Where will regression take the Marlins' offense?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a lot of the sentiment that the Marlins have done really well without the expected production of Hanley Ramirez, who has struggled to a .208/.303/.372 start at the beginning of this season. This would great to believe; if the Fish could continue to produce as they have early this year and get the services of the old Hanley Ramirez back, the team’s offense would be well in shape.

The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it does not take into account the fact that other players on this ballclub are simply outperforming their expectations early in the season, and their regression on the downswing is just as likely as Ramirez’s on the upswing. Players like Emilio Bonifacio and Greg Dobbs in particular have done an extraordinary job so far this year but are obviously playing over their heads; those guys are just not likely to continue hitting the way they have. When their likely downturns come alongside Ramirez’s hot streak, us fans will be left wondering why the lineup is performing about as well as it had been without a functional Ramirez, and the reason will be because those overachievers will begin playing down to their likely talent level.

The Dobbs-Boni mirage

The two names who have vastly outperformed their expectations early in the season have to be Dobbs and Bonifacio. At the beginning of the year,  Bonifacio was pegged for a .260/.314/.332 line and a .293 wOBA by ZiPS. Dobbs projected to hit .242/.295/.386, good for a similar .298 wOBA.  Instead, both guys are hitting out of their minds comparatively; even with his recent cold streak, Boni is still batting .301/.360/.417, good for a .342 wOBA, while Dobbs is hitting a burly .338/.388/.465 mark worthy of a .375 wOBA. However, a look at their peripherals shows exactly why we should not expect them to hit like this for much longer.

Player K% BB% XB / H BABIP
Bonifacio, 2011 17.2 7.8 0.387 .361
Bonifacio, 2011 projected 19.7 7.1 0.265 .330
Dobbs, 2011 21.3 8.8 0.375 .407
Dobbs, 2011 projected 20.1 6.8 0.596 .280

Sure, some of the differences in peripherals could stick, but I’d be willing to bet that a large share of the difference between the current and projected wOBA lies in the gaps in BABIP. Neither player has changed their approach much at the plate, striking out and walking at pretty similar rates compared to their projected marks. The differences in power are there, but it is early enough that those numbers aren’t very indicative of much either. The biggest culprit lies in BABIP, especially in the case of Dobbs, whose gap is particularly enormous.

What happens from here on?

So we are pretty certain that, based on the performances of Bonifacio and Dobbs, that we would expect them to return to something closer to their normal selves. But what about the rest of the lineup, including Ramirez, and how will the Fish’s offense be affected as a result? To get a quick estimate, I checked the difference in wOBA between the regulars of the Marlins’ lineup right now and their respective ZiPS rest-of-season projections to see what kind of differences we would be looking at.

Player 2011 wOBA Proj RoS wOBA Run diff / PA
Chris Coghlan .342 .344 +0.002
Emilio Bonifacio .342 .303 -0.032
Hanley Ramirez .265 .375 +0.092
Gaby Sanchez .415 .355 -0.050
Greg Dobbs .375 .316 -0.049
Mike Stanton .340 .353 +0.011
John Buck .316 .323 +0.006
Omar Infante .260 .315 +0.045

The Run Diff / PA column shows the difference in runs above average per PA between the projection and the current production; it serves as a measure of how much the Marlins would expect to lose or gain per PA for the rest of the season from each player compared to his current performance. The green cells show the players who are expected to gain the most from reverting to projected form, while the red cells show the biggest losers in production going forward. As you can see, the largest gains the Marlins expect to see are from Ramirez and Omar Infante, who are both well underperforming their expected lines. The biggest losses going forward are expected to come from Bonifacio, Dobbs, and Gaby Sanchez.

How much would the Marlins expect to change in total? If all the bench players and pitchers contribute the same as they have all season, the Fish would expect to see a net gain of 0.025 runs per PA for the remainder of the year. To put that into a sort of seasonal perspective, the Fish would expect to gain 15 runs per 600 PA from these players over the course of the year, an additional 1.5 wins. The gains from Ramirez alone would be huge; the difference between projected and current performance by Ramirez totals to an astonishing 55 runs above average over 600 PA, and Ramirez himself should get another 500 PA at least if he remains healthy. If this set of players receives around 3600 PA for the rest of the year and performs as projected, the Marlins could gain an additional nine wins. It would seem that the return to form of a guy like Ramirez and even a player like Infante will be key to the offensive success of the 2011 Florida Marlins.

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Tags: Emilio Bonifacio Gaby Sanchez Greg Dobbs Hanley Ramirez Miami Marlins Omar Infante

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