The Miami Marlins have a number of players who did not complete the 2012 season with the team, either due to injury or midseason trades following the team's first-half struggles. One of those players is Omar Infante, who began the year set to be the Marlins' second baseman through 2013. Infante was acquired in the trade that sent Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves, and he filled in admirably in Uggla's place last season en route to a league average season despite a poor batting line. The original plan was that Infante would hold the fort for the next few years at a reduced cost, as the team smartly extended him with a two-year, $8 million deal.
Initially, that looked like it would be a particularly good idea for the Fish.
The Marlins had to be happy with the early returns of Infante's 2012 season. In a little more than half a season, Infante was able to surpass his 2011 season by actually performing well both in the field and at the plate. The catalyst of Infante's improved batting line ironically was not his BABIP. The expectation given his three seasons with the Atlanta Braves was that Infante would begin hitting better on balls in play because he had done so well in Atlanta. But while a .307 BABIP was indeed better than his 2011 mark of .298, it was not all that great and was very similar to his career numbers.
What changed for Infante was actually his power numbers, as evidenced by the surprising .447 slugging percentage. His 6.9 percent HR/FB rate with the Marlins in 2012 was the highest since he hit 16 homers with the Detroit Tigers in 2004, his second full big-league season. Infante had eight homers by the time he was traded away from the Marlins, and the sudden increase in power was an oddity given that almost all of the other non-Giancarlo Stanton hitters decreased in power in the move to the more spacious Marlins Park.
It was not just his home runs however. Infante also had increased success at hitting extra-base hits as a whole. With the Marlins, 8.8 percent of his balls in play (not including homers) went for extra bases, which is an increase over his career 7.0 percent mark. This season, it appeared Infante was not only squaring up the ball well, but doing a better job of hitting gaps as well.
But of course, as good as Infante's offense was this past season, it was his defense that was once again his calling card. Take a look at the various advanced metrics and their numbers on Infante's work at second base as a Marlin this season.
|Infante, System||Runs Above Average|
Every defensive metric thought he was decently above average as a Marlin defensively, and that was only in 731 1/3 innings as a member of the Fish. Infante naturally passes the eye test as well, and in watching Marlins games, I am certain fans noticed a difference or drop-off when the Fish switched to Emilio Bonifacio and Donovan Solano due to the midseason trade. Infante seemed to get to balls to either side, but more specifically to his glove side towards first base with relative ease, and his double play combination with Jose Reyes seemed extremely efficient. Indeed, UZR has Infante being 1.5 runs better than average on turning double plays compared to other second basemen in his time with Miami.
Marlins fans knew what they were getting with Infante heading into this season. Infante had established himself as a very talented second baseman after years of playing utility man on the bench and being moved around to multiple positions. The Marlins signed him to his two-year extension on the cheap in a smart move to take advantage of the fact that his value was so tied to defense that it would be hard to justify a larger contract. But the Fish got an even better return for the first few months of the year thanks to an extended hot streak and some renewed power by Infante. Later on in his time with the Fish, Infante slumped (he hit .256/.276/.354 from June until the trade), but he had given the Marlins enough value at the start of the year to compensate, and the Fish sold high on his bat to Detroit. After arriving with the Tigers, Infante hit a very similar .257/.283/.385 (.288 wOBA) for the playoff contenders.
For the Marlins, Infante worked out perfectly, even as he was traded in order to acquire top prospect Jacob Turner. The Fish utilized the bonus perceived value Infante brought with his bat, and as a result, he provided one of the most valuable seasons for the Marlins in 2012, both as a member of the team and as a trade asset.