The Miami Marlins have a winning record in June and the resurgence has been mostly credited to the boost in offense provided by the return from the DL of sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison. The offense has also been complimented by the long delayed, but successful arrivals of Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner to the starting rotation. Overlooked, however, has been the vast improvement the Marlins have made defensively.
Expecting to be a strong defensive team coming into the season, the Marlins instead found themselves with the second most errors in the National League in early May. Entering May 4th, the team had committed 23 errors which tied them with the Cubs and was just one less than the league worst Nationals. Since then, however, the Marlins have committed just 23 errors for a total of 45 and now rank as 6th best in the NL on the season. By contrast, the Cubs (57) and Nationals (53) have continued their erroneous ways and currently rank last and 13th, respectively.
Of course good defense is not just about avoiding errors, but in this particular case defensive metrics seem to agree that the Marlins are, in fact, now playing pretty good defense. By Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) the team ranks 6th in the NL with a 6.0 runs above average mark and by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) they rank 7th with a +7.
The outfield, in particular, has provided excellent defensive value according to UZR for the Marlins and ranks 4th in the NL as a unit. Leading the way is Marcell Ozuna who ranks as the best OF in the NL with a 12.3 runs above average mark. Justin Ruggiano and Juan Pierre have both also contributed positive values. Going forward the team can also expect improvement from Giancarlo Stanton, who has had an inauspicious start to the season committing 6 errors, but has historically been very good in RF. Strong outfield defense suits the pitching staff well as they have allowed the highest flyball % in the NL at 35.7%.
The catchers have also been a plus ranking 2nd in the NL in Caught Stealing % by nabbing 42% of would be base stealers. Both Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly rank in the top 10 in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average.
Conversely, despite his reputation, Adeiny Hechavarria has been disappointing so far with a -1.9 UZR, which ranks him ahead of only the disaster that has become of Starlin Castro among regular NL shortstops. Even though he has committed just 2 errors on the season, good for 2nd best in the NL, the issue with Hechavarria appears to be limited range according to the metrics. He has made a very low total of 20 Out Of Zone plays and has a Range Rate of -4.3. Ironically, Marlins infield coach Perry Hill inadvertently highlighted the problem recently in the phrase he used to praise the shortstop’s defense – “if the ball is two or three steps either way, so far, you’ve been out.” It’s only been half of a season so small sample size risks apply, but based solely on observation I do not completely disagree with the metrics. Hechavarria has been very steady, but not spectacular on defense. Hopefully we will start to see more of the highlight reel plays going forward, if he is going to provide value.
Ultimately, with the defense joining the lineup and rotation as improving facets of the club in June, we are starting to get a glimpse of how a rebuilt Marlins team might continue playing winning baseball into the future.