Miami Marlins: 5 Key Areas That Can Make Or Break The Marlins


According to Fangraphs, the Marlins project to be a .500 team. I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is basically their talent level. When people talk about a team’s true talent level, they are saying that’s the average level of performance from that particular team.

There are a great many number of variables in play, such as luck, sequencing, and players breaking out/busting, that could to a team under- or over-performing their true talent level. These projections aren’t trying to say exactly how well a team will do. Instead, they attempt to pinpoint an average win total, and from there a level of variance can be determined by analyzing the roster player by player.

The Marlins certainly do have upside to be a legit contender. The problem is a lot of things need to go right for this team to reach that upside. I’m going to analyze 5 keys areas for this team. Considering that this team is projected to be around .500, these areas can make or break this team.

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Henderson Alvarez

In 2014, Henderson Alvarez took a pretty important step forward. He increased his K% slightly but he shaved 2 full points off his BB%. While he regressed in areas like BABIP and HR/FB%, that’s only because he was pretty lucky in these areas in 2013. Both his BABIP and HR/FB% were about league average last year, which bodes well for the very good ERA he posted.

This is where the concern is. Based off FIP fWAR, he was basically league average (2.1). Based off RA/9 fWAR (which uses runs allowed per 9 innings rather than FIP), he was worth 4.3 wins. While Alvarez is possibly elite when it comes to limiting walks, his ability to strike hitters out is well below average. This means more balls being put into play, which usually more runs being given up.

Last year, Alvarez was able to sequence well; he managed contact and was able to strand runners. Usually, this is chalked up to luck, but if a pitcher can consistently do these things, then it’s easy to determine it is a skill of his. Alvarez certainly has very good stuff and definitely has the upside to strike out more hitters. However, he doesn’t have to do that to establish himself as a star.

The question is: can Alvarez continue to post ERAs about a full run less than his FIP? If his ERA regresses towards his FIP (which most projections expect, and rightly so), he’ll be league average. If he continues to manage contact well and strikes out more hitters, he’s a star. Getting that kind of performance from Alvarez will give a major boost to this team.

Mat Latos

Mat Latos may or may not be an ace, but one thing is certain: he’s a frontline starter. Between 2010 and 2013, his fWAR ranged from 3 to 4.8, with it usually floating around 4. That’s clearly a very good starter.

However, Latos battled some injuries in 2014 and the result was 1.7 fWAR in 102.1 innings pitched. While the season itself isn’t too much of a concern, how he will perform this season given the injuries he sustained are, with the biggest concern being how his elbow will hold up. His average fastball velocity has already been trending downwards throughout his career, bottoming out at 90.7 mph last season. His velocity out of the gate could be a good indicator of his effectiveness.

If he rebounds well, his K% and swinging strike rates should rebound as well. If this happens, we’ll see him return to being a frontline starter again, and then some probably given the fact he’ll pitch half his games in not home run friendly Marlins Park. If he struggles, he’ll still probably be about league average.

In the end, it’s basically the same story as with Alvarez: getting star level performance will give this team a huge boost.

Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon made some pretty important improvements in 2014 in terms of his hit tool. He lowered his K% a full 3 points from 2013 and cut off a whopping 13 points from his infield flyball percentage. Basically, he put more balls in play and improved his quality of contact. The result was a breakout season, which was mostly supported by well above average .346 BABIP.

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Speed is one of the most important factors when it comes to determining whether a batter can sustain his BABIP. Gordon probably isn’t that good, but it’s very reasonable to expect him to post above average BABIP rates. This of course, allows his speed to play in-game, which is where he gets a lot of his value from.

Moving Gordon down the defensive spectrum, from shortstop to second base, helped him a lot. That should definitely carry over into this season. The question is whether the improvements he made in 2014 are real. If he really improved his hit tool, then his speed will allow him to post above average BABIP rates. If 2014 was a total fluke, then second base could be a disaster for the Marlins in 2015.

I think the improvements are legit, but I don’t think he’s a 3 win player moving forward. The Marlins could gain or lose a win, maybe even 2, here. Those wins are very precious given where the team is on the win curve.

Adeiny Hechavarria

I’ve already gone over Hechavarria’s defense in detail here (you should definitely read that if you haven’t, it’s good). Hechavarria’s performance might be the single most important area of concern considering that he’s currently projected for 0 wins according to Fangraphs.

There probably isn’t any room for him to grow offensively unless he finds out how to take more walks. The concern is still the defense and whether or not the team can extract that defensive value from him. If he’s just average defensively at shortstop, he’ll be worth about a win.

If he gets close to that Gold Glove caliber defensive ability he certainly possesses, he’s easily league average. Learning how to get this value from Hechavarria is crucial for this team if it wants to compete for the playoffs. It adds ever important wins to a hopeful Wild Card team without making a trade or signing a player.

Ultimately, it boils down to the importance of using advanced analysis to gather all the information that is available to an organization. The team can no longer throw away wins here.

Marcell Ozuna

Last season, Ozuna finally showed off some of the power he possesses. This lead to a 24 point increase in his wRC+, and getting Ozuna’s 2014 offensive production from a centerfielder is very good. While his high quality of contact and speed mean he can support his BABIP rates, the concern here is discipline and contact ability.

Ozuna struck out in almost 27% of his plate appearances, with league average being 20.4% last season. He still managed to put up a nearly 4 win season, so if he stays at that level there probably won’t be any problems considering when he does make contact, he hits the ball quite well.

Will the strikeouts continue to climb? If they do, Ozuna will lose a lot of his value. However, if he cuts down on his strikeouts and doesn’t make any more improvements, he’s a star. If he cuts down on his strikeouts and hits for a little more power, you’re probably looking at a better version of Adam Jones.

There’s quite a lot of variance here with Ozuna, and the possibility of him crashing down is very real. But the possibility of him becoming a superstar is probably just as real. If he takes a step forward in his development, the Marlins could add 2 wins at a position where they’re already expected to get a good amount of value from.

If everything breaks right with these 5 players, the Marlins could add 7 wins or so, putting them in the thick of the Wild Card race. 88 wins might even make them a favorite for the first Wild Card. But if the projections on these players turns out to be correct (for the most part), then the Marlins will probably sit on the periphery of the race.

There’s also the chance that these guys under-perform the projections and the Marlins fail to reach .500. The upside is there for this team, and that’s something that no one has been able to say for quite some time now. It’s certainly going to be an exciting season in Miami, whether or not they reach the playoffs.

Next: Morning Catch: Opening Day is here