Seasons that end in 100 losses aren’t supposed to be that exciting. But, every fifth day for the Marlins, everybody, not just Marlins fans, wanted to watch Jose Fernandez. Any Marlins fans who did watch through Game 162 did get to see history as Henderson Alvarez pitched a no-hitter in a 1-0 walk-off win against the Tigers. Outside of the Fernandez starts and Alvarez’s historical outing, the other 133 games were pretty rough.
While the Marlins were rather competent on the pitching side, due in large part to Fernandez, the offense was historically bad. The 72 wRC+ that the Marlins accumulated was the lowest since the 1981 Toronto Blue Jays matched that mark. The Marlins were last in home runs, runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, weighted on-base average, wRC+, and position player fWAR. One Marlins player, Adeiny Hechavarria, appeared in more than 130 games. He had the league’s worst fWAR among players qualified for the batting title.
As poor as the offense was, the Marlins managed to win 62 games because of their pitching staff. They ranked 17th in fWAR, seventh in FIP, and 11th in ERA. Marlins Park was the hardest ballpark to hit a home run in, which certainly helped the Marlins pitching staff, and likely hurt the offense, but there’s some talent in the starting rotation. The Marlins bullpen actually tied for the third-best FIP and ranked 11th in ERA. By fWAR, the Marlins had the 10th-best bullpen.
Because of the pitching and some of the young, but inexperienced, talent in the Marlins lineup, oddsmakers are expecting a sizable improvement from the Fish this season. Bovada.lv, BetOnline.ag, and 5Dimes.eu all have the Marlins posted at 69.5 with some difference of opinion on the juice. Bovada has -105 on the over, while BOL and 5D have -120 on the over. BetDSI.eu is showing a 68.5, with the over at -115.
Key additions: Ty Wigginton, Jeff Baker, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Reed Johnson, Carter Capps, Brian Bogusevic, Casey McGehee, Carlos Marmol
Key losses: Ryan Webb, Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, Chad Qualls, Chris Coghlan, Juan Pierre
There aren’t many “key” losses from a 100-loss team and most additions are going to be better than what was already in place. What’s interesting about the Marlins offseason is that they acquired a collection of platoon players. More on that shortly, but what these guys have in common is that they are all veteran players that can both mentor young players and also contribute at a level that will allow the Marlins to take a slower approach with some of their talented youth.
In Wigginton, Furcal, and Baker, the Marlins add some depth to an infield that desperately needed it. Furcal will mentor glove-first, bat-second shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who definitely had a hard time adjusting to the Majors. Logan Morrison was traded to Seattle over the winter and his at bats at first base will go to Garrett Jones, Wigginton, and Baker. Wigginton and Baker have also played second base, third base, and outfield. Former top prospect Casey McGehee never really panned out, but he’ll get another shot in the stress-free environment in Miami.
Veteran backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia will provide some offensive upside and also help a young pitching staff through its growing pains. Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson will take some pressure off of youngsters Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna. Bogusevic and Johnson will replace the at bats from Justin Ruggiano’s trade to the Cubs.
Carter Capps brings his triple digit talents to South Beach and he’ll get a chance to fill the hole opened by Ryan Webb’s free agent deal with Baltimore. Chad Qualls moved on to Houston, possibly leaving an opportunity for Carlos Marmol to resurrect his career.
Why bet the over?
The Marlins look pretty interesting right now, all things considered. The pitching staff features a lot of talent that thrives pitching in Marlins Park and has potential to improve. With the exception of Fernandez, it’s a pitch-to-contact rotation that can survive in the NL East because of a friendly home park and pitcher-friendly conditions at Turner Field in Atlanta and Citi Field in New York. The Marlins had a 3.56 ERA and a 3.36 FIP at home. It’s why they were able to go 36-45 at home. On the road, however, the pitch-to-contact staff ran into some trouble with a 3.87 ERA and a 4.03 FIP. The offense was bad regardless of where it was, so the pitching staff’s increase in runs allowed led to a 26-55 road record.
The rotation returns in tact minus Ricky Nolasco, who was traded at midseason to the Dodgers. Outside of Fernandez, there are no household names. There are a couple of formerly high-touted prospects in Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner and a couple of guys with potential to grow into back of the rotation arms. Starting with Eovaldi, who was a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, he is a guy that can ramp the fastball up to triple digits and has very reasonable batted ball splits. He’s only 24 this season with just 46 career starts under his belt. If he can refine his assortment of breaking pitches to go with the cheddar, he might be a major surprise in the NL. Even if not, his steady diet of fastballs led to a 3.39 ERA and a 3.59 FIP last season in 18 starts.
The talent is there for Jacob Turner. The question is when will it show up? Like Eovaldi, Turner has plenty of untapped potential and just 33 Major League starts under his belt. His plus control in the minors hasn’t showed up in the Majors just yet, but he was a top-26 prospect according to Baseball America for three straight seasons for a reason. Advanced metrics won’t look very favorably at Turner because he’s not a big strikeout guy, but a ground ball rate over 45 percent and a mix of different fastball looks and a couple of decent breaking pitches may mature this season and make Turner a more than serviceable starter for the Fish.
The youth continues with Henderson Alvarez, who already has 58 starts worth of experience at the age of 23. He’ll turn 24 in mid-April. Alvarez is a ground ball-heavy starter with good control and a very low home run rate. He averaged over six innings per start last year and threw a no-hitter in the final game of the season against the Tigers. Depending on how Rafael Furcal translates to second base, Alvarez could have a pretty decent infield defense behind him, which is a prerequisite to his success. It’s not a flashy profile, but his 3.59 ERA and 3.18 FIP showed some promise. Perhaps most importantly, Alvarez’s profile is conducive to both Marlins Park and road stadiums, so he should be one of the more consistent Marlins starters.
In the mix for the fifth starter spot are Kevin Slowey, Tom Koehler, Brian Flynn, Brad Hand, and Alex Sanabia. With the exception of Slowey, these are all young guys who will enjoy the benefits of pitching in Marlins Park. Koehler had an above average ground ball rate but the others tilted more towards fly balls. Slowey was great at the outset before falling victim to forearm discomfort and a move to the bullpen. Koehler was second on the team in starts with 23, though the returns were mixed. Flynn is an imposing figure standing six-foot-eight and weighing in at 240. He’s a huge left-hander, which could play a role if his stuff becomes more refined.
Andrew Heaney is another name to keep in mind. Heaney will likely make it to the bigs at some point this season, but he threw just 33.2 innings in Double-A last season. The Marlins have shown with Fernandez that they won’t let minor league inexperience affect their decisions to bring up pitchers. He has above average control, a standard pitch mix for a lefty, and has some deception in his delivery that will take hitters some time to get accustomed to. He may even win a job out of Spring Training.
All things considered, this rotation is pretty good. There is depth behind the top five that got some Major League experience and can handle a handful of starts in a pitcher haven. With the exception of Fernandez, most of these guys experienced some sort of injury in 2013, forcing eight different guys to make 10 or more starts.
The Marlins bullpen relied heavily on five guys last season as Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek, AJ Ramos, Chad Qualls, and Ryan Webb made over 65 appearances each. The top three in appearances remain, as does Dan Jennings, who had the sixth-most. The four remaining guys possess above average strikeout rates and had solid ERAs. Dunn wasn’t the typical lefty, having success against hitters from both sides. His control improved and there’s hope that trend continues. He dominated lefties to a .189/.274/.275 slash. Cishek is a strong closer with a lot of strikeouts and ground balls. Ramos shook off some control problems with the help of strikeouts and he’s one of the hardest throwers in the pen.
The two wild cards to the pen are Carlos Marmol and Carter Capps. Marmol gets a fresh start in low-stress environment with the Marlins, likely pitching in mop up situations until he gains Manager Mike Redmond’s trust. Capps is a boom or bust guy with tremendous velocity and a deception motion. He’ll fit well into the bullpen because the Marlins have a few solid lefty options to keep Capps away from facing lefties.
The Marlins are going to send a lot of hard throwers with shaky control at opposing hitters. They’ll blow some games, but the ability to miss bats and the margin for error at Marlins Park makes this group pretty formidable.
Offensively, the Marlins needed help. Only the Braves had a younger group of position players than the Marlins among National League teams. Giancarlo Stanton missed a month-and-a-half with a hamstring injury and never fully got on track. Stanton did show the ability to take a walk because teams opted to pitch around him in the Marlins weak lineup. He also played through a shoulder injury that likely limited his power. With a better cast around him and better health, Stanton should have a more productive season.
Christian Yelich, one of the team’s most promising prospects, managed 1.4 fWAR in just 62 games. He showed a nice toolset of speed and a bit of gap power with 12 doubles. He also showed a patient approach at the plate that led to an alarming number of strikeouts, but also an above average number of walks. It was a pretty impressive display for the 22-year-old and another year stronger and wiser should yield positive returns.
Marcell Ozuna flashed plus defense in spacious Marlins Park and that made him a valuable piece. He may not start the season with Brian Bogusevic, Jimmy Paredes, and Reed Johnson in the mix, but he’s a promising asset to have. The 20+ HR power he showed in the minors didn’t translate in year one, with the park and inexperience playing a big role, but it could come soon.
What’s nice about the Marlins outfield is that they have depth. If the young guys don’t win jobs, they’ll either spend time improving in Triple-A or be useful off the bench. Major Leaguers with track records like Wigginton, Baker, Bogusevic, and Johnson add a dynamic that the Marlins lacked last season. Whether the Marlins decide to let the youngsters learn on the job or improve their craft in a low-stress environment, the team has plenty of options. Waiting in the wings, likely at Triple-A, is another top prospect in Jake Marisnick.
The depth additions mean that Ed Lucas’s awful bat is out of the lineup, already making the Marlins better. Lucas’s 80 wRC+ means that he was 20 percent below league average and that added to Adeiny Hechavarria’s awful offensive showing meant major problems for the infield. Another name in that mix was Donovan Solano, who had a wRC+ of 71 and he played over half of the time at second base. Derek Dietrich showed some power from second base, but struck out a lot and was also well below average.
Hechavarria will continue to be at shortstop, but the workload should be lessened for those other guys with Wigginton, Baker, and McGehee in the fold. Wigginton and Baker both have a platoon split geared towards facing lefties. Garrett Jones has had tremendous success against righties. The Marlins could use platoon splits effectively to spare their young players against bad matchups and have a much more competitive offense.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal are switch hitters, adding to the team’s versatility. Furcal is coming back from missing a year from major surgery, so his contributions probably won’t fall in line with his career marks, but Saltalamacchia adds a little protection for Stanton and will be an asset to the young pitching staff.
With a mix of proven, but flawed, Major Leagues and a collection of promising youth, the Marlins will still have a below average offense, but there’s no reason to believe it will be historically bad as it was last season. Any upgrade will add wins to the team, especially with a pitching staff that should keep them in a lot of games.
Why bet the under?
While the Marlins possess a decent collection of part-time players and promising prospects learning on the job, there aren’t a lot of full-time, above average players in the everyday lineup. Outside of Stanton, Yelich, and Saltalamacchia, it may be a chore to piecemeal league average players at other places on the diamond. Unless the offensive is substantially better, the Marlins will continue to struggle mightily on the road because the pitching staff benefits from the enhanced margin for error that comes with pitching at Marlins Park.
While Wigginton, Baker, et al, are promising depth acquisitions, these players were available and agreed to sign with the Marlins because they are flawed, aging, and dealing with the downside of their careers. From a psychological standpoint, the Marlins aren’t a playoff team or even a .500 team, so these veterans are essentially going there to be part-time players and pseudo-coaches. If they can compartmentalize and lead by example in twilight of their careers, they may produce. If not, their interest will wane and their production will subsequently disintegrate. Another concern is that older players are defensive liabilities and the Marlins rotation is reliant on defense because there aren’t any strikeout pitchers outside of Fernandez.
Making the jump from the minors to the Majors is one of the biggest transitions in sports. Many Marlins hitters found that out the hard way. The second biggest transition in baseball is adjusting once the league adjusts to you. Weaknesses and holes were exploited and other ones will be found for the young guys on the Marlins. While there is promise and potential among those players, it may not show up this year, if it shows up at all.
The Marlins bullpen needs to replace 132 appearances worth of relief work from Qualls and Webb. Qualls had the second-highest leverage index on the team, which means that Mike Redmond relied on the veteran in the biggest spots leading up to the ninth inning. That safety net is gone. Webb had the fourth-highest leverage index. Ramos and Jennings had leverage indexes slightly above average. Somebody will have to step up to bridge the gap to Cishek. Until that guy shows himself, it’s fair to be skeptical of the bullpen.
Jose Fernandez was obviously spectacular in his first season with the Marlins. But he skipped from Single-A to the Major Leagues and had just 138.1 innings of professional experience before becoming the Marlins’ ace in 2013. He threw 172.2 innings. It’s reasonable to wonder what effect the unfamiliar workload will have on Fernandez. Regression could be possible.
If Eovaldi, Turner, and Alvarez don’t improve from 2013 to 2014 and make adjustments, the National League now has a much better book on them. Turner and Alvarez came over from the American League and all three didn’t have a lot of Major League experience. If they don’t have a different wrinkle in their arsenal or a different plan of attack, hitters will adjust and will have more success.
The Marlins are still going to field a below average offense, so the pitching has to be as good or better for this team to improve.
Pick: Over 68.5 (-115, BetDSI)
Experience means a lot and a majority of the Marlins Opening Day roster got it last season. Sprinkling in veterans to learn from and give the young guys a day off in a slump or against a tough pitcher will be an asset to Redmond. The fear would be that a guy like Redmond would give too many plate appearances to the veterans and stunt the growth of young guys, but this lineup is going to be better, simply because it cannot get much worse. A similar pitching performance and an improvement of 25 or more runs already puts you close to the win total.
The rotation is sneaky good. It’s tailored perfectly to Marlins Park and has enough guys with ground ball chops to be better on the road. Keep in mind that this rotation was in a state of flux all season with various injuries. That was a blessing and a curse, because it allowed other guys to get experience and the pitchers to be fresher entering 2013, but it also kept some guys from important developmental opportunities. By learning on the job, the talent of guys like Eovaldi, Turner, and Alvarez – what made them Major League starts in their early 20s – is going to show through.
By no means is this a great team, but they’re certainly better than they were in 2013. With more stability all around, especially in the rotation, and with increased depth in the lineup, a seven-win improvement is by no means a Herculean task.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.