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Pinching Pennies - A Miami Marlins preview

A look ahead at the NL Wild Card hopefuls from Florida

Meet every hitter's new worst nightmare.
Meet every hitter's new worst nightmare.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2011-12 offseason, the Miami Marlins built up some real excitement for the team for the first time since the 2003 World Series. They were opening a new stadium for the coming season, had brought in a new manager in Ozzie Guillen, and flexed considerable financial muscle for the first time ever. The notoriously penny-pinching Marlins went from a $57 million opening day payroll in 2011 (24th in baseball, which rates as sort of high for the Marlins) to a whopping $118 million in 2012. Part of the jump can be attributed to bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell on hilariously backloaded contracts.

The 2012 season went, um, not great. The Marlins stumbled to a 69-93 record despite getting a .290/.361/.609 performance from young slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Bell was atrocious. The offense couldn't muster enough competence around Stanton. Carlos Zambrano threw the final 20 starts of his career and they were bad.  Stuff like this happened:

...and then this happened:

Owner Jeffrey Loria had seen enough. With Zambrano's $18 million coming off the books, he determined was time to slash payroll back down to Marlins levels. In one massive money dump, Loria unloaded Josh Johnson, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Buehrle, and Reyes onto the Blue Jays. When viewed in isolation, it wasn't a terrible baseball move, as it was clear from the previous season that Miami needed to rebuild. However, Loria had no intention of using the newfound budget flexibility to invest in the team. The Marlins opened 2013 with a $36 million payroll, 29th in baseball and less than one-third of the previous season's figure. That's the reality in which the Marlins have existed ever since, as cutting costs has taken priority over any real attempt to become the best team in the NL East.

While it's true that they're still far from their division's best team, the Marlins have found themselves in contention for a Wild Card slot in 2016 thanks to some strong play, some good fortune, and the quick descent of the Pirates and the injury-riddled Mets. The Marlins boast the National League's best batting average and a strong defense anchored by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, the only Marlins regular with an OPS+ below 100. Left fielder Christian Yelich has been the strongest hitter in the Marlins' well-balanced attack. Yelich's had high BABIPs since he came into the league thanks to his speed and high ground ball rate. This year, he's traded some of the grounders for liners and increased his power production, so his .320+ batting average isn't particularly empty.

Yelich is just one of several Marlins hitting for a very high average. Martin Prado is one of the toughest players in baseball to strike out. He doesn't hit for a great deal of power, but Miami can't complain about a .320 average and good defense at the hot corner. Catcher JT Realmuto has slapped and BABIP'd his way to an average north of .300. He's a pretty bad pitch framer, but has still been better in that department by CSAA than Alex Avila or Dioner Navarro. Realmuto's actually fairly fleet of foot for a catcher; he has double-digit stolen bases and only trails Dee Gordon among Marlins. Finally, Ichiro Suzuki is having a gem of an age-42 season. I have no idea how he does it. He's pretty much always the oldest guy on the field and he has a strikeout rate below 10 percent. Hand-eye coordination this special only comes along once in a generation and Suzuki added "3,000 hit club" to his accomplishments earlier this week.

The White Sox won't see first baseman Justin Bour due to an ankle injury, but he's quietly been a very effective source of power in Miami. In his absence, the slugging is handled by the aforementioned Stanton and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Stanton is having something of a down year, but as you can see from this Statcast exit velocity leaderboard, there's absolutely nothing wrong with how hard he's hitting the baseball in the roughly 70 percent of plate appearances he doesn't strike out.

Despite the quality contributors, the Marlins offense grades out as surprisingly average, as does their rotation and bullpen. The White Sox will face a sub-par cross-section of their starting pitchers as we'll miss ace Jose Fernandez in this series. The opener will feature Andrew Cashner, who's suffering from pitcher-traded-from-the-Padres syndrome. Cashner's a sinker-slider pitcher that hasn't been fooling hitters with his sinker or his slider. He's yielded plenty of home runs, so that'll be the best way to get Carlos Rodon some run support.

Adam Conley is a lefty with swing-and-miss off-speed stuff. His fastball is hittable, but if he can use it to get ahead in the count, he likes to try to bury the slider down-and-in to right-handers. He's not as effective at getting lefties to chase it in that spot, which leads to a slight reverse-platoon split. You can think of Tom Koehler as something of a right-handed Conley, with a similarly hittable fastball without much life, walk problems, and heavy reliance on breaking pitches. Koehler's slider is his best pitch and his major league success has more or less varied with how often he uses it. This is a picture of Tom Koehler.

To reinforce their bullpen, the Marlins acquired Fernando Rodney from the Padres, and like all the other pitchers the Padres have dealt this year, he hasn't performed well in his new environment. He's closing while A.J. Ramos is on the disabled list. Rodney's not the true ace of the Marlins' bullpen, however. Much was made of the fact that the Yankees' former bullpen trio of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman had three of the four highest strikeout rates in 2015. That's true again in 2016, but this time around the fourth guy at the top of the leaderboard is little-known Marlins reliever Kyle Barraclough. Barraclough is a hard-throwing fastball-slider guy. The slider is particularly nasty because hitters miss completely half the time they swing at it. He'll allow some walks, but it's fair to say that Barraclough is "effectively wild" and an extremely tough customer.

Miami is currently in a tough battle for the second wild card spot with the St. Louis Cardinals and with the ability to throw Fernandez in a potential playoff game, they'd have a pretty good chance of making the real playoffs, particularly if Clayton Kershaw doesn't return. The question from this point forward is whether they'll be able to maintain some of the stronger-than-expected performances from some of their role players as the season winds down. They may not have the upper hand in that battle, but this is a franchise with some experience succeeding as the underdog.

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Friday, August 12: Carlos Rodon vs. Andrew Cashner
  • Saturday, August 13: James Shields vs. Adam Conley
  • Sunday, August 14: Chris Sale vs. Tom Koehler

Probable Lineup


1. Dee Gordon - 2B

SP1. Jose Fernandez - RHP

2. Martin Prado - 3B

SP2. Adam Conley - LHP

3. Christian Yelich - LF

SP3. Andrew Cashner - RHP

4. Giancarlo Stanton - RF

SP4. Tom Koehler - RHP

5. Marcell Ozuna - CF

SP5. David Phelps - RHP

6. JT Realmuto - C

CL. Fernando Rodney - RHP

7. Chris Johnson - 1B

RP1. Kyle Barraclough - RHP

8. Adeiny Hechavarria - SS

RP2. Nick Wittgren - RHP

RP3. Mike Dunn - LHP