Marlins Season Review: Bats Come Alive in the Second Half
By Michael Jong
The season only just finished yesterday, but I think it is important that I jump on these reviews as quickly as possible so that we can move right on to the next most interesting and important part of the Marlins’ future, the offseason. So let’s get started with an overview of the Marlins’ season as a whole and a particular look at the offense.
Runs Scored-Allowed: 772-766
Run Differential: +6
Pythagorean W-L: 82-80
Component WAR: 33.6
Component WAR W-L: 82-80
It surprised me how well the component WAR method predicted the Marlins’ final season win tally when looking at Pythagorean expectation. The Marlins recorded their third-highest win total in team history, but it came with the caveat that, once again, the club overachieved its run differential and context-neutral performance. The club went 30-20 in one-run games, which was a big help in overachieving the team’s average run differential.
Runs Scored: 772
Team Slash Line: .268/.340/.416
Team wOBA (FanGraphs): .331
Park-adjusted batting runs above average: 32.3
The Marlins ranked fourth in the National League in OBP, fifth in SLG, and fifth in unadjusted wOBA, but after park adjustments the team ended up slightly ahead in terms of the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies in terms of wOBA and thus batting runs above average. The team was a good three points and ten runs back of the Philadelphia Phillies in offense. After the team’s lackluster start to the season, in which they had only a .320 wOBA by the halfway mark, the Marlins went on an absolute tear as a team in the second half. The Marlins hit .281/.357/.433 as a team in the second half, a .344 wOBA line adjusted for park. Only four teams in baseball surpassed that mark for the season.
Particularly impressive was the Marlins’ August. Despite an average 14-14 record, the team rattled off an amazing offensive performance, batting .298/.375/.451 for the month, good for a .358 woBA. This was capped off by the team record 15-game streak with double-digit hits, a feat not accomplished in the National League since the 1920’s.
At this point, I think it’s important to note what the Marlins did this season as compared to last season that improved their offense. The Marlins last offseason primarily wanted to cut down on strikeouts and jettisoned a few major power hitters to help in that cause. Of course, we know that the strikeout is rarely worse than any other out, and that the goal was for the team to cut down on OUTS in general. Well, this year’s Marlins had an OBP of .340 and a batting average of .268. Last season, the Fish finished with a .326 OBP and a .254 average. The Marlins thus made 1.5% fewer outs this season in about 100 more plate appearances this year, a huge improvement at that scale. The Fish did this in part by increasing their batting average, but also by slightly bumping their walk rate, up to 8.3% from 7.9% last season. The number is still below league average, but it’s certainly an improvement. The strikeouts also dropped, from 22.1% last year to 19.4% this season, and combined with an increase in BABIP (from .294 last year to .311 this season), the team picked up more hits and a higher average.
Where we expected the Marlins to fall was in terms of power, and that certainly happened. The team’s slugging dropped from .433 to .416, and more importantly the Marlins’ adjusted ISO dropped from .173 last season to .143 this year, a loss of 30 points. Much of this can be attributed to the loss in the home run department; the team hit only 159 homers this year after setting a club record last year with 208 homers in about 100 less PA.
What did all these changes lead to? Well, this year the Fish had an unadjusted wOBA of .331 for the season. Last year, with all the strikeouts and homers, the team put up an unadjusted wOBA of .330. After park adjustment, the Marlins last year had 27 runs above average in 100 less PA, meaning the team traded less outs (without a whole lot more in terms of walks) for less power and got the same result. I’m very wary about the future of this offense.
Best Performer: Hanley Ramirez
This should not come as much of a surprise. I won’t go too much into Hanley’s season because it’s self-evident and I’ve probably gone over it in more detail before. Suffice to say, Hanley has a .410 wOBA according to FanGraphs, worth 45.9 adjusted runs above average. He had the batting title all but wrapped up at the start of this month, especially after a hot August in which recorded 45 hits. Those are all crazy numbers, especially for a shortstop who seems to be more and more average at his position each day (a good thing, considering where Hanley started). Even though I’d prefer to see a more patient version of Ramirez, I’ll take his production any day. Just watch out for his BABIP next year, because it likely won’t be .379.
Worst Performer: Emilio Bonifacio
When the team acquired walk machine Nick Johnson, it thankfully spelled the end of the Emilio Bonifacio era over at third base. This was really important, because Bonifacio put up one of the worst offensive seasons in recent history. From 2001 to 2009, for players with over 500 PA in a season, Bonifacio has the twelfth-worst OPS+ season, only beating out such lumber luminaries as Brad Ausmus, Nick Punto, Angel Berroa, and the immortal Neifi Perez. In other words, his season was really bad.
Bonifacio wasn’t the worst offensive player this season (Brian Giles and Willy Taveras can fight for those honors), but among players with over 500 PA this season, Bonifacio’s .277 wOBA was second worst in baseball, only ahead of Yuniesky Betancourt (.271), and Betancourt plays in the American League. Consider this: Bonifacio was actually a worse hitter than Jason Kendall, Kaz Matsui, David Eckstein, Jeff Francoeur, and Bengie Molina. It’s an absurdity that he even saw that many PA (not to mention that these above listed players did too).
Bonifacio couldn’t walk (6.7% BB%, second lowest on the team among qualified players), couldn’t hit for power (adjusted ISO of .039 after taking his triples and inside-the-park home run as doubles), and still struck out way too much (18.7%) to be a speedy, no-patience type. Quite simply, he was the worst player on the team, and likely the worst player the Marlins have fielded for this long since the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Biggest Second Half Improvement: Chris Coghlan
You know I wanted to round it up with a big “I told you so” about Dan Uggla (though I did tell you so, right? Second on the team in WAR for position players, .354 wOBA after that early start. You know I’m right.), but Chris Coghlan really takes this one with his amazing second half. Cohglan ended up batting .373/.424/.545 in the second half, compiling a ridiculous .423 wOBA on the season’s final 331 PA. A lot of that had to do with luck; of Coghlan’s 113 hits in the second half, 80 of them were singles, and his BABIP was a sky-high .406 in that time period.
Still, Coghlan displayed great contact and increased power, which makes me feel more comfortable about his potential in the future. His eight straight games with multiple hits was a thing of beauty to behold, and truly an awesome mark. The one disturbing trend was his lack of walks during the hot second half; Coghlan only walked 6.7% of the time, compared to his early season marks above 12%. His issue may be the same as Hanley Ramirez’s; be happy he accomplished what he did, but be careful that that massive BABIP doesn’t drop and leave him lacking. I still think Coghlan has a bright future on the team as a dependable, top-of-the-order guy, but he needs to begin his Chone Figgins impersonation soon and start walking more to maintain a steady performance.