when he gets back. The velocity should return, but the command usually takes time. The sharpness of his slider may be effected, but we’re talking about a pitcher with elite-level upside and a tremendous arsenal of stuff. He may not be the same dominant guy that we expect, but that won’t stop him from being well above average.
Mat Latos leaves hitter happy Great American Ball Park for South Beach and the timing could not be better. Latos became more of a fly ball pitcher last season and lost velocity, so his strikeout rate declined and his advanced metrics painted an ugly picture of what was coming. Latos posted a 3.25 ERA over his 16 starts, but that was accompanied by a 3.65 FIP and a 3.99 xFIP. Marlins Park is going to slow down the regression train in a big way. Considering that the Marlins also have a good outfield defense, Latos’s new fly ball stylings will play up. Also, the NL East is not a good offensive division, so he should be able to stem the regression tide in that regard as well. Latos isn’t going to be dominant like he was with the Padres, but he’s going to be a 15-win pitcher with a 3.20 ERA and outpitch the advanced metrics without a doubt.
Henderson Alvarez is fascinating as somebody who loves sabermetrics. He has very good stuff with a mid-90s express, a hard changeup with little separation compared to the fastball, and a decent slider, but the lack of speed separation keeps him from getting strikeouts. Instead, he’s a low walk, high ground ball pitcher that makes it all work. He doesn’t have a sexy saber profile and was only worth 2.2 wins last season, but there’s something about him that’s really intriguing and Marlins Park and a pretty good defense behind him will keep his ERA in a very good range.
Jarred Cosart is another guy, but he’s even more of a mystery. Cosart runs his cut fastball in the mid-90s, but it doesn’t generate the swings and misses one would expect. His cutter-curve arsenal does, however, miss the barrel of the bat more often than not and he is a high ground ball guy with a lot of reliance on his defense. The Astros were an average defensive team and he posted a 4.41 ERA, a 4.02 FIP, and a 4.26 xFIP in 116 innings. With the Marlins, he really outpitched his advanced metrics, but the park suppressed the home runs he gave up in Houston and his 3.32 FIP provides intrigue for this season.
The Marlins bullpen is in good hands, even with the loss of Jennings. Steve Cishek was a two-win reliever with 39 saves and a great strikeout-to-walk ratio. There were 10 relievers that amassed two WAR by Fangraphs’s calculations. They were Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman, Jake McGee, Sean Doolitte, Andrew Miller, Greg Holland, Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Steve Cishek. That’s some pretty good company.
The bullpen did lose a couple of key right-handed pieces in Dan Jennings and Chris Hatcher, but there’s some hope that Aaron Crow can figure it out. Carter Capps is a matchup righty with a heavy fastball and a sharp slider that can be a good complement to lefties like Mike Dunn.
Why bet the under?
How sustainable is the Marlins offense? They posted the fourth-highest team BABIP last season at .316 and they have added another BABIP-dependent player in Dee Gordon. Stanton posted a .353 BABIP. Christian Yelich was at .356. Marcell Ozuna was at .337. Stanton and Yelich can still get on base via the walk. Gordon’s speed is a weapon no matter what. Ozuna’s got some speed, but he’s not a contact guy. Balls in play don’t always find holes.
The Marlins also strike out a lot. Only the Cubs and Astros struck out more last season and Mike Morse is going to add to that strikeout rate for the Fish. That’s part of the reason why they are so BABIP-dependent, because they really don’t make a lot of contact. Stanton is a big power bat and Ozuna came on the scene in a big way, but the Marlins only hit 122 home runs as a team. That ranked 24th last season. The Marlins need some good fortune in the batted ball department to come close to average as an offense.
One of the concurrent themes of this win total series has been backing teams with depth and teams that aren’t dependent on one player. That theory holds true for the Marlins because Giancarlo Stanton is an enormous part of this offense and there’s no replacing him if he goes down. He was 59 percent better than league average last season. The next highest wRC+ was Christian Yelich at 116, or 16 percent above league average. A Stanton injury, like the one in 2013, which was a freak thing when he got hit in the face by a pitch, would cripple this win total.
That’s the difference between an injury to Jose Fernandez and one to Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins had enough starting pitching depth to withstand the loss of Fernandez and the same is true about playing the first two-and-a-half months without their ace this season. Even still, there are some concerns about the starting rotation. They are defense-dependent and that’s always scary. The Marlins look like they will be a pretty good defensive team at most positions, but Dee Gordon is below average at second base and Mike Morse is a marginal defender at first.
Whether or not you buy into the low strikeout, high ground ball stylings of Henderson Alvarez or Jarred Cosart, you can probably agree that a 2.65 ERA for Alvarez and a 2.39 ERA for Cosart are probably not going to happen this season. Alvarez posted a 3.58 FIP and Cosart a 3.32 FIP over a small sample size. Both pitchers are likely to move north of 3.00 and a guy like Cosart could move closer to 4.00 like he posted in Houston. Mat Latos is declining due to recent injuries. Tom Koehler is a league average starter in the fifth spot with a chance to bottom out. The starting rotation definitely has some red flags from a predictive standpoint.
The Marlins bullpen was good, but they traded away some depth and a key part of the pen is due for serious regression. A.J. Ramos went 7-0 last season with a 2.11 ERA, which is great, right? Well, dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Ramos walked almost 16 percent of the batters he faced and benefitted from a miniscule .233 BABIP. That allowed him to strand 82 percent of baserunners. His FIP was more than a full run higher and his xFIP was two runs higher. Regression is going to come and without Jennings and Hatcher, the top two right-handed options from last season, the bullpen suddenly looks a little shaky in middle relief.
Perception is a concern here as well. People are suddenly viewing the Marlins as a hot team and it’s like anything else in betting where going against the consensus seems to pay off. The Marlins went 77-85 without Jose Fernandez and made some “buyer” type moves in the offseason. Offseason transactions are always overblown by the masses. Win totals numbers will tell you that and going against teams that made big splashes is usually profitable.
Pick: Over 81.5
I’ve decided that I love this play. The Marlins have excellent upside and an offense that should improve in a major way this season. Most of the dead weight that stole plate appearances last season is gone. Jose Fernandez is going to provide a huge shot in the arm for the ballclub sometime around the All-Star Break and there’s enough starting pitching depth to get them to that point in good shape.
As you know, I’ve already suggested that the Braves will battle the Phillies for the worst team in the NL East and I’m not particularly high on the Mets this season, at least not as high as some people I know and the betting markets. The Marlins are the team I like to challenge for the Wild Card out of the NL East. They really intrigue me and when they see a window of contention, they go for it. They have a great speed element that will play up in their home ballpark and there’s good power in the lineup, especially if Morse winds up being a nice find.
The starting rotation runs six or seven deep before Fernandez returns and the bullpen has a lot of upside. A guy like Aaron Crow can benefit from a change of scenery, as well as a change of league, and we’re seeing that the Marlins are one of the teams with a major park factor advantage at home that they can build around. Teams that have that definitely have success. Teams in neutral parks without a major advantage tend to hover in mediocrity for the most part. This might end up being one of my favorite National League plays.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
Seasons that end in 100 losses aren’t supposed to be that exciting. But, every fifth day for the Marlins, everybody, not just Marlins fans, wanted to watch Jose Fernandez. Any Marlins fans who did watch through Game 162 did get to see history as Henderson Alvarez pitched a no-hitter in a 1-0 walk-off win against the Tigers. Outside of the Fernandez starts and Alvarez’s historical outing, the other 133 games were pretty rough.
While the Marlins were rather competent on the pitching side, due in large part to Fernandez, the offense was historically bad. The 72 wRC+ that the Marlins accumulated was the lowest since the 1981 Toronto Blue Jays matched that mark. The Marlins were last in home runs, runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, weighted on-base average, wRC+, and position player fWAR. One Marlins player, Adeiny Hechavarria, appeared in more than 130 games. He had the league’s worst fWAR among players qualified for the batting title.
As poor as the offense was, the Marlins managed to win 62 games because of their pitching staff. They ranked 17th in fWAR, seventh in FIP, and 11th in ERA. Marlins Park was the hardest ballpark to hit a home run in, which certainly helped the Marlins pitching staff, and likely hurt the offense, but there’s some talent in the starting rotation. The Marlins bullpen actually tied for the third-best FIP and ranked 11th in ERA. By fWAR, the Marlins had the 10th-best bullpen.
Because of the pitching and some of the young, but inexperienced, talent in the Marlins lineup, oddsmakers are expecting a sizable improvement from the Fish this season. Bovada.lv, BetOnline.ag, and 5Dimes.eu all have the Marlins posted at 69.5 with some difference of opinion on the juice. Bovada has -105 on the over, while BOL and 5D have -120 on the over. BetDSI.eu is showing a 68.5, with the over at -115.
Key additions: Ty Wigginton, Jeff Baker, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Reed Johnson, Carter Capps, Brian Bogusevic, Casey McGehee, Carlos Marmol
Key losses: Ryan Webb, Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, Chad Qualls, Chris Coghlan, Juan Pierre
There aren’t many “key” losses from a 100-loss team and most additions are going to be better than what was already in place. What’s interesting about the Marlins offseason is that they acquired a collection of platoon players. More on that shortly, but what these guys have in common is that they are all veteran players that can both mentor young players and also contribute at a level that will allow the Marlins to take a slower approach with some of their talented youth.
In Wigginton, Furcal, and Baker, the Marlins add some depth to an infield that desperately needed it. Furcal will mentor glove-first, bat-second shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who definitely had a hard time adjusting to the Majors. Logan Morrison was traded to Seattle over the winter and his at bats at first base will go to Garrett Jones, Wigginton, and Baker. Wigginton and Baker have also played second base, third base, and outfield. Former top prospect Casey McGehee never really panned out, but he’ll get another shot in the stress-free environment in Miami.
Veteran backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia will provide some offensive upside and also help a young pitching staff through its growing pains. Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson will take some pressure off of youngsters Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna. Bogusevic and Johnson will replace the at bats from Justin Ruggiano’s trade to the Cubs.
Carter Capps brings his triple digit talents to South Beach and he’ll get a chance to fill the hole opened by Ryan Webb’s free agent deal with Baltimore. Chad Qualls moved on to Houston, possibly leaving an opportunity for Carlos Marmol to resurrect his career.
Why bet the over?
The Marlins look pretty interesting right now, all things considered. The pitching staff features a lot of talent that thrives pitching in Marlins Park and has potential to improve. With the exception of Fernandez, it’s a pitch-to-contact rotation that can survive in the NL East because of a friendly home park and pitcher-friendly conditions at Turner Field in Atlanta and Citi Field in New York. The Marlins had a 3.56 ERA and a 3.36 FIP at home. It’s why they were able to go 36-45 at home. On the road, however, the pitch-to-contact staff ran into some trouble with a 3.87 ERA and a 4.03 FIP. The offense was bad regardless of where it was, so the pitching staff’s increase in runs allowed led to a 26-55 road record.
The rotation returns in tact minus Ricky Nolasco, who was traded at midseason to the Dodgers. Outside of Fernandez, there are no household names. There are a couple of formerly high-touted prospects in Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner and a couple of guys with potential to grow into back of the rotation arms. Starting with Eovaldi, who was a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, he is a guy that can ramp the fastball up to triple digits and has very reasonable batted ball splits. He’s only 24 this season with just 46 career starts under his belt. If he can refine his assortment of breaking pitches to go with the cheddar, he might be a major surprise in the NL. Even if not, his steady diet of fastballs led to a 3.39 ERA and a 3.59 FIP last season in 18 starts.
The talent is there for Jacob Turner. The question is when will it show up? Like Eovaldi, Turner has plenty of untapped potential and just 33 Major League starts under his belt. His plus control in the minors hasn’t showed up in the Majors just yet, but he was a top-26 prospect according to Baseball America for three straight seasons for a reason. Advanced metrics won’t look very favorably at Turner because he’s not a big strikeout guy, but a ground ball rate over 45 percent and a mix of different fastball looks and a couple of decent breaking pitches may mature this season and make Turner a more than serviceable starter for the Fish.
The youth continues with Henderson Alvarez, who already has 58 starts worth of experience at the age of 23. He’ll turn 24 in mid-April. Alvarez is a ground ball-heavy starter with good control and a very low home run rate. He averaged over six innings per start last year and threw a no-hitter in the final game of the season against the Tigers. Depending on how Rafael Furcal translates to second base, Alvarez could have a pretty decent infield defense behind him, which is a prerequisite to his success. It’s not a flashy profile, but his 3.59 ERA and 3.18 FIP showed some promise. Perhaps most importantly, Alvarez’s profile is conducive to both Marlins Park and road stadiums, so he should be one of the more consistent Marlins starters.
In the mix for the fifth starter spot are Kevin Slowey, Tom Koehler, Brian Flynn, Brad Hand, and Alex Sanabia. With the exception of Slowey, these are all young guys who will enjoy the benefits of pitching in Marlins Park. Koehler had an above average ground ball rate but the others tilted more towards fly balls. Slowey was great at the outset before falling victim to forearm discomfort and a move to the bullpen. Koehler was second on the team in starts with 23, though the returns were mixed. Flynn is an imposing figure standing six-foot-eight and weighing in at 240. He’s a huge left-hander, which could play a role if his stuff becomes more refined.
Andrew Heaney is another name to keep in mind. Heaney will likely make it to the bigs at some point this season, but he threw just 33.2 innings in Double-A last season. The Marlins have shown with Fernandez that they won't let minor league inexperience affect their decisions to bring up pitchers. He has above average control, a standard pitch mix for a lefty, and has some deception in his delivery that will take hitters some time to get accustomed to. He may even win a job out of Spring Training.
All things considered, this rotation is pretty good. There is depth behind the top five that got some Major League experience and can handle a handful of starts in a pitcher haven. With the exception of Fernandez, most of these guys experienced some sort of injury in 2013, forcing eight different guys to make 10 or more starts.
The Marlins bullpen relied heavily on five guys last season as Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek, AJ Ramos, Chad Qualls, and Ryan Webb made over 65 appearances each. The top three in appearances remain, as does Dan Jennings, who had the sixth-most. The four remaining guys possess above average strikeout rates and had solid ERAs. Dunn wasn’t the typical lefty, having success against hitters from both sides. His control improved and there’s hope that trend continues. He dominated lefties to a .189/.274/.275 slash. Cishek is a strong closer with a lot of strikeouts and ground balls. Ramos shook off some control problems with the help of strikeouts and he’s one of the hardest throwers in the pen.
The two wild cards to the pen are Carlos Marmol and Carter Capps. Marmol gets a fresh start in low-stress environment with the Marlins, likely pitching in mop up situations until he gains Manager Mike Redmond’s trust. Capps is a boom or bust guy with tremendous velocity and a deception motion. He’ll fit well into the bullpen because the Marlins have a few solid lefty options to keep Capps away from facing lefties.
The Marlins are going to send a lot of hard throwers with shaky control at opposing hitters. They’ll blow some games, but the ability to miss bats and the margin for error at Marlins Park makes this group pretty formidable.
Offensively, the Marlins needed help. Only the Braves had a younger group of position players than the Marlins among National League teams. Giancarlo Stanton missed a month-and-a-half with a hamstring injury and never fully got on track. Stanton did show the ability to take a walk because teams opted to pitch around him in the Marlins weak lineup. He also played through a shoulder injury that likely limited his power. With a better cast around him and better health, Stanton should have a more productive season.
Christian Yelich, one of the team’s most promising prospects, managed 1.4 fWAR in just 62 games. He showed a nice toolset of speed and a bit of gap power with 12 doubles. He also showed a patient approach at the plate that led to an alarming number of strikeouts, but also an above average number of walks. It was a pretty impressive display for the 22-year-old and another year stronger and wiser should yield positive returns.
Marcell Ozuna flashed plus defense in spacious Marlins Park and that made him a valuable piece. He may not start the season with Brian Bogusevic, Jimmy Paredes, and Reed Johnson in the mix, but he’s a promising asset to have. The 20+ HR power he showed in the minors didn’t translate in year one, with the park and inexperience playing a big role, but it could come soon.
What’s nice about the Marlins outfield is that they have depth. If the young guys don’t win jobs, they’ll either spend time improving in Triple-A or be useful off the bench. Major Leaguers with track records like Wigginton, Baker, Bogusevic, and Johnson add a dynamic that the Marlins lacked last season. Whether the Marlins decide to let the youngsters learn on the job or improve their craft in a low-stress environment, the team has plenty of options. Waiting in the wings, likely at Triple-A, is another top prospect in Jake Marisnick.
The depth additions mean that Ed Lucas’s awful bat is out of the lineup, already making the Marlins better. Lucas’s 80 wRC+ means that he was 20 percent below league average and that added to Adeiny Hechavarria’s awful offensive showing meant major problems for the infield. Another name in that mix was Donovan Solano, who had a wRC+ of 71 and he played over half of the time at second base. Derek Dietrich showed some power from second base, but struck out a lot and was also well below average.
Hechavarria will continue to be at shortstop, but the workload should be lessened for those other guys with Wigginton, Baker, and McGehee in the fold. Wigginton and Baker both have a platoon split geared towards facing lefties. Garrett Jones has had tremendous success against righties. The Marlins could use platoon splits effectively to spare their young players against bad matchups and have a much more competitive offense.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal are switch hitters, adding to the team’s versatility. Furcal is coming back from missing a year from major surgery, so his contributions probably won’t fall in line with his career marks, but Saltalamacchia adds a little protection for Stanton and will be an asset to the young pitching staff.
With a mix of proven, but flawed, Major Leagues and a collection of promising youth, the Marlins will still have a below average offense, but there’s no reason to believe it will be historically bad as it was last season. Any upgrade will add wins to the team, especially with a pitching staff that should keep them in a lot of games.
Why bet the under?
While the Marlins possess a decent collection of part-time players and promising prospects learning on the job, there aren’t a lot of full-time, above average players in the everyday lineup. Outside of Stanton, Yelich, and Saltalamacchia, it may be a chore to piecemeal league average players at other places on the diamond. Unless the offensive is substantially better, the Marlins will continue to struggle mightily on the road because the pitching staff benefits from the enhanced margin for error that comes with pitching at Marlins Park.
While Wigginton, Baker, et al, are promising depth acquisitions, these players were available and agreed to sign with the Marlins because they are flawed, aging, and dealing with the downside of their careers. From a psychological standpoint, the Marlins aren’t a playoff team or even a .500 team, so these veterans are essentially going there to be part-time players and pseudo-coaches. If they can compartmentalize and lead by example in twilight of their careers, they may produce. If not, their interest will wane and their production will subsequently disintegrate. Another concern is that older players are defensive liabilities and the Marlins rotation is reliant on defense because there aren’t any strikeout pitchers outside of Fernandez.
Making the jump from the minors to the Majors is one of the biggest transitions in sports. Many Marlins hitters found that out the hard way. The second biggest transition in baseball is adjusting once the league adjusts to you. Weaknesses and holes were exploited and other ones will be found for the young guys on the Marlins. While there is promise and potential among those players, it may not show up this year, if it shows up at all.
The Marlins bullpen needs to replace 132 appearances worth of relief work from Qualls and Webb. Qualls had the second-highest leverage index on the team, which means that Mike Redmond relied on the veteran in the biggest spots leading up to the ninth inning. That safety net is gone. Webb had the fourth-highest leverage index. Ramos and Jennings had leverage indexes slightly above average. Somebody will have to step up to bridge the gap to Cishek. Until that guy shows himself, it’s fair to be skeptical of the bullpen.
Jose Fernandez was obviously spectacular in his first season with the Marlins. But he skipped from Single-A to the Major Leagues and had just 138.1 innings of professional experience before becoming the Marlins’ ace in 2013. He threw 172.2 innings. It’s reasonable to wonder what effect the unfamiliar workload will have on Fernandez. Regression could be possible.
If Eovaldi, Turner, and Alvarez don’t improve from 2013 to 2014 and make adjustments, the National League now has a much better book on them. Turner and Alvarez came over from the American League and all three didn’t have a lot of Major League experience. If they don’t have a different wrinkle in their arsenal or a different plan of attack, hitters will adjust and will have more success.
The Marlins are still going to field a below average offense, so the pitching has to be as good or better for this team to improve.
Pick: Over 68.5 (-115, BetDSI)
Experience means a lot and a majority of the Marlins Opening Day roster got it last season. Sprinkling in veterans to learn from and give the young guys a day off in a slump or against a tough pitcher will be an asset to Redmond. The fear would be that a guy like Redmond would give too many plate appearances to the veterans and stunt the growth of young guys, but this lineup is going to be better, simply because it cannot get much worse. A similar pitching performance and an improvement of 25 or more runs already puts you close to the win total.
The rotation is sneaky good. It’s tailored perfectly to Marlins Park and has enough guys with ground ball chops to be better on the road. Keep in mind that this rotation was in a state of flux all season with various injuries. That was a blessing and a curse, because it allowed other guys to get experience and the pitchers to be fresher entering 2013, but it also kept some guys from important developmental opportunities. By learning on the job, the talent of guys like Eovaldi, Turner, and Alvarez – what made them Major League starts in their early 20s – is going to show through.
By no means is this a great team, but they’re certainly better than they were in 2013. With more stability all around, especially in the rotation, and with increased depth in the lineup, a seven-win improvement is by no means a Herculean task.