There’s only one way to go for the Miami Marlins – up. How fast that ascension will be is squared firmly upon the broad shoulders of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, inevitably, but the potential for others to assist in the Sisyphean endeavor of getting the Marlins towards respectability in 2014 is strong.
However, the story for the team as of late and in particular, last season, has been one of disconnect. For every Fernandez-like story of perseverance, triumph, and redemption that warms the cockles of the South Florida faithful’s hearts, there’s a story of disappointment, unfulfilled promise, or plain befuddlement that prevails over the scant few points of encouragement for a team that lost 100 games last season at an average age of 26.5, the youngest in MLB. Much of this dooming narrative is propelled by the team’s propensity for succumbing to injury last year, leading MLB with 1538 days on the disabled list. The youngest team in baseball beset by injuries, the second-oldest player on the team leading the squad in stolen bases – just a couple of the dichotomies of a team spent most of their 2013 trying to get out of their own way
Last season was undoubtedly one to forget – offensively, the team were impotent beyond Stanton and some encouraging production from Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. The aforementioned Stanton was the only Marlin to amass enough fWAR to be considered a Top-50 player in the National League (roughly 2 wins), coming in at 2.3 WAR for a season shortened due to a hamstring strain, after a 2012 that found him accrue 5.7 fWAR in about the same number of plate appearances as last season. Five position players played well enough to accrue positive WAR and overall, the offense (sans pitcher contributions) averaged a whopping .239 wOBA; weighting team wOBA by number of plate appearances and things do improve, but only slightly, with the Fish good for .285 wOBA in 2013. Looking at other metrics through the lens of weighting by plate appearance and you find a trend with the team: a group of hitters who are propelled by power numbers who are occasionally hampered by aggressive tendencies, but are improving:
|Average weighted by PA||7.45||19.4||0.108||0.343||0.285|
Pitching-wise, the scenery was slightly rosier, thanks to the breakout, NL Rookie of the Year season of Fernandez and the continued development of Steve Cishek into an elite closer. Add to this pair the encouraging seasons of starters Nathan Eovaldi (1.5 fWAR) and Henderson Alvarez (he of the walk-off no-hitter and 1.9 fWAR), and the Marlins’ of last year were equipped with promising arms whose production eclipsed that of the hitters, who endured a handful of disappointing seasons from players blunted by injury or regression.
Three Key Offseason Moves
Agreed to terms with INF Rafael Furcal on a one-year, $3.5M contract.
Agreed to terms with C Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year, $21M contract.
While the Marlins haul is chump change in contrast to the bigger offseason picture of most teams, it does point the team in the right direction with respect to adding players who can provide offense beyond Stanton; however, this added power is at the cost of a lack of defensive prowess, a lack of a true position, or simply a significant platoon split. A healthy Furcal lends himself to being a defensive upgrade on top of potentially being a top of the order stalwart and even Saltalamacchia's pitch framing abilities, while unheralded, do present an improvement that will further assist in the development of the Marlin's young arms. Capps is a low-risk, high-reward transaction who is still young and despite a bad 2013 that included a significant drop in his fastball velocity, has the potential and time to make adjustments and become an above-average bullpen arm that will contribute significant innings this season. Overall, the Marlins offseason was one befitting of an organization that must embrace cost-controlled decisions as they await their young, budding prospects to sink or swim.
One to Watch
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
Known more for his pure fastball velocity than for his ability to attack the strike zone, Eovaldi has been on the cusp of a breakout season for some time. With his smattering of spring training innings showing him to have potentially improved on his propensity to walk batters, it will be incumbent upon Eovaldi to further develop his secondary pitches (particularly his changeup) in order to turn a corner and become a dependable, middle of the rotation starter to slot in between Fernandez and Alvarez.
Marlins by the Numbers
The total number of runs below average based on offensive contributions (batting and baserunning) the Marlins were last season, good for last in MLB. The continued development of the likes of Stanton, Yelich, and Jake Marisnick combined with the offensive contributions of newcomers like Saltalamacchia, Furcal, Jeff Baker and Garrett Jones all point to an improvement to this number.
The percentage of the team's starting pitching fWAR (9.3) contributed by Jose Fernandez (4.2). While the aforementioned Eovaldi and Alvarez are well-suited to make leaps in contributions, the need for reliable innings from others beyond this trifecta will go far in taking pressure off of the batting order to put up big innings.
The rank of the Marlins farm system, per Baseball Prospectus, a drop of eight spots from last season. As mentioned in the link, this drop was predicated by the graduations of Fernandez, Yelich, and Ozuna to the majors, but there are still a number of prospects in the pipeline that will keep hope alive in Miami for the foreseeable future. The cream of this crop is thinner than in previous seasons, but will still produce a steady number of major league contributors.
This season will once again be one highlighted by moments more so than standings; expect a better showing than the 100-loss 2013, but nothing close to 80-plus wins. If Fernandez continues to shine, the likes of Yelich, Marisnick, Eovaldi and Alvarez make positive strides, and the veteran newcomers contribute in the limited ways they are expected, the Marlins will be competitive, but will remain a team that will find it difficult to compete for a full nine innings. Look for this to change with the continued education and, more importantly, return to health of their young stars in the making.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.