Division in Review: 2014 Miami Marlins

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NL EAST W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

Miami Marlins 2014 Preview

Marlins 2014 Overview:

The Marlins made great strides from 2013 to 2014, improving their record by 15 wins after a 100 loss season, and for a couple of months, inserted themselves into the division title picture. I had expected them to still be somewhat of a doormat when the season started, but they managed to finish in the middle of the National League. They also did not make any major improvements over the off-season, so how did the Marlins make such a big jump in wins?

The pitching staff in 2014 was just as good as it was in 2013; and in 2013 they were a top 10 staff, despite the 100 losses. That the staff was able to maintain its level of production in 2014 is fairly remarkable considering Jose Fernandez was lost for over two-thirds of the season. The ERA and runs allowed went up a little, but so did the K/9 rate and the FIP and the BB/9 rate both dropped as well.

So, if they maintained pitching, they must have made the improvements on offense. In 2013, the Marlins offense was dead last, and by a wide margin, in runs scored and posted a wRC+ of 72, which was worse than having a team full of 2014 Danny Espinosas. In 2014, the Marlins scored 132 more runs than they did the season before, good for 16th in the MLB, and had a wRC+ of 93, still below average but much improved. In the spring, I wrote that if the 2013 Marlins had a top 20 offense, they would have been close to .500; that is essentially what they got this season, 5 wins away from a winning season.

The Offense:

The strength of that resurgent Marlins offense is the outfield, which was one 5th in all of MLB in terms of fWAR and second in the NL to the Pirates. Obvioulsy, Giancarlo Stanton is a cornerstone of that outfield in terms of value. Stanton slashed a .288/.395/.555 with a ridiculous .403 wOBA and 159 wRC+. He was 4th amongst qualified hitters in MLB in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wOBA and was 2nd in home runs (and might have given Nelson Cruz a run for the title if he hadn’t been hit by that pitch). In addition to Stanton, the Marlins got full seasons out of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, who where the second and third best outfielders in 2013 in terms of fWAR even though they only played for 40% of the season. Both Yelich and Ozuna had above average offensive seasons, and turned in solid fWAR performances of 4.3 and 3.7 respectively. This trio should remain a force to be reckoned with in Miami for at least the next two seasons, and beyond if Stanton is extended.

The other bright(er) spots for the Marlins offense were free agent signees Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee. Saltalamacchia, by all accounts, did not have a good season. He posted a .220/.320/.362 slash line with a .304 wOBA (91 wRC+); good for only 1.3 fWAR. But considering the two main catchers for the Marlins in 2013 posted wOBA’s of .236 and .238, Salty’s season was an incredible improvement at the plate. McGehee, who played his 2013 in Japan, played his best season in terms of fWAR since 2010 with a decent 2.0. He hit .288 with a .355 on-base percentage, but he had an ISO of just .070, leading to about a league-average .319 wOBA. If McGehee had hit for any more power at all, he would have been in the conversation with the outfielders. These two did not have stand-out seasons by any means, but when comparing 2013 to 2014, the Marlins did not need All-Star seasons, they just needed not terrible seasons.

The rest of the Marlins infield is still a work in progress. The three remaining positions, first, second, and short, all posted positive seasons in terms of value, which was not the case in 2013. Free agent acquisition Garrett Jones posted another sub-par offensive season at first base, and barely performed above replacement level. He’s signed for the 2015 season as well, but the team may wish to turn the position over to Justin Bour and let him run with it. Rafael Furcal was supposed to be the everyday second baseman this season, but he played in only 9 games all year. This left the position to be split once again between Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich, and while they did slightly better than 2013, neither was all that good. Adeiny Hechavarria played another full year at shortstop and had another well-below average year at the plate, albeit his best in the majors thus far. His .276 batting average was decent, but his on-base was only .306 and he hit for about as much power as McGehee (ISO .080). He may continue to make progress, but it is doubtful he will ever be an average hitter and his defense, by almost is any measure, average at best.

The Pitching:

The Marlins starting rotation did remarkably well in 2014, all things considered. Jose Fernandez, who was on a pace to match if not better his 2013 Rookie of the Year performance, went down with an injury and had Tommy John surgery in May. He is not expected to rejoin the rotation until at least June. The good news was Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi both turned in solid full seasons after have good half season efforts in 2013. Alvarez lowered his ERA by nearly a run to 2.65, but his FIP went from 3.18 to 3.58, mainly due to a huge jump in HR/9. His HR/FB% is near to a typical 10%, so this season may be more indicative of the way he will pitch going forward. Eovaldi did the opposite, lowering his FIP to 3.37 while having his ERA jump to 4.37. Eovaldi has lowered his FIP each of his major league seasons, best explained by lowering his BB/9 as the rest of his numbers are fairly stable, and may yet still improve. The other starter that had a solid season was Tom Koehler. Koehler’s numbers are not that great, and this season may be his ceiling, but it was a very good year for someone who will be a fifth starter.

In addition to Fernandez’s absence, the struggles of Jacob Turner created a bit of a vacuum at the back end of the rotation. Turner’s FIP only marginally increased from 4.43 in 2013 to 4.52 as a starter, but his ERA skyrocketed to .603 and his BABIP was .358. His struggles lead him to be demoted to the bullpen before being released and picked up by the Cubs. Essentially losing two starters during the season lead to a litany of guys who tried to fill those 4 and 5 roles: Brad Hand, Brad Penny, Randy Wolf, Anthony DeSclafini, Andrew Heaney, and others. Of these, the most successful would have to be Brad Hand, who posted a 4.33 ERA and a 4.11 FIP over 18 starts, and the rest fell steeply from there.

To bolster the back end of the rotation, the Marlins traded 2013 1st round pick, and third baseman of the future, Colin Moran and outfield prospect Jake Marisnick to the Astros for starter Jarred Cosart and utility man Kike Hernandez. Cosart had struggled with the Astros, but put up a 2.39 ERA and a 3.32 FIP in 10 starts after moving to the friendly confines of Marlins Park. The question about Cosart is control, and if he can keep his numbers at the levels he had after the trade, he should be a solid contributor to the Marlins in 2015.

As for the bullpen, it was essentially the same in terms of production from 2013 to 2014. Steve Cishek enjoyed another great season as the Marlins closer, dropping his FIP to 2.19 while increasing his K/9 to 11.5. Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos both turned in near identical seasons to 2013 and put up solid numbers. Chris Hatcher had a breakout season, with a FIP of 2.56 and ERA of 3.38 and a K/9 just under 10. The rest of the bullpen was essentially made up of those spit out by the revolving door of the starting rotation, and none fared particularly well. The two off-season acquisitions for the Marlins played very sparingly; Carter Capps was on the DL with an elbow injury most of the year and Carlos Marmol was, well, Carlos Marmol before getting released.

Off-Season Outlook:

This off-season, the Marlins have to be looking to upgrade their infield. All four positions are due for below average seasons once again, though McGehee’s success may continue. Even if they will roll with McGehee and Hechavarria on the left side of the infield, second base and first base will desperately need upgrades. The other major priority will be to convince Giancarlo Stanton to stay in Miami. The longer he goes without an extension, the more costly he becomes and the more likely it is that he will be gone come 2017. The Marlins are on the upswing and the “let the kids play” attitude is working out for them so far. They are hoping that success, and the continued building of the core of the team, will be enough to convince their best player to remain a part of it.

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