Marlins Midseason Review: Can't score if you're not on base

I wanted to do this on the exact half-way point, but I missed out on that Friday, so I’ll start the inaugural Marlins Midseason Review today, after the 82nd game. Let’s start with the Marlins overview and offensive outlook.

Florida Marlins:

Record: 42-40
Run Scored-Allowed: 376-399
Run Differential: -23
Pythagorean Exp Record: 39-43

Runs Scored: 376
Team Slash Line: .256/.327/.401
Team wOBA: .320

The Marlins made it a focus this season to turn to the ways of 2003, which was supposed to mean speed on the basepaths and better efficiency. They wanted to get away from the feast-or-famine approach that led to so many home runs and strikeouts last season. Larry Beinfest wisely dealt away Mike Jacobs to Kansas City, traded Josh Willingham to Washington in a necessary move to shed salary, and brought back the speedy Emilio Bonifacio to replace Jacobs in the infield.

The result? The Marlins dropped their strikeout rate form 24.0% to 23.0%, still good for third highest in the Major Leagues, while their walk rate has not budged from the 9.0% of last season. Replacing Willingham’s OBP and SLG balance when healthy and Jacobs heavy bat with a struggling Cameron Maybin and the abject failure that was Bonifacio’s first half have resulted in a slash line that is identical to last season’s save for 20 fewer points of slugging. In short, the Marlins offseason moves made the team hit far weaker and make the same number of outs. All of this is reflected in the Marlins’ .320 wOBA, 19th in the major leagues and ahead of such luminary offenses as the Braves, Royals, and Athletics. In fact, only three teams still in playoff contention rank lower in hitting than the Marlins do. It’s safe to say that it has been a failure offensively so far this season. In fact, one could say that without Hanley Ramirez’s overall greatness and Cody Ross’s timely hot streaks, the Marlins would not even be close to sniffing a division lead.

The issue the Marlins faced this offseason was a need to shed payroll. This was done in the right fashion with regards to some of the Marlins pitching staff, but was handled in a mediocre fashion with regards to the hitters. Willingham’s bat was actually consistently good for the Marlins, however quiet that good was. He constantly was among the team’s leaders in OBP, and as everyone knows, the key to building a successful offense is to get less guys who make tons of outs. Replacing him early in the season with Cameron Maybin was understandable but ultimately a failure, as Maybin struggled out of the gates and was demoted. Bonifacio has provided even less value than Jacobs, as Jake’s offensive value was somewhat measurable, whereas Bonifacio has shown nothing of worth other than his speed in the last three months.

With the trade market barren this year and the Marlins only interest, utility man Mark DeRosa, off the market, there are few options the Fish can go to to improve the anemic offense. Cameron Maybin should return to the majors and hopefully have more success than his first stint this season. Chris Coghlan has been a revelation with his patient approach at the top of the lineup, and if he can continue to put up .360-.370 OBP all season, the Marlins can afford to wait for him to develop more than middle infield power. The interesting thing if and when Maybin does return to the big leagues is what the Marlins brass chooses to do with Bonifacio. Jeremy Hermida has had around a league average bat all year but has struggled in the field, but Bonifacio has proven far worse than that. Will the Marlins make the right choice and bench/demote Bonifacio and move Coghlan into the infield to make room for Maybin, or will Hermida be the one to get the axe as a starter? If you’ve read my stuff, you’d know my choice is obvious, but with the way Fredi Gonzalez has been dealing with both players on the cutting board, my suspicion is that they’ll sacrifice Hermida even though his newfound patient approach and OBP will be crucial for a team that doesn’t excel in that area. This remains to be seen.

Best Performer: Hanley Ramirez

It should come as no surprise that the only man who has been consistently great this season for the Fish has been Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez sports a nifty .346/.409/.574 line, good for a .418 wOBA that is 8th in the majors. The south Florida media has focused primarily on Hanley’s performance with runners in scoring position (RISP); Hanley leads all hitters in batting average with RISP. The truth of the matter is Hanley is hitting much the same way as he’s hit all of his career, and that works offensively whether you’re leading off or batting third in the lineup. Hanley’s new aggressive approach has led to more hits but less walks, which is a bit concerning given his .376 BABIP that is likely to regress a bit. If he stops running into pitches he can smack for singles, he might have to adopt a more patient approach to draw out more walks, especially in a lineup where few hitters are as feared as he is.

One aspect of Hanley’s game that has significantly declined from the previous years is his speed game. Sure, Hanley leads all players in doubles, but he has stolen only 12 bases in 19 attempts, a poor success rate and one that’s hurting the ballclub more than helping. His speed score is down to 3.8 from previous years, and shown steady decline since his first season. Part of the reason why Ramirez is so amazing is his game-changing speed, and it seems the bulk-up over the offseason has minimized some of that talent. Still, with the kind of production he’s been throwing around, it is extremely difficult to find faults in his game, and indeed it may be best to simply sit back and watch him dominate pitchers on a nightly basis.

Worst Performer: Emilio Bonifacio

It’s no surprise who’s got this section wrapped up, especially if you’ve read any of my stuff since I’ve started my Marlins blogging. Many of the Marlins hitters have actually been average to slightly above average at the plate; in fact, all but one of the Marlins current regular starters have posted wOBA’s within 0.003 of the league average .328 this season. The only regular not to be able to perform this feat is Emilio Bonifacio, whose .276 wOBA is 7th worst among qualifying major leaguers, ahead of Jimmy Rollins, Brian Giles, and guys you would expect to be in this region of the list, including Bonifacio’s future self, Willy Taveras. There can’t be much more to say how bad Bonifacio has been at every aspect of the game offensively. The only positive is that Bonifacio is currently stealing 72% of his bases, which is a net positive if you buy that a caught stealing is worth two stolen bases in general to a ballclub. But even this aspect of his game was only recently corrected, and of course it has been difficult for Bonifacio to show off his speed because he simply hasn’t been on base.

As bad as Bonifacio has been offensively, the Marlins management staff has been worse for keeping him in the lineup and letting him eat up the most plate appearances on the team. If the Marlins remain in contention and miss the playoffs by two or three games, it is plausible to blame this entirely on Bonifacio, as he likely projects to be this bad versus an average baseball player. If this continues and we do indeed miss the playoffs by a small margin, everyone on this coaching staff should answer to the litany of questions regarding why a 24-year old who has shown no penchant for hitting in the minor leagues was kept in the starting lineup for as long as he was while more capable options were left on the bench.

Key Second-Half Improvement: Dan Uggla

I’ve gone over it before, but Uggla has been a bad luck hitter for much of this year. His atrocious .222 batting average has been fueled by an extremely low .240 BABIP, but this cannot entirely be contributable to luck, as Uggla’s fly ball approach (hitting now 51.4% of batted balls into the air as fly balls) would naturally yield to a lower batting average. That being said, his walk rate has remained stable from last year and his ISO is as good as it has been, so one would think that if Uggla could simply hit a few more singles and maintain a similar rate of extra-base hits, he can power through his season-long slump and return to being the patient slugger he was last year. Again, his on-base- and power-related numbers, isolated from batting average, have been stable throughout the year, showing that he simply hasn’t been getting the hits. And with Uggla’s 77.1% contact rate being the highest of his career, one can presume he simply needs to drive the ball more and perhaps some more balls will land in between outfielders rather than in their gloves.

A lot of Marlins fans are showing impatience with Uggla because they are hung up on the high strikeout totals. By now, most people should realize that strikeouts are not any more harmful to a team than other outs, and the patient approach that Uggla has shown in response to pitchers staying away from the zone against him shows he’s still a quality major league hitter. He still needs to square up on the ball a bit more and hit it more cleanly, but he should be able to regress back to a more normal Uggla line. No one would be unhappy with a .240/.350/.455 line from Uggla, and that’s what I’d imagine he can end up with this year if a decent amount of regression occurs.

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Tags: Cameron Maybin Chris Coghlan Dan Uggla Emilio Bonifacio Fredi Gonzalez Hanley Ramirez Jeremy Hermida Josh Willingham Larry Beinfest Mark DeRosa Miami Marlins Mike Jacobs

  • David

    I cannot disagree with your choices for best and worst performers. Hanley and Emilio without question. The interesting thing about Emilio is that he has really hurt the Marlins, at times, but other times he has displayed his dynamic speed which has created havoc for opponents. He is a real “diamond in the rough.” At this time, it would be accurate to stress the rough. It has been rough,so far. He’s young, makes rookie mistakes, and has given opposing pitchers no reason to throw a strike. Emilio is a free swinger, and for that matter no need to throw good pitches. This needs to improve, hopefully it will with experience. On the other side, this guy has had moments which have brought extreme excitement for Marlin fans. I don’t know how long its been since I’ve seen someone score from first on a single. His speed is special and exciting. A lot of great things can be accomplished when used properly.
    Over the last few weeks, Bonafacio has been showing signs of improvement. If he continues on this upswing we might be seeing a little more of the diamond and hopefully less of the rough.
    Also worth noting is the studly pitching from Ricky Nolasco. No one has pitched better than he has over his last 5 starts. If he continues this great run, along with Josh Johnson and the rest of the starting staff, Marlins fans could be in for an exciting second half.

  • Dean S

    I’m sorry, but Uggla is easily the worst performer as he has just been brutal to watch all year… the plate, and as difficult as it is to do, equally in the field as well. How you can say Emilio is the worst when his expectations coming into the seasom were so much lower than Uggla I simply can’t understand. Larry did his job by dumping 2 of our all-or-nothing batting liabilities, but he failed to move Uggla….the most aggregious of them all. As much as I’d like to see Uggla improving in the 2nd half, I just don’t see it happening….dating back to last year, this is a year long slump. At what point do we realize he is a .225 hitting, 25 HR, 200 K, slow, 2B liability that peeked two years ago?

    • michaeljong

      If you check out my analysis on Danny that I posted a few weeks back, you’ll see that much of his low BA is a string of bad BABIP luck. It’s mentioned in the piece here. His hitting numbers are just as good as they were two years ago, the only difference has been he’s lacking singles to go with his walks. Do you honestly want to complain that the guy isn’t hitting enough singles? His walk rate is stable and his ISO is above .200, more than acceptable.

      His fielding, which I’ll get to in the next installment, is undoubtedly terrible, and the metrics back that up. But as one of the few guys on the team that can actually post walks, it’d be difficult to justify doing anything with him now other than move him to third base, where his range can be hidden.

      Bonifacio has been consistently among the bottom rung in terms of WAR. He’s currently worth half a win below a replacement level player. Simply unacceptable, no matter the expectation. Personally, I expect players on the major league roster to be better than Triple-A scrubs, and Bonifacio has not been.

  • Juan C. Rodriguez

    Quick note to say I appreciate you taking time to comment on my blog. I enjoy reading your articles and am trying to incorporate similar analysis into my reporting. I’m in to about the knees, but haven’t taken a full plunge into SABRmetrics yet. I certainly admire your command of it and look forward to continue linking to your work.

    Regarding Bonifacio, hey, the numbers don’t lie. As I said, I would take no issue with the Marlins if they made a change. I can see why they don’t, though. He’s a tantillizing player at this point.

    BTW, happy to read you don’t hate me!

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