Derek Jeter’s irreconcilable differences with the Miami Marlins led to a divorce that grabbed some rare headlines. Locked in a division with three strong teams plus the Washington Juan Sotos, Miami is an afterthought on an annual basis.
A 67-95 record last season didn’t help the cause, but there were some serious oddities about how they got there. Miami was actually 42-39 at home but 25-56 on the road. The Marlins were 3-17 in interleague play against the AL East, securing two of those three wins against the Orioles. Miami was 39-51 in the first half, despite being %plussign% 16 in run differential. The Marlins were 28-44 and -96 in run differential in the second half. By Pythagorean Win-Loss, this was more like a 72-90 team. By BaseRuns, this was a 74-88 team.
There are some positive regression signs in the metrics and the alternate standings, even though 57 games against the Mets, Braves and Phillies are daunting. Oddly enough, the Marlins were actually a respectable 35-41 against the division last season.
The Marlins had 16 players with 219 or more plate appearances last season and only six of them posted a wRC %plussign% above 100. Two of them were traded midseason (Starling Marte and Adam Duvall). The other four are still around and will play bigger roles around a lineup that got a few additions.
The biggest is Jorge Soler, who signed a three-year deal in early March. Soler was a shell of himself to start the season in Kansas City but had a monster stint with the Braves with 14 HR in 55 games and a 132 wRC %plussign% . He struck out in less than 19% of his plate appearances, which I don’t find sustainable.
The Marlins also grabbed a nice piece in Avisail Garcia, who has been a slightly above-average hitter throughout his career and is coming off of his second-best season. Garcia makes a lot of loud contact, something that was lacking for the Marlins last year. They ranked 23rd in Hard Hit% and 24th in average exit velocity.
The other player that the Marlins acquired won’t make any waves, but he should. Jacob Stallings is an elite defensive catcher and one that will play up the strength of this Marlins team. He’ll be an outstanding receiver for a terrific starting rotation and his value will be significant. He’s close enough to a league average hitter to not be a detriment.
These additions make the team better but don’t get noticed because other NL East teams are acquiring Matt Olson, Nick Castellanos, Max Scherzer and the like. Anything that improves a team at the margins is a good thing, especially when there are high hopes for players such as Jazz Chisholm and some other holdovers.
Chisholm is the upside guy and the focal point of this team in 2022. In his first full MLB season, he posted a .248/.303/.425 slash with a .312 wOBA and a 98 wRC %plussign% . It wasn’t great, but he hit 18 homers and stole 23 bases. He’ll need to find a way to make more contact and elevate the ball a bit more, but it was a good learning experience. He started hot in April and struggled for much of the rest of the season, but he’s a valuable defensive player and his success will go hand in hand with how the Marlins perform.
It was a shame that Garrett Cooper was limited to 250 plate appearances over 71 games because he was on pace for a solid season. Cooper was one of the few Marlins with great contact-quality metrics. He only hit nine home runs because he hit way too many balls on the ground again, but he walks a lot and can carry high BABIPs with his ability to hit the ball hard. If he had the batted-ball distribution of a Jesus Aguilar, who hit more than 46% of his balls in play in the air, we’d be talking about a much different projection. Aguilar, by the way, was one of the team’s better bats with a 112 wRC %plussign% .
When looking at win totals or analyzing a team’s season, you want to look for guys that performed well below expectations to see what happened and if they can turn it around. Brian Anderson is one of those guys. The 29-year-old was limited to 67 games and posted a 99 wRC %plussign% in 264 plate appearances. He posted wRC %plussign% marks of 113, 114 and 121 over the previous three seasons. Anderson saw decreases in his contact quality and power while dealing with a bum shoulder. I’m expecting some modest gains.
When you start adding it up, you see little areas of improvement adding up to bigger gains on offense. One of my strengths is to analyze middle-of-the-pack teams that have a wider range of outcomes to see which end of the spectrum they end up on. With Miami, I’m seeing a lot of positives despite the difficult division.
Miami should be poised for a better season on the pitching front. The Marlins required 18 different starters due to injury and even used an opener in a few of those games. Pablo Lopez missed ample time, which was a big blow. Sixto Sanchez appeared in seven games in 2020 but had season-ending surgery and missed all of 2021. He’s suffered another setback in spring training but will hopefully be a viable weapon later in the year.
There aren’t a lot of reinforcements from below, which is how teams end up being lined in the mid-70s for season win totals. They have some major league talent but not enough and depth becomes a real concern. Still, the projected starting five shows a ton of promise.
Sandy Alcantara threw 205.2 innings and made 33 starts with a 3.19 ERA and a 3.42 FIP in 2021. He induces a ton of ground balls and throws hard, so his skill set has a lot of redeeming qualities. The biggest one for me is he touches triple digits but still locates his pitches well enough to rank in the 76th percentile in average exit velocity and 76th percentile in Barrel%. He actually gets a lot of swings and misses inside and outside of the zone that should help his K% climb.
Lopez has seen his K% increase over the last two seasons. He was limited to 20 starts in 2021 but they were mostly great with a 3.07 ERA and a 3.29 FIP. Lopez stood out to an even higher degree in the contact management metrics, with an average exit velocity in the 87th percentile and a Hard Hit% in the 88th percentile. He has excellent command, and better health fortunes will mean great things for the 26-year-old.
Trevor Rogers also has the ability to miss bats while limiting hard contact against. The former first-round pick graded extremely well in the contact management metrics and should only get better as he refines his slider. His fastball is already one of the more successful ones in baseball and his changeup is an elite weapon. If his slider can become a third above-average pitch, his leap could be significant.
This is a really strong big three for the Marlins. Their ability to outperform expectations will be on the shoulders of guys such as Elieser Hernandez and Jesus Luzardo. Hernandez was outstanding in six starts during the shortened 2020 season and looked like he might take a step forward in 2021, but he was limited to 11 starts due to injury. Health has long been a question mark and two separate stints on the 60-day IL didn’t help, but the tools are there.
Luzardo may ultimately end up being a dominant relief weapon, but the Marlins have plenty of time to see if he can start. He has added velocity based on spring training results. If he can harness his control, he’ll be valuable. If not, Braxton Garrett, Paul Campbell, Daniel Castano and others can hold down the fort as the No. 5 starter.
On the bullpen side, the Marlins have tried to adhere to one simple philosophy: Keep the ball on the ground. Miami ranked in the top five in GB%, which is a way to offset a lack of strikeouts from the back end of the pen. Miami’s relievers were the best in baseball at limiting home runs and finished seventh in fWAR. The park factor helps, as Marlins Park suppresses power, but just about the same cast of characters is back, led by Dylan Floro, Anthony Bender, Anthony Bass and Richard Bleier. (author's note: The Marlins also added Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott in a trade with the Orioles to bolster their solid bullpen; Sulser had a 2.70 ERA in 63.1 innings last season as Baltimore's best reliever)
Player to Watch
SP Trevor Rogers: Rogers has the chance to excel with Stallings behind the plate. Rogers is tough to catch because his pitches move a lot and he throws hard. His called-strike percentage was 16.3% last season, which ranked 45th out of 79 starters with at least 130 innings pitched per FanGraphs. With his command and a velo bump, a receiver such as Stallings will help steal some strikes and also allow Rogers to expand the zone while ahead in the count. He should also steal more first-pitch strikes. Rogers improved in a lot of important areas last season and the stage is set for more of the same.
Dare I say it, but I think the Marlins will be a pretty good team. It makes sense that their pitching staff would struggle on the road, away from the friendly confines of LoanDepot Park. But the offense inexplicably struggled more on the road. Instead of drawing the AL East in interleague play, the Marlins draw the AL West, which isn’t nearly as much of a gauntlet. The alternate standings metrics had the Marlins in range of this win total number last season and I truly believe they are better this year. The one thing that holds me back from taking a season win total is the Marlins have shown a tendency to trade any and every expiring contract at the deadline in hopes of getting prospects in return. It’s enough to make me put my tail between my legs, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if the Marlins flirt with .500 and I’ll be looking to play them, especially at home.
Win Total Lean: Over 76.5