What defined their 2019 campaign?
The Marlins were one of the worst teams in the majors during the 2019 campaign, and yet somehow they found positives from a fifth-place finish in the NL East at 57-105. Their starting rotation was the 7th-best in MLB before the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Miguel Rojas established himself as an efficient contact hitter and the best Marlin at the plate in the first half, batting .295.
However, not everything was as promising for Miami in 2019. The team’s offensive issues, which include being dead last in the NL in runs scored and hitting the fewest homeruns, prevented them from getting the results they were clearly capable of accomplishing.
Did owner Derek Jeter and president of baseball operations Michael Hill put enough effort into fixing the Marlins’ grand problem? Let’s find out.
Miami had a strong winter. The trade with Baltimore for Villar goes to show that the organization is willing to speed up the process.
Dickerson, despite not being valued high by MLB front offices, has been a quality hitter for some time now with a .300 or higher average in his past two campaigns. Aguilar had a quiet 2019 but is good enough to be a starting first baseman over Garrett Cooper. Those three improve a line-up, which was not only an abomination last season but lost Starlin Castro, who hit .302 in the second half and landed a deal with the Nationals.
Brandon Kintzler will be looking to replicate his impressive season with the Cubs when he had a 2.97 ERA in 57 innings pitched. Everything else was depth moves but this may very well have a positive effect on the team.
Now that they’ve also maintained all of their crucial rotation pieces, except for Zack Gallen, whom they traded to the Diamondbacks in July, the team, for the first time since selling off their star players and entering a rebuild, looks like a balanced bunch.
What starts as a potentially shutdown top of the rotation ends with some competition for the other two remaining spots in the Marlins 2020 starting rotation. Alcantara was an All-Star and had an excellent campaign with 3.88 ERA across 33 starts on the mound. Yamamoto impressed after debuting mid-season, while Smith also managed to hold his ERA under 5.00.
Then it gets more interesting. Just 12 months off his second straight Opening Day start for Miami, Urena is set to compete for his place in the rotation. Evaluators are torn apart on what the back end could look like – RotoChamp has Urena out of the rotation and in the bullpen, while MLB-dot-com’s depth chart lists him as a No. 4 starter and leaves Hernandez as a “sixth starting arm”.
Joe Frisaro noted earlier this month that the Marlins were 2nd in terms of most BB per 9 innings. All of the three competitors for the other two spot have decent numbers in that field – under 3.00 BB/9 – but Lopez’s 2.17 BB/9 continue to confirm his place as the frontrunner for the fourth spot.
All in all, as some of the rotation’s pieces will start more games, particularly Yamamoto and Lopez, the Marlins are bound to improve on the mound.
In the worst-case scenario, the bullpen could be a concern. If the rotation experiences a let-down campaign, that might translate in fewer innings for the starters and more for the relievers – that isn’t a preferable option for the Marlins, despite Brandon Kintzler becoming the closer after a strong season in Chicago.
There are some good weapons on the bullpen that should not go unnoticed. Those include Ryne Stanek, who was a crucial part of a good Rays pitching staff prior to coming to Miami, with a starting pitcher, likely Urena or Hernandez, joining him in the long-relief spot.
If the bullpen is forced to show off its depth, or lack thereof, however, they’ll have to turn to Adam Conley, Robert Duggar, and Brad Boxberger, who all had an ERA north of 5.00. Pat Venditte’s versatility hasn’t helped him stat-wise during his four-year career, in which he has posted 5.03 ERA.
The Marlins will have to hope Yimi Garcia replicates his performance from 2019 and his 3.91 ERA.
Lack of power in the lineup
Only positives can be said about the way the Marlins batting lineup has come back to life or at least has the makings of that. The top of the order is set to be Villar, Rojar, Anderson, Dickerson.
None of the four seems like a particularly good situational hitter, which could be a problem after the team was second-to-last in homers in MLB. Villar hit 24 homers but he has to be leadoff after stealing 40 bases and posting a .339 OBP (B. Anderson had .342 but in nearly 200 fewer AB). If you put Rojas, a potential .300 overall hitter who hit .337 with RISP in 2019, or Anderson, projected by RotoChamp as a No. 3 batter, you accept that you’re the heart of the order won’t have a power bat.
Aguilar can be a 35-homerun hitter at his peak and Dickerson is capable of posting .907 OPS, although in just 260 AB last year. Even if those turn into constants, this is not a phenomenon across the board.
The Marlins are still a couple of years away from being a playoff contender. However, the rebuild is closer to its conclusion after a busy and effective 2019/2020 offseason. Last place in a talented NL East seems almost guaranteed unless one of the other four contenders absolutely breaks down.
The biggest positive is, without any doubt, the starting rotation, which promises to be amongst the NL’s best staffs. The lineup’s development will also be interesting to follow, but, even if Anderson or Dickerson add some power to their batting, the team will most probably need to add a strong power hitter next offseason to become a threat.
Best case: The Marlins’ starters play a lot of innings, the bullpen is efficient, the lineup provides a mix between consistency and power. Still, that’ll be no better than 4th, maybe 3rd place in NL East at best.
Worst case: An injury-ridden Marlins squad somehow loses more than the 105 games from 2019 and racks up a top 5 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Prediction: 72-90, 4th place in NL East