Miami Marlins: Roster Construction and How Not To Build an Offense in 2015


Almost halfway through this season the 2015 Miami Marlins are much more than just a team that has struggled to meet its full potential. They are a team that’s confounding in the reasons why they have not been as good as advertised during what seemed like a very positive and hopeful winter.

Baseball teams and players, much more than the other sports, are subjected to luck and random variance over the course of a marathon 162 game season. Luck manifests itself in many ways that can actually be easily quantified.  These include injuries, one-run losses, timing of hot streaks (and cold streaks), fluctuation in year-to-year performance in relief pitching, as well as many other small things.

Ultimately, luck interacts with the margins not the core of a team’s, or players, success.

Put another way there is no replacement for actual roster construction and having a solid process that extends from the Front Office all the way down to the coaches and the players.

At the moment the Marlins process seems to be limited to this.

  • Dee Gordon HITS his way on base.
  • The two and three hitter try to move him over
  • Giancarlo Stanton hits a monster dong
  • Everyone else tries to their best to get on base, but usually not by walking very much

I know it seems trite to say in 2015 that getting on base not hitting is how games are won and how runs are scored.  Take the Major League leaders in walk rate by team

  • Indians
  • Dodgers
  • Cubs
  • Blue Jays
  • Red Sox
  • Astros

Some of those teams are having a better time scoring runs than the others, but at least the know how they want to go about scoring those runs. You can’t score without getting on base and it should be clear by now that you can do that by concentrating on plate discipline and approach.

Now let’s take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum the bottom six teams in walk rate so far in 2015.

  • Royals
  • Rockies
  • Phillies
  • Brewers
  • Marlins
  • White Sox

Do you see a pattern developing here?

Teams that don’t take their walks just aren’t as likely to be good at producing runs. Put that together with an offense that strikes out nearly 21% of the time and only has one consistent power hitter.

It isn’t surprising that the Marlins are struggling to score runs.

What’s so frustrating is that in 2015 decision maker in the Marlins organization should understand this and there are easily attainable data sources and people who can manipulate that data that could help the Marlins build a more balanced roster.

I know this is unrealistic and the Marlins will likely never join the ranks of teams that understand that data analytics, as well as scouting is the way to build a winning team in this day and age.  It all goes back to a question of how player development and scouting feeds into the decision-making process.

In lieu of blowing everything up (including the Front Office) and starting over, there is only one way to possibly even think about going forward in 2015, with a lineup that has a chance of being even close to efficient at scoring runs.

Lineup optimization could be a way to try to make this a better roster. It could even out the bumpiness and ultimately hide the weaknesses in the team.

In the past 30 days Dee Gordon has slashed .319/.319/.379, while Yelich has slashed .275/.327/.412 with a 7.3% walk rate.

A team should put their best on base player at the top of the order and their best hitter in the two hole. This would make Yelich the leadoff hitter and Stanton the two-hole hitter. According to the book the three hitter doesn’t matter and the fourth hitter should be your best extra base hitter. When Prado comes back he could hit third and either Ozuna or Dietrich would slot in nicely although they both strike out much too often.

Most National League teams that have bought into analytics and lineup optimization hit the pitcher eighth and an effective “second leadoff hitter” ninth.

Putting it all together this is how Dan Jennings could put his lineup together to try to maximize the Marlins runs scoring potential.

  1. Christian Yelich 2% walk rate
  2. Giancarlo Stanton .395 wOBA/ .343 ISO
  3. Martin Prado .681 OPS
  4. Derek Dietrich ZiPS projection .239/.305/.418; 6 HR
  5. Marcell Ozuna .713 OPS
  6. Adeiny Hechavarria .390 SLG/ 16.2% strikeout rate
  7. J.T. Realmuto .133 ISO
  8. Pitcher
  9. Dee Gordon 120 wRC+/ .374 OBP

At this point the start of Gordon’s season is now hurting the Marlins because it seems like it should be an impossibility to take a guy who is hitting .354 of the leadoff spot. But that Gordon was not the real one and this one is, and he hasn’t walked a single time in a month and he is hurting the team by sticking in the leadoff spot.

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Also important to keep in mind is if Mike Morse comes back healthy and is a productive player, he could easily slot into a platoon with either Dietrich or Bour at first base. Morse has power but he strikes out too much. If he can make good contact he could help this team in some manner which the least we could hope for.

Lineup optimization isn’t everything it’s ultimately about roster construction but at least I think it can help.

Give more opportunities to the players that are actual offensive difference makers, while trying to get every single drop of run production of a decidedly sub-optimal group of offensive players.

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