Miami Marlins first half report card: Manager Don Mattingly

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 16: Don Mattingly
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 16: Don Mattingly /

The Miami Marlins are midway through their 2017 campaign. In the first installment of this series, let’s take a look at the job that manager Don Mattingly has done.

It’s hard to remember a time when the Miami Marlins had a first half as uneven as this one. When they were hot, you couldn’t understand how they weren’t in the playoff picture. When they were cold, everyone needed to be traded.

It’s been as herky jerky an 87 games as you can imagine. In more ways than one, it makes it difficult to discern what the team might be in the second half. It’s a task made impossible by the potential departures, and deadline casualties Miami might endure.

All things considered, let’s take a look at what is measurable.

The fact that the team has been so violently hot-and-cold during the first half doesn’t bode well on their report card. Most if it can be attributed to a lack of stability in the starting rotation. Some of it can earmarked for the bullpen for distribution.

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Offensively and defensively, the team has been mostly solid. With fielding savant Perry Hill cranking out gold glovers, his “six F’s” fielding philosophy appears to be as sound as ever. Boppers and slashers at every position make the Marlins lineup one of the most potent in the National League.

In a season where offense is booming across the league, Miami has managed to slug it’s way to respectability. The Marlins (41-46) are five games under .500, but have shown a penchant for streakiness.

The team is set to get the rest of the baseball season underway on Friday. As such, let’s take a look at how Manager Don Mattingly graded in the first half of the season.

Don Mattingly first half grade: The good

This is the most difficult to gauge area for the team this season. Mattingly is the only person in the organization that has a hand in all phases of the game on the field. He makes the final decision on, and fair or not, he gets the most blame when things go wrong.

It’s difficult to give him a grade that doesn’t amount to a grade of the entire team.

Consider that the team has failed in exactly the place they were expected to fail: pitching. Starters, relievers, they’ve all been bad at some point. It’s impossible to consider grading Mattingly’s performance thus far without acknowledging what he’s working with.

His starting rotation was a list of duds to start the season. That’s exactly how they’ve played.

The offense has been as good as advertised, though. And when they were struggling, Mattingly found ways to jumpstart his most important pieces. His calling card this year has been batting Giancarlo Stanton in the two-hole. The Miami Marlins slugger is having the best season of his career thus far.

Mattingly and his staff are the best in the National League at using their challenges. They have the highest challenge effectiveness percentage at .679, trailing only the New York Yankees and the umpiring crew for best percentage overall.

Mattingly report card: The bad

Mattingly has frustrated with the way he’s handled the pitchers innings, though. It might be the trend across Major League Baseball right now, but following anything blindly is a recipe for disaster.

Far too often, Mattingly pulls a pitcher from a game while he is in a groove and sitting around 85 pitches for the evening. The bullpen promptly surrenders the go ahead run and the team is left scrambling for the rest of the game.

The blueprint entering the season was to get five effective innings from a starter. Then they could hand the ball over to a bullpen that was supposed to be dominant. That didn’t pan out. Sticking steadfastly to this strategy was largely responsible for the horrific month of May.

He has strayed from it some, and the bullpen is more rested and performing better as result. Hindsight is always 20/20, but you can’t help but wonder how fortunes might have reversed if Mattingly had let pitchers go deeper when they were able.

Next: Miguel Rojas working his way back

Mattingly first half grade: B

It’s a matter of him making due with what he has. The team hasn’t been able to get anything reliable out of it’s starting rotation. That was the narrative entering this season, and it appears that Mattingly has been subject to the odds.

But the tinkering he’s done has worked, and he’s shown the willingness to fight for his players.

There is latent frustration about the way May unfolded, which put the Miami Marlins in a deficit they’ll be struggling to climb out of all season. Some of it was bad luck, but some of it was a direct result of the way Mattingly handled his pitching staff.

I give Mattingly this grade for those reasons. He hasn’t been bad, and he’s coached the team back from the brink of the season being lost for good. He’s pulled the strings effectively enough, but it’s been well short of wizardry. The team is under .500, after all.