The Miami Marlins didn’t start the season with any kind of expectations. That applies to the team as a whole, and to any component, except for the starting rotation. Needless to say, they’ve overperformed across the board and are currently occupying a postseason spot.
The rotation just continues to show its importance to the on-field product, being able to once again carry the team, despite the absence of its two aces. Elieser Hernandez and Pablo Lopez have stepped up enormously, with the latter being one of the best starters through the first half of the campaign. So has done the upgraded bullpen, led by six-save closer Brandon Kintzler. And the trade deadline will only make matters better, with the team reportedly looking to buy and chase a playoff berth.
Offensively, the start hasn’t been as explosive but rather quiet. However, it’s also marked a very significant improvement as opposed to what last season offered at the plate for the Marlins. Miami has scored 104 runs over 23 games, or 4.52 per game. This is an avid upgrade over 615 runs in 162 games in 2019 or 3.80 per game.
Of course, a full-season workload promises solid regression to the mean. Having that said, almost every spot in the order has marked improvement. The same goes for the offense in terms of reaching base and power-hitting. The Marlins are on pace for 11 more home runs than last year and have the 11th-best OBP in the league.
Almost equally impressive is that they’ve done it, overcoming the loss of major hitters due to COVID-19 outbreaks and opt-outs. Miguel Rojas and Jorge Alfaro have missed most of the year up to this point, while Isan Diaz opted out after two games.
Even during Rojas’s stint on the COVID-19 list, the team scored 3.9 runs and reached base at a .310 rate. Those figures represent only a mere improvement compared to the big-picture reality with the contact-hitter batting ninth. This was realistically the other reason why the Marlins lineup wasn’t poised for success during that span. Anyone, except Francisco Cervelli, beyond the fifth spot, was a “hole”. Jon Berti and Magneuris Sierra, both reaching base at a rate higher than .340, spent a great deal of time near the top of the order so they’re not subject to the aforementioned description.
Monte Harrison really struggled in his first 13 games on the MLB level, recording a .212 OBP and a .267 SLG. In addition, late July/early August wasn’t too kind to Jonathan Villar, either. The former Oriole came in with leadoff aspirations but managed just .260 in OBP in his first 11 games.
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The AL-style lineup, which is what teams in the NL will have to deal with this year, virtually consists of three groups of three batters. It’s obvious that the productive part is three-through-five, which usually includes both Brian Anderson and Jesus Aguilar. However, the nine-through-two group is essentially a leadoff unit. Its most important task is to get on base.
Miguel does that more than well, or at least that was the case last year (.330). However, the Marlins were able to find more assets to incorporate into that nine-through-two unit that has made most of the difference. Berti and Sierra are great examples, as is Matt Joyce, and his .404 on-base percentage in 57 PA this year.
With Rojas in there, be it batting eighth or ninth, the lineup has way more success, both directly and indirectly. The Venezuela native has had a hot start, batting .435 with an OBP of .536 and an OPS of 1.362 in 28 plate appearances. As mentioned, he is the centerpiece to more run-driving opportunities for Anderson and Aguilar. It needs to be said that both have delivered massively in 2020 so the prospect of what the lineup is capable of now is exciting.
In addition to each hitting four homers, Aguilar and Anderson both have a SLUG of over .400. The sluggers have performed better than advertised – their power-hitting ability has transformed into enormous production to keep the lineup alive.
The best statistical figure to show their efficiency is that the Marlins’ .381 OBP out of the cleanup spot is the fifth-best in MLB. Anderson has mainly shared ABs between the fourth and fifth spots.
The case with the third spot is slightly different but still noteworthy. The on-base number there is .323, just above the league-wide average of .321. (And, in fact, equal to 2019’s MLB-average OBP.)
While all this sounds promising, the lineup likely has a low short-term ceiling. This is because of that six-through-eight unit which is still quite the liability. However, the team has been able to overcome big problems and found new production. Also, a new supply of base runners has emerged and shown how prolific the heart of the order can be. The Marlins’ long-term plan to re-invent the lineup is working even better this year. Especially with prospects being available more than in any other year, evaluation is getting clearer.
In the meantime, Miami will be a buyer at the trade deadline (08/31). This will be a first in at least a decade of Marlins baseball. A top prospect might not be within the willingness to include in a big-time trade. However, a good veteran bat will be a great addition to give the lineup depth. Furthermore, this could become a subject of investing interest alongside bullpen additions.
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