Don’t be fooled by the headline, Jeffrey Loria did not hold another press conference. Now that we are two weeks away from opening day, I thought it would be a good time to examine the Marlins team stats so far this spring training season. I know, I know. Spring training stats don’t mean anything. The pitchers are all working on improving a new pitch, the hitters are seeing pitchers for the first time, the coaches are not using scouting reports and many of the guys playing will be in Jacksonville and Montgomery and Durham when the season starts. Despite all of that, they are the only stats available from the 2013 team so far, so let’s take a look to see if some of the assumptions made regarding the Marlins coming into the season are playing out in the spring stats.
Assumption #1: The Marlins offense will have trouble scoring runs this season.
The projected lineup made up of unproven youngsters, veteran reclamation projects and Giancarlo Stanton does not seem to be a mix that will produce a high powered offense. Throw in spacious Marlins Park and we may be looking at a “Dead Ball Era” team here. Through 18 spring games the Marlins rank 24th of 30 teams with 90 runs scored, so this one seems to be proving itself out as accurate so far. In addition, the player leading the team in both runs scored and RBI is Christian Yelich who projects to be one of those guys I mentioned earlier who will be in Jacksonville when the season starts. It should be noted though that two of the teams behind the Marlins are the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the highest payroll in the game, and the New York Yankees so maybe there is a glimmer of hope. Let’s delve into some of the factors that will affect the lack of run scoring this season with the next assumption.
Assumption #2: The Marlins will be seriously lacking in power
Giancarlo Stanton’s 37 homers last season were 3 more than the combined total of the rest of the projected starting lineup (Logan Morrison included). Sure many of those guys did not play full seasons in the majors, but you get the idea. As a team this spring the Marlins rank 18th with 16 home runs and it should be noted that this is with Stanton away with Team USA, so maybe this will not be so bad after all. Think again, the team leaders with 3 each are Yelich (this guy again?), Kevin Kouzmanoff and Joe Mahoney. None of which were projected to be part of the starting lineup coming into the spring. As a matter of fact, only Stanton has hit a home run of the players projected in the starting lineup coming into spring.
Home runs are not the only way to measure power though, so let’s take a look at slugging percentage where the Marlins rank in the bottom third again at 21st. The leaders for players with at least 20 at bats are again Kouzmanoff and Yelich. It seems safe to conclude that power is not proving to be a strong point of the team. OK, so if the Marlins will not be producing a bunch of extra base hits and runs the key to wins will be preventing runs with a pitching and defense approach, right?
Assumption #3: The Marlins rotation has high upside young pitchers who will start to realize their potential
Nate Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner were all well regarded prospects and will have an opportunity to prove themselves with guaranteed rotation spots this season. So far things are not going according to plan. The starters’ ERA this spring sits at 6.23 which ranks 27th of the 30 teams. The issue inflating ERA seems to be giving up home runs. The Marlins starters are currently last in home runs allowed with 11. Gopher balls are flying out of the yard at a pace of 2.08 per nine innings which would be catastrophic in the regular season. To provide some perspective, the Colorado Rockies had the worst HR/9 ratio in 2012 and that was only 1.49. Eovaldi is doing his part so far with a 3.29 ERA, but Ricky Nolasco, Alvarez and Turner are all carrying 6+ ERAs and Nolasco has surrendered 4 homers in just 8.2 innings of work. None of the three youngsters has shown high strike rates in their careers so it becomes even more important for them to keep the ball in the yard and use their defense. Speaking of that defense:
Assumption #4: The Marlins defense is likely to be much improved this season
The team is projected to field a number of strong defensive players in their line up with Gold Glover Placido Polanco at third and defensive whiz Adeiny Hechavarria at short. Not to mention the improvements expected from the addition of Juan Pierre in leftfield and transition of Logan Morrison to his natural position of first base. For those of you waiting for good news, here it is: the Marlins are currently ranked 3rd in Defensive Efficiency and have committed the 3rd fewest errors in spring games. Defensive efficiency measures the percentage of balls hit in play that are turned into outs. In other words, when the pitchers have been able to keep the ball in the yard the team has done an excellent job of turning those balls into outs. This may prove to be a key to this season for the Marlins, by limiting home runs allowed and walks allowed the pitching staff can benefit from what appears to be a strong defensive club.
So now we have seen the results so far this spring on a few different key aspects of this Marlins team. The question becomes how many of these trends will carry over into the regular season. Will the lack of power in the lineup doom this team to the bottom of the rankings in runs scored? Will the spacious dimensions of Marlins Park help curtail what has been an alarming HR/9 rate by the pitching staff? Will the defense prove to be as good as advertised over the course of a complete season?