On Tuesday morning, Baseball prospectus released their 2020 PECOTA projections. If you took the over on the Marlins at any point this off-season, you’re probably feeling great about what PECOTA sees in the Fish.
WestGate Las Vegas Sports Book locked in their win total for the Marlins 2020 season at 63.5 wins. Fanduel and Pointsbet each have the Marlins at 64.5 wins. PECOTA ran many simulations and set the Marlins win total at 71 wins. Heck, with that simulation, you can even dream about the 0.2% scenario where they win their first NL East division title. The Marlins front office has definitely put their part into fielding a good team by making a flurry of cost-effective additions through free agency and trades. As Miami has seen before, however, these additions alone won’t make a winner.
What has to happen for the Marlins to hit the over and at least come close to matching PECOTA’s projection?
Entering spring training in 2019, the Marlins MLB rotation was replete with potential and viable starters. In cutting Dan Straily in March, along with dealing Trevor Richards and Zac Gallen at the trade deadline, there will be less questions around who will make the rotation in 2020.
RHP Sandy Alcantara is trending up after throwing 197 1/3 last season and making huge strides with his fastball command and breaking ball effectiveness down the stretch. While it may be a bit foolish to expect him to replicate his 2.78 ERA performance from August to September, the Marlins will need him to continue to this trend as he is now the ace of the staff.
The number 2 and 3 starters both have the same question to address: can they pitch a full season? There is absolutely no doubt that LHP Caleb Smith and RHP Pablo Lopez have the repertoire to excel in the major leagues. Both of them display above average stuff and command when they are healthy but have broken down the last two seasons. Both will make an interesting late draft selection or waiver addition for your fantasy team, but the Marlins will need both to prove their games can play up through 30 starts.
The once de facto ace of the freshy torn down 2018 Marlins, José Ureña (#MyAce), will enter Spring Training as a starting pitcher. Whether the Fish are able to deal him or not is where the uncertainty lies. Battling it out with Ureña, will be Elieser Hernandez and Jordan Yamamoto who have both been seen as long relievers over the long term. And while that projection isn’t particularly exciting, Hernandez and Yamamoto have flashed the ability to start in the big leagues and even dominate hitters with their plus sliders. Whoever of this trio takes the last two spots of the rotation needs to improve their ability to pitch deep into games and stay on the field.
Luckily for the Marlins, should any of the starters go down with injury or struggle mightily, they will be able to cash in on their much-improved farm system. Nick Neidert, Sixto Sanchez, and Edward Cabrera are all slated to begin 2020 in Triple-A Wichita. They should be the next men up, in that order, for the Marlins rotation.
Starting pitching was a strength for the Marlins last season, but their impact was dampened mightily by poor hitting and relief pitching. Those two areas have been addressed heavily this off-season.
The most excitement for 2020 is in the lineup upgrades. The Fish acquired OF Corey Dickerson, UTL Jonathan Villar, 1B Jesus Aguilar, OF Matt Joyce, and C Francisco Cervelli during the off-season, and this will give them lineup depth they’ve severely lacked since 2017.
Dickerson, as the biggest free agent addition for the Marlins, will need to capitalize on his everyday at-bats. Dickerson has excelled throughout his career at hitting right-handed pitching, slashing .290/.333/.533. Whether he can defend himself against lefties is where the uncertainty lies since he’s historically been protected from facing them. Only 23 percent of his career plate appearances (PA) have been against lefties. While there is a notable dip in performance versus LHP, he hasn’t proven to be unplayable since he’s slashed .272/.310/.409 over 668 PA.
Villar has a couple of concerns to address:
1. Will his 2019 power numbers translate while playing 81 games at Marlins Park?
2. Will he be able to provide consistent production at the plate while moving around the field defensively?
The Villar deal was a very easy trade to make, especially after a 4.0 fWAR, 107 weighted runs created plus (WRC+), and 40 stolen bases last season with the Baltimore Orioles. He’s viewed as a versatile player and a very complete offensive talent. A repeat of 24 home runs may be out of reach, however, in spacious Marlins park.
Don Mattingly and the Marlins haven’t had a player steal more than 20 bases since Dee Gordon stole 60 in 2017. With Villar and Jon Berti (17 SB in 2019), the Marlins should be stealing more bases, but they’ll need the green light.
Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star in 2018 with the Brewers, mashing 35 home runs and driving in 108 runs, but he came crashing back down to earth in 2019 hitting a measly .236 with just 12 home runs. Consider Aguilar more of a flyer for the Marlins who can cut him without much of a financial impact and have Garett Cooper who can play 1B. However, if he can come near his 2018 production, he will be huge for the Marlins. Getting his weight down has been a concerted effort for Jesus and the organization as they try to have him regain his peak form.
Garrett Cooper is in a strange position considering he hit .288/.344/.446 with 15 home runs in 2019. His injury history has been a big concern, and, at this point, his playing time is not a certainty. He could split time with Aguilar at 1B or find some innings in right or left field, but it’s tough to slot him as an everyday player at the moment. Even stranger, Don Mattingly expressed that sentiment in an interview at the Winter Meetings. It’s hard to write him off as a bench player but all things seem to be trending that way. He’ll have a chance to battle it out with Aguilar in Spring Training, however, since Aguilar also has a lot to prove.
In the middle of their lineup will be the home-grown Brian Anderson. Over the last two seasons, Anderson has established himself as a great hitter and flexible defender who can excel at both third base and right field. In right field, he ranked in the top 15 with 5 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2019. He was even better at third base; he had 8 DRS. That DRS is good enough to tie him with Nolan Arenado for 3rd in all of baseball. There is a legitimate argument he should permanently play 3B, but with Jonathan Villar coming into the fold, it is likely he spends most of 2020 in right field. At the plate, the Marlins will need him to continue progressing and prove he can hold up over a full season. In 2019, he was certainly having a strong second half until he fractured his left pinky finger.
Jorge Alfaro had a solid debut season with the Marlins, hitting .262 with 18 home runs, great for a catcher. While his pitch selection and aggressive approach at the plate give him plenty of room for improvement, the biggest area for him to show improvement in is in his receiving and defense behind the plate.
Alfaro was bottom 3 in all of baseball with 11 passed balls. He also ranks 43rd in Baseball Savant’s catcher framing metric Runs from Extra Strikes (RFES) with -3. That is a statistic that accounts for pitches within one ball width inside and outside of the strike zone. For reference, the league average in RFES is 0. Getting those extra strikes for this young pitching staff could have huge implications in their total win record. To Alfaro’s benefit, Francisco Cervelli who ranked 2nd (21) in 2015 and 4th (13) in 2016 in RFES among all MLB catchers will be his backup in 2020.
This off-season’s signing of James Rowson as offensive coordinator and bench coach will need to prove most instrumental with Isan Diaz and Lewis Brinson. Both came in the infamous Christian Yelich deal and have to show they can stick in the major leagues.
Brinson’s struggles have been much more pronounced however (.173 career batting average), and he will enter 2020 with only one more option. If Brinson can make the necessary changes to even be a major league average hitter, it would be huge for the Marlins 2020 win total. Honestly, Brinson has a multitude of issues to figure out at the plate, including his mechanics and his approach. If he cannot figure it out, the Marlins will likely have to pivot to Jon Berti at centerfield, which is not ideal defensively, but he has had significantly more success in the big leagues, slashing .273/.348/.406 and stealing 17 bases in 2019.
Isan Diaz on the other hand has 2 options remaining, but with the Marlins allowing Starlin Castro to walk this off-season, it is almost certain Diaz will be the opening day second baseman. He had a tremendous 2019 in Triple-A New Orleans hitting .305 (a sign of great things to come if you ask me) and 26 home runs, forcing the organization to move Starlin Castro to 3B. His MLB debut made for the best Marlins moment in a long time, when he homered of Jacob DeGrom while his family was being interviewed on TV. After that, there were games where his talent showed but his performance was not consistent leading to a .173 batting average.
Where I believe Isan has the most room for growth is his aggressiveness at the plate. He seemed to be a bit passive and the numbers tend to reflect that. He still walked at an acceptable 9.5% and did tend to have some poor batted ball luck (.224 BABIP). Diaz will get his shot this year to show his power and plate discipline can play in the major leagues.
Isan Diaz had an:
– O-Swing% of 25.9%
– SwStr% of 10.0%
Yet somehow had a K-Rate of 29.4%
You can attribute that strikeouts likely to being too patient.
– Below avg. swing rates
– league avg contact rate
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) February 6, 2020
If you are looking for a leader in the Marlins clubhouse, look no further than Miguel Rojas. Signed to a 2-year $10.25 million extension, Rojas has been a source of stability in these young lineups. He can move all over the infield, but just like in 2019, it looks like he will be playing shortstop every day. Always focused on working hard and getting better, his leadership will guide the Marlins. His value defensively is right up there with his ability to lead. It won’t be a huge area of concern, but Miggy Ro will need to continue his progress at the plate where he has a slightly below average, but respectable 90 OPS+ in 2019. If he can even simply maintain his hitting performance from last year, that would be fine.
The Marlins bench will be full of serviceable hitters. Harold Ramirez, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, and even former all-star Matt Kemp. Pinch hitting and filling spots for injury should be an area of strength for the Marlins in 2020.
The bullpen is where the most variance will exist. The front office almost completely reshuffled their relief pitching. Only RHP Drew Steckenrider, LHP Adam Conley, RHP Jeff Brigham, and Ryne Stanek remain from last year’s group. The Marlins added RHP Brandon Kintzler (free agent), LHP Stephen Tarpley (trade with NYY), RHP Yimi Garcia (free agent), and RHP Sterling Sharp (Rule 5 draft).
Steckenrider and Conley both had great 2018 seasons but failed to match their performances in 2019. Steckenrider went down with an elbow injury only pitching until early May. He will need to regain his health to at least contribute to the bullpen and hopefully pitch like he did his first two seasons in the Major Leagues.
Adam Conley pitched all of 2019 (60 games) but just could not figure it out. According to the Quality of Pitch metric, his four seam fastball and slider (already way below league average) took noticeable dips in quality from a pretty good 2018 (4.09 ERA, 3.59 FIP) to a horrendous 2019 (6.53 ERA). The Marlins will need him to figure something out because he remains as one of two lefties in the bullpen along with Stephen Tarpley.
All signs point towards Brandon Kintzler handling 9th inning duties, and as long as he can continue pitching like he did in 2019 with Cubs, that will be more than enough. He pitched in 62 games, had a 2.68 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Despite being a RHP, he also excelled against left handed batters, giving up just a .163 BAA.
Ryne Stanek will need to regain his 2019 1st half form. His fastball and splitter combo definitely plays in the big leagues but he seemed to struggle in leverage situations. The Marlins helped push him down to lower leverage innings with the additions of Yimi Garcia and Brandon Kintzler.
What’s the catch?
Like most years, not everything breaks the way you’d wish. It’d be unwise to expect many underperforming players, despite their talent, to all put it together. Heck, even injuries could strike.
On top of that, the Marlins will most likely be active at the Trade Deadline. The most obvious trade candidates are Jonathan Villar, Matt Joyce, and Brandon Kintzler. This will slow their early season pace going into August and September, especially considering that Villar and Kintzler will likely play major roles.
So Over or Under?
I still feel great about the over for the Marlins. 63.5 and 64.5 wins seems like an easy call to make. PECOTA’s 71 wins feels a little out of reach for me, but it is certainly possible. The Marlins will enter the 2020 season with a much improved roster, and they won’t be bullied by other teams as regularly. The young pitching figures to give their hitters a chance every game, and this time it looks like the hitting will capitalize at least more regularly. Take the over! It’s time to stop checking Tankathon and start looking at play-off standings.