Another day, another position to be covered in the Miami Marlins Season Preview series. The Marlins filled their second base hole just recently by replacing their defensively-challenged powerhouse in Dan Uggla with a relatively offensively-challenged glove wizard in Omar Infante. Did it work out last season? While some may point out that Infante had an awful year at the plate (he did) and that it was very similar to his career numbers (it was), there is definitely some reason to suggest improvement in 2012.
1. Omar Infante
2. Emilio Bonifacio
Minor League Depth: Nick Green
Last season, Infante struggled to his worst batting line since 2007, his final season with the Detroit Tigers. During his three-year stint with the Atlanta Braves, he managed to show that he some capability with the bat, as he hit .309/.353/.411 in 1053 PA. The Marlins may not have been expecting that line exactly heading into 2011, but what they received was a far cry from that, as Infante regressed to a .276/.315/.382 line. So the question remains, which one is the real Omar Infante?As always, the answer to that is "someone in between those two." Infante finally received his full season of playing time, and he did struggle. But take a look at how drastic the switch was between his awful first half and his significantly better second half.
Infante had one of the worst halves on the team and was a big contributor to why the offense simply did not click in the first half. However, in the second half, he kicked it into high gear, finding his power stroke and getting hits on balls in play (.338 BABIP in the second half) at a similar rate to what he did in Atlanta (.343). In the first half, Infante had a .274 BABIP, which would have represented his lowest mark since 2005. In other words, he got really unlucky in the first half and decently lucky in the second half, leading to a season that likely was below his true talent overall.
Much like Sanchez last season, Infante also was forced to play through an entire slate of games without rest at the onset of the year. While Sanchez got a break following his 102nd game, Infante was out there as the starter for the first 111 games of the 2011 season, so he too had little rest at the start of the year. This was mostly due to necessity, as the Marlins had already lost Hanley Ramirez at that point and needed Emilio Bonifacio to handle shortstop duties full-time. Even then, Infante did not receive a day off until he absolutely had to, as his time off came due to a hand injury. After the injury, Infante received no time off as well, playing out the rest of the full season.
So perhaps the early load of Infante's new full-time role got to him, but he grew into it as the season wore on. Perhaps it was just a fluky occurrence or a simple correction of his previously unlucky first half. Either way, Infante flashed what we had seen for some time in Atlanta, and it is not unfeasible that he can drag his 2011 batting line up a bit more in 2012.
What do the projections have to say?
|Proj. System||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA / TAv*|
All of these lines tend to agree, and they represent a line that is worse than his three-year average of .298/.339/.396. This is to be expected, since his closest season was also his worst. Nevertheless, this line is not all that far off from the league average given the depressed run environment; last year's average wOBA was .316, and a .310 wOBA would still have to be corrected for the Marlins' likely significant park adjustment.
There is also something to be said about the new park and how it would affect a player like Infante. Infante's game hsa little to do with home run hitting, and that is an advantage when your home park is expected to suppress long balls like the new Marlins Park may. The decreased run environment in Marlins Park will give a park adjustment boost to everyone's numbers, but Infante's game not predicated on home runs and is therefore not really affected by the park. His offense is still worth more in the park, but his actual offense is not really affected by the physical characteristics of it.
But in all reality, all of that is splitting hairs on a player who is still likely a below-average offensive player (though not below average by much). The important part of Infante's contribution will ultimately be on the defensive end. Last year, both the scouts and the stats had him as one of the best second basemen in baseball defensively; various stats had him worth between eight and 22 (!) runs better than average in 2011. That seems like a hefty claim, and one that is likely to regress to the mean a good deal in 2012. But if Infante really has developed into a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman, then the Marlins do not need a whole lot of offense from him to justify his presence in the lineup.
Consider that last season, in his worst offensive year in four years, he still managed to put up a better than average campaign in most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metrics. If Infante is five runs worse than average in 2012 (and such a number is not close to far fetched in the face of the declining run environment), he would only need to lose anywhere between three and 17 runs on his defensive play last season to remain a league average player. If he remains solidly above average at around five runs better than average per season, he can be worth two WAR per year over the next two years. Using UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating runs as a measure per 150 defensive games played) among players with at least 2000 innings at second base since 2008 as an example, Infante would have to play on even level with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Howie Kendrick, and Freddy Sanchez at second base. Included among the guys who have averaged around five runs above average a season is actually Infante, which means that there is a strong possibility we may be looking at a good defensive player again in 2012.
Projection: 600 PA, 2.4 WAR
Here, I take a projection of five runs better than average for Infante and use that as my estimate for how well he will play defensively. I used a .310 wOBA unadjusted for park (so not as accurate) to indicate his offensive level. He still grades out as an above average player even in this light, meaning there is a very good chance the Marlins got a steal out of Infante's two-year, $8 million extension. The Fish should begin to reap the rewards in 2012.