Miami Marlins Offensive Woes Can Be Traced to Corner Infield Ineffectiveness


First baseman Greg Dobbs has been part of the Marlins problems at first base, not the solution. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is unique for one very interesting reason unlike any other sport defensive position determines offensive output.

That is to some extent true in basketball where a one you’ll take a plus defensive center like Roy Hibbert or Marc Gasol or a lock-down perimeter defender like Tony Allen or Avery Bradley and sacrifice some offense in order to get above average defensive play. But baseball is truly deterministic in relating offensive production to defensive position, or at least it has been traditionally and historically. Corner defensive players, first and third basemen as well as left and right fielders are expected to provide offensive production. While players that play “up the middle” catchers, second basemen, shortstops and center fielders are above all valued for their defensive value in expense of offensive production.

The Marlins problem with offensive production and run creation can be traced back as late as even last year to the corner infield “power positions.” Since 2012, Gaby Sanchez, Greg Dobbs, Logan Morrison and Carlos Lee have played the majority of games at first base for the Marlins. In the meanwhile at the hot corner, Hanley Ramirez, Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs have played the majority of time and plate appearances. Fernand Braudel a historian speaks of a analyzing history in the “longuee duree” the long term. It is easy to apply the some concept to baseball and the problem of run creation that seen as finding the symptoms and not necessarily the disease. It is instructive to isolate the symptom, not scoring runs and finding the disease, lack of power from the corner infield positions. Nominally an over reliance on Greg Dobbs and the injury situation at first base so far this season.

In the past calendar year, in order to give some needed context are the median production of all first baseman since May 23rd of last year. The chart below shows the ranking of the best, 11th,15th , 21st and 30th ranked teams in HR, wOBA, OPS, wRC+ and WAR. Teams like the Reds, Tigers, Nationals, Cubs and Pirates feature prominently on the chart and that is no surprise with good first sackers like Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Adam Laroche, Freddy Freeman and Anthony Rizzo. The Marlins on the other hand are last in wOBA, OPS, wRC+ and rank 29th in WAR at -1.4 and 25th in home runs with 18. The reason I put the chart below is to show the drop-off in production and run creation from Prince Fielder to Justin Morneau and Freddie Freeman is .79 points of wOBA and 50 wRC+. But the disparity in WAR, which accounts for all facets of the game is even more astonishing. Joey Votto even injured with some help contributed 7 wins above replacement or AAA level.

The Marlins who have manned first base during the same period have cost the Marlins -1.4 WAR or are playing below replacement level which amounts to a 8.7 win difference. It is also important to keep in mind that the fall of from Votto to Pena and Loney is about 5 wins and the drop off from the Rays to Marlins is 3 wins. In absolute terms compared to the top of the league, the Marlins have been dreadfully unproductive. While they have been relatively bad there lots of teams that are missing 3 WAR from the median and 5 WAR from the top of the league.

Ranks for all First Basemen

RankingHome RunswOBAOPSwRC+WAR
164-CHW.409-DET.964-DET159-DET7.3 CIN
1139-CLE.341-PIT.793-WAS113-WAS2.9 WAS
1533-NYM.330-ATL.759-CHC109-MIN1.8 TBR
2125-COL.320-CHW.744-PHI97-SEA.8 TEX
3010-KCR.282-MIA.639-MIA74-MIA-1.8 COL

The problem is clear to be seen and has been reinstated very forcefully, the first base position offensively has been an albatross around the Marlins neck. That is undeniable and the club itself has tried to fix this problem with the signing of Casey Kotchmann, Joe Mahoney et al. Injuries haven’t helped and are a major cause of the problem to begin with but it is to see how the return of Logan Morrison to the lineup as early as next weekend can be a cause for encouragement Since coming up to the major league club in 2010 LoMo has a .250/.339/.442 triple slash line, .781 OPS, a 11% walk rate to go along with .192 ISO, .341 wOBA, 113 wRC+ and 1.6 WAR. LoMo’s career track record. Both injured and healthy places him somewhere in the middle third of MLB first basemen. Which is a great improvement from the position the Marlins are in now having nearly the worst production from first basemen in the entire league.

Fixing the problem at third base has been a thorn in the Marlins side since we traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers after the 2007 season. In that stretch the most consistent contributor at the hot corner for Florida/Miami was Jorge Cantu with appearances by Hanley, Boni, Dobbs, Uncle Wes Helms and others. In 2013 the Marlins have settled on the over-the-hill Placido Polanco as the solution to the problem. A problem that is only magnified by the lack of production and the injuries. Polanco this year has played to important a role in the offense often batting 2, 3 or 4 in the lineup something that has to be worrying to fans, management and Mike Redmond. I am working from the supposition that Placido Polanco has to be replaced as the Marlins third baseman. But the question I want to arrive at is who should replace him?

The competition is between a “raw” prospect in Derek Dietrich against a very bland and unexciting Donovan Solano with the caveat that the loser ends up in the lineup anyone only at second base. Another way to put this is that Solano’s return may not be exciting or something that Marlins fans should be sitting on the edge of their seats for but it is still relevant and important to improving run creation. It is a fact in 2013 and for the next few years the Marlins will struggle while they “rebuild” but “rebuilding” can also happen during the season and that’s what we must focus on as May ends and turns into June.

Marlins Competition for 3B and 2B Starting Jobs.

Placido Polanco0.261.57561-0.3
Donovan Solano1.286.65779-0.2
Derek Dietrich1.308.691940.1

No matter what happens from now on, something is true and can’t be underestimated the Marlins must improve their production from the corner infield to get better. The only way that will happen is players like Logan Morrison and Donovan Solano getting healthy as May turns into June and what that does. Namely putting Greg Dobbs and Placido Polanco into the the roles they should be fulfilling either on the bench or even out of baseball entirely. To end on a truly positive note, just remember Giancarlo is jogging and things can’t get much worse. And remember….