The Miami Marlins have been almost competitive the past few seasons, but for one reason or another they never quite achieved success. It tended to be some combination of injuries, front office ineptitude, and Jeffrey Loria using the team as his personal ATM that held the club back.
Last year, the Marlins went 79-82, which is not too bad. It was a better record than eight of the fifteen NL teams. It goes without saying that the death of José Fernández was the biggest tragedy to befall the 2016 Marlins, and that needs to be mentioned first and foremost. In pure baseball terms, the Marlins had more than a few struggles.
In 2016, Giancarlo Stanton had a disappointing year. He hit only .240/.326/.489 and struck out about 30 percent of the time. Furthermore, his injury issues persisted. He played in 119 games, after playing in just 74 games the year before. Dee Gordon missed half a season due to a suspension from testing positive for turinabol, and when he returned, he hit poorly. Adeiny Hechavarría’s offense fell off a cliff, and that’s saying a lot, given how poor it was pre-cliff. Marcell Ozuna showed that he was no longer a center fielder, and his offense looked like it maybe wasn’t enough for a corner. Miguel Rojas played 123 games, and like Hechavarría, was one of the worst hitters in baseball.
The struggles with the 2016 rotation were more predictable. Fernández had the highest bWAR, of course. The next highest was David Phelps at 2.5 bWAR, but he was mostly a reliever. The second best starter was Adam Conley, and he had a 3.98 RA9. Tom Koehler was the only other starter that was above replacement level, though just barely at 0.4 bWAR. The bullpen was actually pretty decent, though with an odd mix of a few good relievers and some really bad ones.
But 2017 is different. The Marlins’ position players are firing on all cylinders this season. FanGraphs has them ninth by WAR if you filter out the pitchers who hit. Ozuna had to be moved to left field, and that’s okay because he is having the best offensive season of his career. He is hitting .306/.368/.539 with 27 HR. Christian Yelich’s power surge in 2016 predictably did not last into 2017, but he is still an above-average player. The last two players do highlight one of the team’s problems: they do not have a true center fielder. Yelich is great in left field, but he is not cutting it in center.
Gordon is still providing empty batting averages, but he provides enough defensive and baserunning value to make him a 2-3 WAR player. Justin Bour is having the best season of his career with a 133 wRC+. Even Miguel Rojas is comfortably above replacement level!
J.T. Realmuto is also having a career year. Being an above-average hitter goes a long way towards his 4.3 WARP. What is also helping is the fact that he is now a competent pitch-framer after struggling with it badly the past two seasons.
Of course, the biggest offensive contributor to the Marlins is the guy who has been lighting up the highlight reels recently: Giancarlo Stanton. He has returned to his MVP-caliber form from 2014. He is hitting .286/.382/.644, and leading the league with 45 HR. The next closest home run total is Aaron Judge’s 37, which coincidentally is how many Stanton hit in all of 2014. His 159 wRC+ ranks sixth in all of baseball. In addition to all of that (and this gets looked over a lot), Stanton is a plus defender in right field. Yes, he is big, but like Judge, he is nonetheless able to play good defense because he is very athletic.
But as well as the position players are playing, it is just not enough to make up for the team’s pitching deficiencies. The starting rotation has a combined 5.13 RA9, which ranks in the bottom third of baseball. José Ureña has the best RA9 at 3.97, but he is greatly overperforming his peripherals. His DRA is nearly a run higher because he has a .234 BABIP and he can’t strike anybody out. Dan Straily has been their best starter, and he probably will not even crack 3 WAR. Conley was serviceable last year but has a 5.42 RA9 this year. Koehler was barely above replacement level last year, and now the Marlins wish he was just replacement level. He had an 8.08 RA9 over 12 starts, which have been worth -1.4 bWAR.
The Marlins signed Edinson Vólquez to a two-year deal during the offseason for reasons that are difficult to understand. He was one of the worst starters in baseball last year. At first, it looked like the Marlins were getting a decent return on investment. He had a 4.48 RA9 and had his best strikeout rates since 2012. Unfortunately, that came with a spike in his walk rate. He was actually on his way to a ~2 WAR season before being lost to Tommy John surgery.
There is not much to say about the Marlin’s bullpen. As a whole, they are roughly middle of the pack by runs allowed, and a little better than that by DRA.
All of this is to say that this year was likely one of the best-case scenarios for the Marlins, and it looks like they still are going to struggle to finish above .500. They have no shot at winning the division. According to FanGraphs, they only have a 6.5 percent chance at reaching the coin-flip round of the Wild Card. To add insult to injury, they also have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Fans better hope that Derek Jeter’s skill at running a team is closer to his skill as a hitter, and not his skill as a fielder.
I’ll leave you with one reason for joy for Marlins fans: Giancarlo Stanton is already the greatest player in franchise history, according to Baseball Reference, with 33 WAR. He actually has been the franchise leader since the end of last year, when his 27.5 WAR surpassed Hanley Ramírez’s 26 WAR with the team. The Marlins might not be making the playoffs anytime soon, but at least they’ve got lots of home runs.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.