2011 Marlins Season Review: Third Base

The 2011 Marlins Season Review continues despite the team's best attempts to keep looking forward in time instead of reviewing the problems of the past. Speaking of problems, the Marlins had something of a problem spot at third base in 2011. Six different players started games at third for the Fish, with none playing more than 84 games at the position in 2011. The team's third basemen combined for a .261/.315/.348 -- the worst batting line among all the team's non-pitcher positions.

Leading the way for the Marlins were the two players who earned the majority of the starts at the position this season. One experienced an extreme amount of early season luck and immediately regressed back down to his career marks by season's end. Another experienced legitimate gains in his play alongside a fair bit of luck at the plate and earned himself a full-time role in 2012, though fans will continue to cringe about his performance in memory of his work from 2009.

Greg Dobbs


G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR* rWAR**
2011 - Greg Dobbs 134 439 .275 .311 .389 .305 88 0.5 0.0

*Denotes Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement
** Denotes Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement. Note that in both WAR metrics, a WAR of 2.0 is approximately an average major-league baseball player in a 600-650 PA season.

Everything about Greg Dobbs screamed "regression to the mean" in 2011. By the end of May, he was hitting a fantastic .347/.385/.468. The emphasis on the word "fantastic" is absolutely important because the run was just that: a fantasy. His peripherals told the true story.

Dobbs K% BB% XB/H ISO BABIP
2011 April-May 18.5 6.7 0.348 .121 .414
2008-2010 18.5 5.8 0.623 .159 .283
Career before 2011 18.5 6.2 0.583 .151 .296

Like a metronome, Dobbs struck out and walked at the exact same rate as he did throughout his entire career. The similarity of the numbers from both the three years before this and from his entire career were astonishing. His power was down and was expected to regress to a degree, but not the extent that his BABIP was expected to fall. The .414 mark that he hit on balls in play was absurd and was bound to fall, and fall it did.

Dobbs K% BB% XB/H ISO BABIP
2011 April-May 18.5 6.7 0.348 .121 .414
2011 Rest of Season 19.1 4.3 0.457 .111 .286
2011 Total Season 18.9 5.0 0.416 .114 .325

Note the similarity of those strikeout and walk numbers and the drastic drop to almost 2008-2010 BABIP levels. The fantasy of an above average Greg Dobbs at the plate quickly disappeared, as Dobbs batted .244/.278/.355 in the remainder of the season and finished the year with a .275/.311/.389 slash line. That batting line was worth a .305 wOBA, which is very similar to his career and 2008-2010 mark of .308. In other words, Greg Dobbs turned out to be who we thought he was.

And unlike in the case of Infante, who also hit his career mark in 2011, Dobbs did not have recent prior seasons to suggest that he was any better than this level. Furthermore, he also did not bring valuable defense to the table, as there were always doubts about whether Dobbs could reliably play third base and he confirmed them by rating equally poorly (around five runs worse than average) in all defensive statistics. All told, it was another completely forgettable season by Dobbs.

Emilio Bonifacio


G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR rWAR
2011 - Emilio Bonifacio 152 641 .296 .360 .393 .341 113 3.3 2.4

There is no doubt that Bonifacio has significantly improved his game since that disastrous 2009. The proof is in the plate discipline, as I have outlined in a previous piece in my old blog. Here is the kicker from that very piece:

 

Bonifacio P/PA Swing% Whiff% Called Strike%
2007-2009 3.87 49.7 18.8 31.9
2010-2011 3.97 43.7 19.0 34.2

 

Bonifacio is clearly swinging at fewer pitches than he used to in his first few seasons in the league. This has led to more pitches seen, more walks, and more called strikes. The fact that he has whiffed on almost the exact same percentage of swings is pretty indicative of why his strikeouts remain similar; it seems Bonifacio has probably replaced a certain number of whiffs with an equal number of called strikes by taking more pitches. However, overall this recent change has been of benefit to Bonifacio, and the change to fewer swings is pretty indicative of talent in the future...

The above describes the more sustainable changes in Bonifacio's game. Bonifacio is seeing more pitches and cutting down on swings both inside and outside the zone, with the changes to the outside pitches seemingly more pronounced; Bonifacio's swing rate on pitches outside the zone was down to 28 percent in 2011 versus 35 percent in 2009. These changes helped him draw a career high 9.2 percent walk rate while maintaining his career norm 20.1 percent strikeout rate.

However, while the plate discipline changes may have been more believable, a good deal of Bonifacio's success was also due to fortuitous bounces of balls in play. Like Dobbs, Bonifacio also benefited from a high BABIP, but unlike Dobbs he maintained and actually increased it over the course of the season. By the end of the year, Bonifacio hit .372 on balls in play -- a mark bested by only two men. While that may have been good for 2011, it likely means a fall from his .296 batting average and subsequent slash line in 2012, as he simply will not be able to maintain such a high BABIP.

Bonifacio contributed as expected on the basepaths by putting up almost eight runs above average in baserunning (including stolen bases and taking extra bases on hits or outs). With his speed, this was no surprise. He also did not excel on defense, which was equally unsurprising given his constant position shifting in the lineup and the fact that he had to man the toughest infield spot in shortstop after not playing it consistently for two seasons. All in all, it was the bat that really surprised and improved for Bonifacio, but Marlins fans should be careful not to expect a repeat performance in 2012, lest they be ready for disappointment.

The Rest

Matt Dominguez was to start the season for the Marlins at third base -- a situation which seemed ripe in short-sightedness from the front office right at the onset. The fact that his Spring Training struggles convinced the Fish to quickly default to Dobbs and Donnie Murphy shows how unprepared the team thought Dominguez was just before the season began. An elbow injury guaranteed Dominguez would not see major league time until September.

The other players who played third were inconsequential. Wes Helms was unsurprisingly overmatched at the big league level and was released as an afterthought in the Logan Morrison demotion scandal. Murphy continued to struggle with the wrist he dislocated late in 2010 and as a result missed the majority of the season with injury. Jose Lopez was brought up twice after being released by Colorado and was not impressive in either outing.

What do you Fish Stripers think? How did the Marlins fare at third base in 2011?

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