We knew that some crazy shenanigans were possible with the 60-game season, but nobody expected what the Miami Marlins did. The Marlins made the playoffs and didn’t win the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Okay, so maybe I buried the lede a little bit here. The Marlins made the playoffs, which was a stunner in and of itself. After all, you had to go back to 2009 to find the last time the Marlins won more games than they lost. It’s the manner in which the Marlins made the playoffs.
They were actually a bad team. The 31-29 record was full of more smoke and mirrors than a carnival fun house. The Marlins were -41 in run differential, which played more like a 26-34 record by Pythagorean Win-Loss. Frankly, ending up just -41 in run differential was quite a feat, given that BaseRuns had the Marlins down for -56 and a record of 24-36. The team’s 3rd Order Win% didn’t paint any prettier of a picture.
Then there’s the COVID-19 outbreak. The Marlins played their third game on July 26 and started 2-1. They played their fourth game on August 4 and looked a lot different than expected. They wound up playing seven doubleheaders and went 10-4 over those 14 seven-inning games, outscoring opponents 50-49.
In a 60-game season, the Marlins used 61 players, 37 of them pitchers. Star player Brian Anderson led the way with 59 games played. Corey Dickerson played 52 and Jesus Aguilar played 51. Nobody else played more than 47 and that was Lewis Brinson, who was 26% below league average offensively. Pablo Lopez was the only pitcher to last the full season with 11 starts. Nobody else had more than seven.
Before everything shut down, the Marlins were staring down the barrel of a win total line of 64.5 and they basically got halfway to it in the 60-game season. Words cannot express just how outright crazy and stunning everything that transpired ended up being. Not only that, but the Marlins were 24-52 against NL East teams in 2019 and got outscored by 117 runs.
The Marlins were 21-19 in the 40 games against those teams in 2020. They were outscored by 40 runs in those games. In a 60-game season, the Marlins were beaten 13 times by five or more runs and still made the playoffs.
I decided early on that I would take 2020 for what it was worth with a few caveats and to analyze in a proper context. There are a lot of individual pieces and parts that are interesting on this team and some players that had enormous bounce back seasons in the limited sample size. I still can’t find my way to wrap my head around what transpired in 2020 other than to say it was a remarkable set of circumstances and outliers that came together in a high-variance environment to put an undeserving team into the playoffs.
I assure you that 2021 will be a lot different.
2021 Over/Under Season Win Total Odds
Odds To Win NL East
|Team||Odds To Win|
|New York Mets||+140|
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-56 (4.23/5.17)||-184 (3.76/4.90)|
|3rd Order Win%||24.5-35.5||60.4-101.6|
|Record in One-Run Games||11-8||16-28|
Additions: Adam Duvall, Anthony Bass, Sandy Leon, Ross Detwiler, Anthony Bender, Zach Thompson, Luis Madeo, Alexander Guillen, Ryan Noda, John Curtiss, Dylan Floro, Federico Polanco, Zach Pop, Adam Cimber, Paul Campbell
Losses: Ryne Stanek, Jose Urena, Mike Morin, Josh A. Smith, Brian Moran, Brandon Leibrandt, Drew Steckenrider, Francisco Cervelli, Logan Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Brad Boxberger, Nick Vincent, Brandon Kintzler, Evan Edwards, Alex Vesia, Kyle Hurt, Jordan Yamamoto, Troy Stokes Jr., Stephen Tarpley, Robert Dugger, Johan Quezada
The Marlins had the type of offseason that you would expect. They grabbed a few guys, let go of a bunch of guys, and will have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball again. There is really no reason for the Marlins to go crazy.
The transactions board could look extremely busy at the Trade Deadline, though. Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson are impending free agents. The Marlins only have $6.5M guaranteed for 2022. New signing Adam Duvall is also effectively a rental, though there is a mutual option for next season.
Duvall is the big piece from the slow offseason for the Fish. He’s got good power. Otherwise, ground ball specialist Dylan Floro and ground ball sidewinder Adam Cimber will slot into the bullpen along with February acquisition John Curtiss. None of the losses strike me as a huge deal.
|Batting Average (BA)||.244 (17th)||.241 (25th)|
|On-Base Percentage (OBP)||.319 (17th)||.298 (29th)|
|Slugging Percentage (SLG)||.384 (25th)||.375 (30th)|
|Weighted On-Base Avg (wOBA)||.308 (21st)||.288 (30th)|
|Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)||96 (18th)||79 (29th)|
|Batting Avg on Balls In Play (BABIP)||.306 (10th)||.300 (12th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||24.8% (22nd)||24.3% (23rd)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||8.8% (16th)||6.5% (28th)|
The Marlins had no business being a playoff team. Let’s start with that. They were 26th in fWAR on the batting and fielding sides. It is, of course, worth noting that the Marlins had a major COVID outbreak very early in the season. Brian Anderson was the only player to appear in more than 52 games. He slashed .255/.345/.465 with a strong 122 wRC+ despite a big K% increase and a significant drop in exit velocity. Anderson’s average exit velo dropped 2.7 mph from 2019, but his BABIP rose by 18 points. That’s a profile I’d be scared to buy.
The Marlins were able to fashion a decent offense overall. They did so with below average production from Corey Dickerson, as guys like Jon Berti, Jesus Aguilar, and Garrett Cooper had impressive numbers. Even Starling Marte struggled following the trade, though Marte had an incredibly tough year with the tragic death of his wife in May and then a trade.
To me, there isn’t much to like about this Marlins offense. They are a very BABIP-dependent group because they don’t hit a lot of fly balls and have minimal power. Those are offensive profiles that typically fail because you’re talking about a lack of contact authority with those types of teams. The Marlins were 29th in FB%. The only team lower was the Mets, another offense I would expect wide-scale regression from this upcoming season.
Fly balls aren’t really a great idea at Marlins Park, so Miami is just attempting to play to the park factor in a lot of ways, but you cannot run a K% around 25% with no power and expect that type of offensive to produce.
A big part of the problem for the Marlins is that their young kids haven’t really figured it out. Jorge Alfaro was awful offensively and defensively. Lewis Brinson still can’t really break through. This isn’t the right type of setup for a team in Miami’s situation. Their projected starting lineup features six players over 30. You’d generally want more homegrown talents in the lineup when you are essentially a last-place team. I’d be beyond stunned if the Marlins finished ahead of any of the other teams in the NL East.
They’ve been fortunate that guys like Aguilar were able to wipe the slate clean and start hitting. A guy like Berti took seven years to make it to the big leagues and never really stood out offensively in the Blue Jays system. Then he suddenly posts wRC+ marks of 105 and 115 in his first two seasons with the Marlins with 26 stolen bases and surprisingly good walk rates. I guess we could chalk it up to talent evaluation, but I see a lot more of a luck factor here.
Take Miguel Rojas for example. His 2020 season is far from sustainable with a .379 wOBA and a 142 wRC+ when he previously topped out at .318 and 98. Rojas brings his worth by being an excellent defensive player with the ceiling for league average-ish offense on the batting side. Then he hangs 143 plate appearances like he did last season and is a big reason why the Marlins found a way to be competent enough offensively to be a playoff team. I just look at the Marlins and their lineup construction and see a lot of times in which they land on the lucky side of variance.
Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe they have found some hidden surplus values on players. After all, Anderson is the only drafted and developed position player to have spent his entire career in the Marlins organization. Rojas has been with the team since 2014, so he more or less counts, but they’ve done lots of trading in an effort to find players that fill out this lineup.
From my perspective, it almost looks like they were acquiring talent to fulfill the ecosystem of Major League Baseball. Find an unwanted commodity, build it back up, trade it because you can’t afford it or need to help out the minor league system. To this point, the Marlins haven’t traded a lot of those guys, but that time is coming and it could very well be this summer, which is something you absolutely have to consider with a win total wager.
|Earned Run Average (ERA)||4.86 (21st)||4.74 (20th)|
|Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)||5.02 (26th)||4.89 (25th)|
|Adj. Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)||4.90 (27th)||5.06 (29th)|
|Strikeout Percentage (K%)||20.4% (29th)||22.1% (20th)|
|Walk Percentage (BB%)||10.2% (23rd)||9.8% (30th)|
|Left On Base Percentage (LOB%)||70.6% (17th)||72.2% (17th)|
This is the part of the ballclub that is exciting. The stats from 2020 wouldn’t support that statement, but this is a pretty good looking rotation, even with the Zac Gallen trade to Arizona in 2019. The Marlins have done a pretty good job on this front. They haven’t developed a whole lot of hitters, but they have developed pitchers and have done a nice job isolating prospects from other teams in the trades featuring proven Major Leaguers that they have made.
Sandy Alcantara was acquired in the Marcell Ozuna deal with the Cardinals, which also featured Gallen. Pablo Lopez was a terrific find from the David Phelps deal with the Mariners. Sixto Sanchez was the centerpiece of the JT Realmuto deal with the Phillies. Miami has done well finding these guys. Teams with low payrolls absolutely have to do that and it is something that can make the Marlins something of a dangerous team year in and year out.
One of the best attributes of the Marlins starting staff is the ability to induce weak contact. I’m a huge proponent of this. We didn’t see it last season, but Alcantara was in the 81st percentile in exit velocity against in 2019 and in the 69th percentile in Hard Hit%. He added more swing and miss last season at the expense of some harder contact, but he has one of the better sinkers in baseball. Lopez had that big breakout season that a lot of analysts were expecting. He had a 3.61 ERA and a 3.09 FIP over his 57.1 innings. Perhaps most notable, he cut his HR/FB% down from 14.6% to 8.7%. A major reason why is because he was in the 90th percentile in exit velocity against and 84th percentile in Barrel%.
A barreled ball is a ball hit at least 95 mph that falls into an optimal range for launch angle to produce an expected batting average of at least .500 and an expected slugging percentage of 1.500. Avoiding those is maybe the best skill for any pitcher. Lopez happened to pair that with more strikeouts. It was a smaller sample than expected due to the shortened season, but Lopez looked great over his 11 starts.
Sixto Sanchez showed big upside with a high ground ball rate and impressive command. The 22-year-old made his first seven MLB starts and had a 3.46 ERA with a 3.50 FIP. He, too, graded well in a lot of Statcast metrics and also showcased plus-plus velocity. With Sanchez, Lopez, and Alcantara at the top of the rotation, the starting staff is in pretty good hands, especially with what the Marlins have done in terms of preaching and developing command.
I’m not fully buying Elieser Hernandez’s spike in production, but there are some compelling signs. Over his 25.2 innings, he posted a 3.16 ERA with a 3.89 FIP. He actually regressed with the contact metrics, but also had a huge swinging strike rate at 13.2%, up from the 11.5% he had in 2019. He’s also been over 65% on first-pitch strikes each of the last two seasons. His primary issue is the long ball, as he’s had a HR/FB% north of 17% each of the last two seasons. He pummeled the zone with awesome K/BB numbers.
The reason why I’m not buying is that he throws a ton of fastballs. Last season, he threw his changeup a lot less, even though it was a pretty good pitch for him in 2019. His slider remains a plus weapon, so if he could figure out the fastball command thing, I think there could be something here. With a deader baseball in 2021, Hernandez’s fly ball stylings might not be as penal as they have been in the past. I’m not expecting a sub-4.00 FIP or a low ERA, but I also think he might be past the 5+ ERA and FIP numbers he had in 2019. Remember, I’m looking at improvements in the aggregate in these.
Trevor Rogers will probably get the first crack at the #5 starter role, but Edward Cabrera is coming quickly. The Marlins actually have a lot of guys that have either appeared in the bigs or are close, like Nick Niedert, Braxton Garrett, Jorge Guzman, Daniel Castano, and Jordan Holloway.
I really like the starting rotation here. It is far and away the best asset for the team. Unfortunately, that is only half the battle on the pitching side. The Marlins had the worst bullpen in baseball by fWAR last season. There are two things I want from bullpens – strikeouts and low walk rates. The Marlins failed badly in both areas. They were 30th in K% and 22nd in BB% in a season when relief walk rates were through the roof.
The Marlins bullpen has been overhauled in a big way. Yimi Garcia is the only full-season holdover from last season. The Fish picked up Richard Bleier and James Hoyt in August 2020 and they appeared in 43 combined games and were quite good. Otherwise, Anthony Bass, Dylan Floro, Adam Cimber, Ross Detwiler, Zach Pop, and Paul Campbell, a Rule 5 pick that will have to stay on the roster or be offered back to the Rays, could make up the new-look pen. The Marlins also brought in several more non-roster invites to compete for spots and traded for John Curtiss from the Rays.
Cimber, Floro, and Detwiler are all extreme ground ball guys, so you can see where the Marlins are going with this. They want to lead the league in GB% as a pitching staff.
Positives & Negatives
As the last line says, the Marlins are going about as ground ball-heavy as you can get. I get it. Teams want to hit the ball in the air. Marlins Park is actually fairly conducive for fly ball guys, but the fences were moved in prior to the 2020 season, so I guess they’re worried about that.
Another thing is that the Marlins installed a new synthetic grass playing surface prior to 2020. The turf is used at Chase Field and also Globe Life Field. The Diamondbacks installed it in 2019 and they’ve been a team with a major focus on infield defense. The Marlins have an average to slightly above league average infield defense. Their outfield defense was quite bad last season. They’re trying to play to their strengths as much as possible.
Miami Marlins Pick & Prediction: Under 70.5
This is not a pick against the Marlins. This is a pick against where the Marlins are. The NL East is set up in such a way that the Marlins could be the lone team under .500. Somebody has to lose here. I don’t dislike this team, at least not on the pitching side. The offense leaves a lot to be desired and there will be trades over the summertime with the expiring contracts and the other veterans in the lineup.
This is just a situation where the Marlins are pretty clearly the weakest of the bunch. They could still bank wins against the lowly NL Central and the three teams projected to have losing records in the NL West, but the 76 head-to-head meetings coupled with the busy Trade Deadline that I foresee are too much for Miami to overcome.
It wouldn’t be a total shocker if they limped over this, though last season’s impromptu playoff run really obscured a lot of major problems with this team that cannot be ignored when you look at the alternate standings metrics.
Nothing against the Marlins. They’re going to be pretty fun to follow because of the pitching talent. I just don’t think they’ll avoid 90+ losses, so the under is the pick for the Guide, but not a bet.