Earlier today, we discussed one part of the Miami Marlins' 2012 outfield, Logan Morrison, and I figured that Fish Stripes would use today to look at two players who were supposed to remain prominent figures in the 2012 outfield but failed to stay on the field thanks to injury problems. The Marlins were depending on Emilio Bonifacio to put on a nice year after breaking out in 2011. However, here at Fish Stripes, we tempered our expectations and expected a two-win season from him this year.
Unfortunately for Bonifacio, he simply could not stay long enough on the field to make that projection come to fruition.
The Marlins were expecting more perhaps from their chosen center fielder in 2012, but in terms of rate performance, it should not surprise anyone to see Bonifacio put up the numbers he did. Prior to the 2011 season, Bonifacio had hit .251/.306/.317 for his career. Since his disastrous rookie year in 2009, he has steadily improved his walk rates thanks to a declining swing rate and more selectivity. After 2009, Bonifacio has walked in 9.1 percent of his PA, helping to raise his OBP to .345 in that time period.
But as we mentioned before the season began, the primary reason behind Bonifacio's breakout 2011 season was not any fundamental increase in ability to get hits, but rather a lot of good luck. In 2011, Bonifacio got hits on balls in play at a .372 clip. Before that season, he hit .317 on balls in play. In 2012, he hit .325. Before the season began, I rightly predicted a mark closer to his career .339 mark rather than his over-the-top .372 mark from 2011, and it seems I was correct. Bonifacion's mark on balls in play this year yielded a 258 batting average that was very similar to his career before that year.
In other words, Bonifacio simply regressed to the mean. He kept essentially the same walk rate he had in 2011, in part because he swung at even fewer pitches in 2012 (38 percent) than 2011 (40 percent) while making a little more contact along the way. But nothing much else changed. His .057 ISO looks like the type of power he was putting up in 2009 and 2010. His strikeout rate of 19.0 percent was similar to the 20 to 21 percent marks he has put up since his Marlins debut. Bonifacio improvement on walks has helped to keep his line from being 2009-ugly, but he remains a flawed player at the plate who displayed plenty of problems this past year.
Thankfully for the Marlins, Bonifacio's offensive gameplan is primarily based on the basepaths, and he performed extremely well on the bases in 2012. In just 64 starts and 274 PA, Bonifacio's success on the bases led to 30 steals in 33 attempts. He tried to take off and steal in 33 percent of his possible stolen base opportunities, and that ranks as one of the top three position players in baseball. Overall, Bonifacio's success not only in steals but in taking extra bases and other aspects of running yielded five to six runs above average in an extremely short time period. Only eight hitters ranked higher in terms of baserunning runs by Baseball-Reference's measure this season.
Bonifacio needed all of that production on the bases, because his bat without that was extremely light. Beyond that, he was a questionable contributor defensively as well. But the primary reason why Bonifacio failed to be a valuable contributor in the 2012 season was due to injury. Bonifacio was on a relative run before suffering his first injury in mid-May. He was hitting .268/.351/.315 and stole 20 bases in his first 39 games while only being caught once. But on his first caught stealing, he was hurt and started a trend that plagued the Marlins all year. Bonifacio's thumb injury kept him out until early July, and when he returned he was not only less effective but also forced to move to a new position. The position change ended up contributing to him re-injuring the thumb, causing additional problems. Add a knee injury to that and the Marlins received very little on-field time from a player whom they expected to play most of the season.
The recurrent thumb injury likely is not something that will plague Bonifacio injury-wise in the future. That sort of injury appears to be relatively random, and you can be certain that he will avoid sliding head-first in future steal attempts to best avoid that sort of problem again. But the knee sprain late in the year was of a little more concern, and it will be encouraging to see Bonifacio report to camp healthy. For now, he and Marlins fans have to put the 2012 season behind them, if only because the team will be depending on him in one of three open slots next season.