Recapping 2018: Miami Marlins Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Miami Marlins Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA

Much has been made about the Miami Marlins being run as a profit center for the ultra rich. There is a lot of truth to that perspective, but things have gradually improved since their most transparent days. It is remarkable that from 2006 – 08 the team’s average payroll was around $30 million in current dollars. You’re at half that level with a team completely filled with pre-arbitration players. The league stepped in after the wealthier teams called these profiteers out for what they were, and this led to the team gradually increasing payroll every year from the nadir in 2008 all the way up to roughly $115 million in current dollars in 2012. This is what a five-year plan looks like, right? The dollar distribution, perhaps, but seeing their number of wins move in the opposite direction of the increasing dollars shows that long-term plans are pretty tough to pull off when you’re starting from nothing.

Predictably, the team sold off what they could following the 2012 all-in year that also saw them open their new stadium. Payroll has increased since then, but new ownership is doing their best to trim those costs, but their method in doing so has seen quite a bit of meat thrown out with the fat. The team has yet to win as many games as they did in their Wild Card to World Series champion run back in 2003, and those earlier years seem to show a higher level of performance around the 80-win mark. The last several have been more in the 70’s despite payroll expenditures being more low for the league rather than lowest of all time.

The Miami Marlins are coming off one of their worst years since that last title, but it is a fair question for fans to ponder about whether this is the bottom or if more misery awaits. Digging up isn’t an option, but digging sideways isn’t a whole lot better, either. The team has a couple of bright lights, but they’re nowhere near contention at this point so let’s put on our masks and dive into the depths to take a look at what went right and wrong for the Marlins in 2018.

After trading their entire starting outfield from the year prior, and seeing stalwarts like J.T. Realmuto and Martin Prado start the season on the shelf there was little optimism left from day one. Seeing Jose Ureña’s first pitch of the season leave the yard was merely the nail in the coffin. A slow start out of the gates became something like an average or better offense for most of the rest of the first half. Their actual production generally fell a bit short during this run with both sides matching up better over the lesser finish as a couple of useful players were sold off. The paltry close shouldn’t be a surprise for a team that needed to start throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick, but precious few of these players were able to parlay opportunity into a conceivable role on the 2019 version. Peter O’Brien stands out a bit here with the stick, but several other teams have gone to that well only to be left thirsty.

While plenty of players left both before and during the season, the team held onto its best trade chip in J.T. Realmuto who again had a superb season and now wears the crown as the best catcher in baseball. With two more years of arbitration some team is going to move a mountain this winter to get a batter that provides good production on balls in play without having to sell out his walks or strikeouts to get there. The rarity of a catcher that hits this well, while being a good baserunner and defender, is not lost on anyone, and the two years of control should only serve to inflate the price tremendously. The hope should be that this superstar can emerge from the obscurity that comes with playing in Miami to get a little more spotlight somewhere else, while helping Miami get back on track that much quicker.

J.T. Realmuto

Realmuto was not alone in being a productive force at the dish as rookie third basemen slash corner outfielder Brian Anderson instilled much hope that the team can develop a relatively unheralded prospect into a useful contributor. The immense workload he saw this year led to some depletion as the season wore on, but the team has their next building block around which they can add. One guy that was moved after a strong history of production when healthy was Justin Bour. Yet again, he showed good walk with acceptable strikeouts for a guy that has this much power. Being pull-heavy and slow as molasses in January caused him to fall a bit short of expectations in reality, but the team was able to use his productive season to pull in a promising lefty starter in McKenzie Mills who joins his third team in three years and will probably see a move to the bullpen someday.

Brian Anderson

A similarly lukewarm return should probably be expected for Starlin Castro who has settled in as an above average player who makes enough money that his value is fairly depressed. It was another year of putting the ball in play a ton, and generally doing so with a bit of authority, though like his peers above he failed to get to all of it. A mid to late season surge helped float the entire line a bit higher, though it proved unsustainable. The aforementioned O’Brien did his miss and mash thing, but did enough of the latter that he’ll warrant a deeper looking on next year’s club. Things get rather bleak after that as Derek Dietrich couldn’t sustain a strong start and became tough to play at any of his many positions due to defensive efficacy. He ended up around the average and while the flexibility is nice, wherever he ends up next year might see him as more of a bench bat than an everyday guy.

Starlin Castro

One player that is going to be around for the relative long haul is the face of the Christian Yelich trade return in Lewis Brinson. The lithe, powerful youngster is someone you can really dream on, but at age 24 now his talent is going to have to wake up. You can see a good bit of that this year as improvements seemed to occur over the course of the year, but the miserable strikeout rate that comes with few walks is always going to hold him back. Add in that most of his production was theoretical rather than actual and it becomes easy to see a scenario where fans sour on the player before he has a real chance to acclimate to the most difficult league on the planet. Nicely enough, it looks like his actual production did start to meet the higher expected as the year wore on, which included a more aggressive approach, higher exit velocity and lower launch angle. Looking below at the handedness table you can see very good production versus lefties that turns sour when facing same-handers so he may hold some value as a platoon player already. Closing that gap will allow him to become another guy the team can build around. While he probably isn’t the defender that B.J. Upton was during his own prime, the approach and profile at the plate appear very similar.

Lewis Brinson

A late start to the season held Martin Prado back from being a solid contributor, but he holds value as a guy that can hit a lefty, though showing splits versus righties that echo Brinson above. He, too, showed a large gap between expected and actual so it’s quite likely that Prado is done as a useful tertiary piece on a good team. Going down the rest of the board things only look worse as JT Riddle showed an ok enough bat for a utility player, but little more, and JB Shuck couldn’t even manage that. Miguel Rojas continued the trend of players that hack first, but without any real ability to do damage. A couple of players offloaded from the National League’s Central division in Yadiel Rivera and Magneuris Sierra showed a similar lack of power while adding in high strikeout rates and more or less walks, respectively.

While the bats were suspect as a group there were at least a couple of bright spots. There was precious little of that on the pitching side of the equation as the team trailed only the horrid Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals for worst pitching in the game. The only stretch resembling success came in the middle of the season, but it wouldn’t last long as their collective unit reverted back to being awfully bad for the rest of the season. The park helped make things look a little rosier as park adjustments can only go so far with many of the performers showing a mix of high walk and low strikeout to go with a heavy flyball approach that seems to cater to the park. While the actual results do show some strong blips throughout the year the regressed ball in play production wasn’t buying it.

Surprisingly, the best performer of the group was Wei-Yin Chen who got a late start to the season due to an elbow issue that curtailed his prior season. Add in the immense amount of deferred money coming his way and it becomes easy to see that even this nice bunch of production likely means little in future considerations for the fly-balling lefty. He showed some improvement over the course of the season, which mostly came about due to amping up the strikeout rate. This could be a by-product of a weaker division or facing softer hitters down the stretch, but even when he wasn’t putting up his best performance he was still looking like a better than average starter. If the Marlins eat the deferred money there could be an enterprising team out there that would like to roll the dice on the elbow, however it is difficult to see a team giving up anything to get that chance. He could become a hotter trade target with a strong start to the season that sees this kind of production without the injury scares.

Wei-Yin Chen

The bullpen featured a couple of strong performances that the team was not able to cash in at the deadline, though Kyle Barraclough was traded for international free agency pool money after the season ended. Both he and Drew Steckenrider were rode hard throughout the season with Barraclough showing ill effects from the workload. Something Washington should be keeping an eye on next spring. Each showed wonderful strikeout ability, but Barraclough struggles with the walk while suppressing contact well, and Steckenrider goes the other way with strong walk rates, but merely average production allowed. Outside of Realmuto it’s quite likely Steckenrider is their next best trade chip.

Kyle Barraclough

Drew Steckenrider

Another reliever, Drew Rucinski, showed a strong ability to limit hard contact, but gets there with pedestrian strikeout and walk rates that probably limit his upside. Adam Conley was a lefty reliever that saw a strong start to his season, but was not able to carry that production forward in a meaningful way as it looks like most of his shine came from overperformance on balls in play. Add in a falling strikeout rate paired with a launch angle increase and you can see why the air went out of the balloon fairly quickly. Nick Wittgren looks like a similar guy that enjoyed some fortune on balls in play while walking and striking batters out around the average. One player that did improve his stock as the year went on was Brad Ziegler who showed continuous improvement over the course of the season that ultimately saw him sent to Arizona. The financial relief got the headlines, but the reliever they got back, Tommy Eveld, ran prodigious strikeout rates that manifested in solid performance up to AA last year. Perhaps, a guy they can build up to someday bring back something a little more useful while reaping the production in the meantime.

The Marlins were able to coax some solid performance out of Sandy Alcantara who was fresh to the organization as the primary piece in the Marcell Ozuna trade. He showed a strong ability to induce weak contact, but had to walk the world to get there. With a strikeout rate around the average he’s going to have to find a way to trim the walk going forward. If he can get there they might have a mid-rotation starter that can stabilize their rotation. Caleb Smith looked a lot like that, too, until he finally succumbed to the surgery necessary to correct his ailing shoulder. Not something any pitcher, team nor fan wants to hear. It started with so much promise, though, that everyone involved has to hope for the best outcome that sees Smith starting games for the club next year.

Sandy Alcantara

Caleb Smith

Mid-season call up Pablo Lopez acquitted himself well as a starter and certainly looks like a mid to backend piece going forward. The strikeout rate won’t blow you away, but he’s one of their few that doesn’t walk many and he allowed ball in play production around the norm. The electric Tayron Guerrero might not be a starter like this prior batch of pitchers, but he shows signs of being a shutdown piece of any bullpen. Like so many others here he will need to refine the walk rate, which might be precarious as he’s already getting hit fairly hard when he does come in the zone. This type of command issue might just play out better as a high walk guy, and it should be noted that his actual production was a good deal higher than he probably deserved even if expectations were a bit above the average, as well.

Nominal opening day starter Jose Urena found a way to madden everyone involved. Whether it was opposition batters tired of getting drilled or fantasy players that saw strong peripherals that never seemed to manifest in good production. By the numbers he’s yet another potential mid-rotation piece with all three primary components right around the average. His results on balls in play showed a good deal of overperformance so the rather uneventful surface level numbers could look worse if those balls in play climb to their higher expected level next year. A good deal of that fortune did come at the end of the year when it seems like he made a concerted effort to change his approach that showed up as lower strikeout rates, but also slower and higher balls off the bat. There’s a certain amount of sleeper potential here, but more likely you’re looking at a streamer playing in a nice park.

Jose Urena

Trevor Richards was another starter that showed some flashes of promise with good strikeout rates, but he allowed too much hard contact. Like so many covered here he gives the sense that there is talent still to be mined via a more proactive management strategy akin to what other teams with a plethora of ok, but not strong, starters turned toward in the final months of the season. A quicker hook for Richards et. al. should lead to better performance in those more abrupt outings and they have a stable of relievers that should be able to pick up the slack. Getting creative with this group could be the key that unlocks a lot of potential that seems stunted or stagnating at the highest level.

The very worst performers were Jarlin Garcia and Dan Straily who both ran suitable performances on balls in play in reality that comes nowhere near the hellacious expectations. Straily was once a strong performer on the back of solid strikeout and walk rates, but that seems to have evaporated this year as the latter climbed and the former diminished. Garcia looks like a lost cause.

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Justin Bour

Starlin Castro

Drew Rucinski

Cameron Maybin

 

Adam Conley

Derek Dietrich

Nick Wittgren

Brad Ziegler

Martin Prado

Tayron Guerrero

Pablo Lopez

Javy Guerra

JT Riddle

Miguel Rojas

Yadiel Rivera

Trevor Richards

Elieser Hernandez

Bryan Holaday

Magneuris Sierra

Jarlin Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Straily

 

 

 



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