Reliving the 2017 Season: Miami Marlins Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT BAL TOR

After the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez the Marlins were always going to be left scrambling to fill out their rotation. Finding a legitimate ace is the toughest task for any General Manager, but replacing one might be even harder. That shows up noticeably here as the Marlins pitching was mostly pretty bad over the entirety of the season. The beginning and end were especially bad, and despite looking around average at times, the middle was pretty bad, too.

Despite getting a genuine MVP season from Giancarlo Stanton, to go with a couple of other very nice performances at the plate, the offense was not strong enough to carry the poor arms. The first half of the season was mostly a little worse than average, though there was a massive gap between observed offense and expected for a long stretch during this time. They had their moments in the middle where things looked pretty strong, but the end of the season showed their worst performance. The Marlins made a genuine go at chasing the wild card, but that gap between runs scored and allowed at the end tanked any chance of making the postseason.

The batters show up here a little worse than average at around 15 runs worse than the league, but the pitchers were well below even that modest mark. The bats could walk a little more, but this is balanced by limiting strikeouts. The real problem was subpar production on balls in play, though the team did outperform these expectations by a good bit. Dee Gordon is a big part of this as you’ll see below. The pitchers, meanwhile, walk far too many while getting far too few strikeouts leading to a woeful K-BB%. Marlins pitchers allowed production on balls in play at a slightly better than average rate by the metrics, while slightly underachieving that mark in reality.

Starting at the bottom you can see that Dee Gordon is the exact type of batter that tends to get underrated when looking specifically at exit velocity and launch angle. He is an exceptionally fast runner that is able to spray the ball laterally fairly well, while using his wheels to take extra bases artificially boosting his slugging percentage. By my metric he was one of the worst hitters in the game, but he also showed a massive difference between observed and expected meaning you should probably tilt him upwards, mentally. He was joined at the bottom by a very similar hitter with a similarly large gap in Ichiro Suzuki, and further dragging the offense down was the “contributions” of pitchers Jose Urena and Dan Straily who combined to effectively negate the solid contributions of Justin Bour.

It wasn’t all bad, though. He will probably be moved, but Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna combine to form one of the most impressive offensive outfields in recent memory. These three combined for nearly 100 runs more than the average, while getting there in different ways. You know all about Stanton’s power and how pitchers often put him on rather than risk a mistake, but Yelich and Ozuna are a dream for any team-builder. The lefty, Yelich, provides excellent patience with consistent ability to hit the ball hard, if not at the ideal angles that lead to offensive explosion. Ozuna, the righty, is more volatile with fewer walks, but he generates considerably more power due to the elevated launch angle. Justin Bour also shows up at a very high level, here, despite, again, missing a large chunk of the season due to injury.

It’s not exactly a stars and scrubs approach as Derek Dietrich has acquitted himself well as a bench piece, and J.T. Realmuto hits well enough considering the position. The problem is that they’re just not getting much out of really any other position. Having 4+ good hitters is better than not having them, but to carry this type of staff the team really needs the lineup to run deeper than just those guys. Depending how you feel about Dee Gordon maybe you think they’re already there, but this looks like a team that could stand to get any sort of offensive contributions from three-fourths of their infield.

Please note that the y-axis needed to be adjusted here because Giancarlo Stanton broke it. That late season run is about as good as a human being can hit over an incredibly long time. While he did cool off noticeably over the last few weeks, ending any hope of breaking 60 homers, he mostly reverted to the still very strong levels that he showed over the first half of the season. We always knew this type of season could happen if he could just stay healthy, and now we know exactly what that looks like. Stanton will probably end up with a new team, and maybe he never hits this well again, but he’ll always have the 2017 season where he caused planets to collide with his thunderous smashes.

I mentioned above that Ozuna was a little more prone to volatility. That comes with having an elevated launch angle that allows balls to carry out of the yard, but when they fall short they’re almost always outs. Add in that he walks and strikes out at more like a league average rate than anything special and you can see why he tends to ride the roller coaster. Still, he showed multiple peaks approaching .420 xwOBA*, which works out to around a 130 xwRC+. Of course, he hasn’t shown the ability to maintain that type of performance, but even his weaker stretches show him as more of an average hitter than some schlub. The departure of Stanton might lead to pitchers being able to attack him more honestly, but I would still expect him to be a well above average hitter next year.

Yelich’s best stretch was similar to Ozuna’s multiple peaks while not really showing the similar weaker performances, but in between you can also see fewer high points. This leaves him as something of a more consistent hitter that won’t quite have the highs or lows, but can contribute day in and day out. Having the platoon advantage more than a righty probably helps a bunch, but you’re still looking at one of the finer hitters in the game. I have no idea if he will ever stop burning so many worms, but if he does you could be looking at a guy with one of the higher gears still to go. As is, he’s a fine hitter that profiles well at the top of an order, and if you have some mashers after him you’re looking at the foundation of a wonderful offense.

While there were some bright spots on the offensive-side they were few and far between on the bump. Sure, Dan Straily was a fine starter, but Miami had to give up Luis Castillo to get him. A guy that looks like he could join the pantheon of true aces if he can show an ability to pitch deep into the season. Losing Fernandez was the kind of blow that no team bounces back from, but the team’s approach of attempting to cover the innings by bulking up the bullpen doesn’t appear to have worked. They had some nice relievers, and Drew Steckenrider emerged from virtually nowhere, but the guys they brought in were more miss than hit. Letting your bullpen get key outs mid-game isn’t going away, but this gimmick is still trumped by having actually good starters capable of bridging the gap on their own.

In that regard, maybe Wei-Yin Chen’s solid performance coming back from a scary shoulder injury shines a little bit of light. Him and Straily are fine mid-rotation guys that look a lot better with a king pushing them down the ladder. Unfortunately, there is little to get excited about behind these milquetoast starters. Edinson Volquez was a disaster before getting hurt, Jose Urena walks a ton and dramatically outperformed his expectations and Adam Conley has the same peripherals with worse contact. Payroll constrictions mean that any sort of improvement needs to come internally, but a system bereft of impact, on-the-come talent lends little hope of turning this around.

If the team is sincere about diminishing payroll, selling off one of the best players in the game to get there, then they should probably be thinking about a complete teardown. There are good players here, but none of them pitch. Additionally, there are enough holes in the lineup that even this year’s good performances get neutered by the guys doing very little with their opportunity afforded. Teams with a couple of good players and very little on the farm are exactly the type of teams that should consider a full teardown, and I would put the Marlins in that group.

Over the first half of the season Dan Straily was quite good with observed performance mostly matching up with solid underlying metrics. Then you see that massive spike in the middle of the season, again, with little separation between the two viewpoints. As bad as that stretch was he did start to figure it out before closing the season on a bad trend. However, at the end of the season you can see a massive gap between observed and expected, perhaps indicating that something wasn’t right with Straily. As much as I enjoyed that first half I was pretty happy to sell Straily mid-season last year, and going into this year I’m likely to stay away.

Many folks talk about how they want their players to be more consistent. Well, Conley was about as consistent as it gets. There was a stretch where he looked something like a league average, useful pitcher, but it was the outlier. The rest of the season shows a guy that struggled to avoid the walk, while getting battered on balls in play. That is a bad mix, and I am beginning to wonder if Conley wouldn’t feature better out of the bullpen where his pedestrian stuff might play up in shorter stints. Unfortunately, on a team this thirsty for starting pitchers it seems like he will continue to get fed to the wolves.

Sitting north of 95 while still having youth on his side, Jose Urena represented a rare bit of hope for the future of the Marlins rotation. Posting a sub-4.00 ERA during the NeoLiveball era is rather impressive, but very little of that looks earned. Like Nathan Eovaldi before him, the big heater is not translating to strikeouts, while still walking guys at a rate far worse than league average. Instead, he received wonderful fortune on his balls in play as you can see significant overperformance over nearly the first two-thirds of the season. He got better as the year went on, but that is mostly due to a woeful start, merely bad middle and then a close that finally saw him comfortably go below the average for a brief spell. Perhaps that is improvement that can be carried over into next year, but I don’t really want anything to do with Urena until I see the strikeouts start to show up.

Leaderboards

At nearly the halfway point we have many wonderful and woeful hitters and pitchers in the database. Here are the top-20 from each perspective, and below that you will find team ranks for hitting and pitching before combining the xwRAA to get an estimate of team aggregate production. I hope this helps bring some context to the data above.



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