The Miami Marlins are starting the official second half of the 2012 season tonight against the Washington Nationals, and that means it is up to bloggers such as myself to prognosticate the future and guess somewhat outlandish things in order to drum up interest in what is likely to turn out to be a ho-hum second half. In the first half, the Marlins did not perform up to their likely talent level, and they have dug themselves into a decent hole. The hole itself is not insurmountable, but with the talent currently present on the squad, it does seem rather difficult.
Am I going to predict a furious Marlins rally leading to a Wild Card berth? Well, no. I am hoping for one, but that seems like a far cry given the team's current status. But I will give you five things I do think will happen by the end of 2012. We will see how poorly I do by season's end, but I think these five predictions have a decent chance of coming through.
1. Hanley Ramirez will hit .280/.360/.460 through the rest of the season.
Well, not exactly those numbers, but around that mark. But why do I think Ramirez has that kind of season left in him? Well, in 2012 so far, his ISO is at .176, and I am predicting a .180 ISO. His career walk rate is right around 10 percent, and if he walks at that rate through the second half, he will have a .353 OBP with a .280 batting average. Hanley Ramirez has walked in 10.1 percent of PA this season, and tack on a hit-by-pitch or two and you are reasonably around .360.
What is the difference between the first half and my estimated second half? Batting average on balls in play. This season, Ramirez has hit the ball back in the air after two seasons of weak contact on the ground and a lack of line drives, so the power and solid contact are back. Ramirez is hitting only .212 on ground balls this season compared to a .290 mark in 2010 and a .293 career mark. Those both seem like fairly reasonable guesses given that 2010 was his first season in this two-plus year decline and that he has shown the ability to sneak grounders past the infield this season. He also has hit below average on his line drives on the season, and both of these markers point towards future improvement.
If Ramirez can hit just .300 on balls in play, which is below his career average but above his two-year mark of .272, he can pull off 66 hits on balls in play. Tack on the ten home runs you would expect him to hit given his return to decent power numbers and a .280/.360/.460 line is more than reasonable. It is not the old Ramirez, but it is an improvement over the Ramirez since 2010.
2. Emilio Bonifacio will not save this offense.
We are all happy to see that Bonifacio will return to the lineup tonight against the Washington Nationals. But let us not confuse Bonifacio with the eventual return of Giancarlo Stanton in four to six weeks. When Bonifacio left, he was hitting a very paltry .268/.351/.315. That was good for an above average .329 wOBA only because he had stolen 20 bases and only been caught once, and FanGraphs' wOBA calculations include stolen bases. But we are still talking about a player who, before he left, was slugging less than all but five qualified batters in the majors this season.
Of course, Boni is bound to hit a few more doubles and triples before the season ends, so that slugging percentage will go up a tad. And a .350 OBP does not sound unreasonable for a player who has improved his approach significantly. But the problem is that this about what you would expect from Bonifacio in 2012. What you see is more or less what you get, and while it is good, it will not remain good if he does not also play defense at a league average level. Thus far, the defensive metrics have not liked his 2012 defense. I cannot say whether or not that agrees with my observations, but it is worth noting that Bonifacio has never been much of a positive at any position.
Since Bonifacio's bat is about where we would expect it, the Marlins need his defense to step up in order for him to be a worthwhile player. When he left, the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metrics had him worth between below replacement level and 0.6 WAR. That is a solidly below average player, and do not be surprised if he continues to be that.
3. Justin Ruggiano will be an effective major league outfielder.
What I mean by that is not that Ruggiano will hit .390/.457/.756 (.489 wOBA) this season. No one does that. Not even Josh Hamilton and Giancarlo Stanton were able to keep up their scorching May months. And yeah, many players have had ridiculous 96-PA runs. But let us strip away all the highly abnormal figures. Turn his .446 BABIP into a .300 mark. Make his .366 ISO into a more reasonable .151 (the league average this season). Given just his strikeout and walk peripherals, his batting line could be closer to a .268/.343/.419 mark. That batting line is about what Mike Napoli (.228/.340/.419, .329 wOBA) is hitting this season. It is pretty close to what Lucas Duda (.249/.341/.405, .329 wOBA) is hitting too.
Would you take that batting line? A .329 wOBA this season is about three to five percent better than the league average this season. Given the Marlins' current offensive problems, an outfielder hitting a little better than league average with the kind of glove Ruggiano has (decent) would be more than acceptable for the rest of the season. He will not be a superstar, but the Marlins just need a decent player to hold the fort while Giancarlo Stanton is out with injury.
Can Ruggiano keep up the strikeout and walk rates? He has still been more selective than ever about swinging out of the zone, so that is a positive sign. His contact rate may yet go down, leading to more strikeouts and fewer walks, but even, you may be looking at a .250/.320/.400 batting line. While that is definitely worse, the Marlins will live with what amounts to a .320 wOBA if it means they will get decent defense while Stanton is away.
4. Josh Johnson will finish with more than 190 innings pitched and an ERA lower than 3.50.
This will require that Johnson more or less pitch to his three-year average going forward, but there are at least signs that he can do this. He had a quietly awesome month of June amid the Marlins' horrid month, posting a 1.87 ERA and 2.95 FIP. More importantly, his strikeout rate went back up to above 20 percent for the first time this season.
It is difficult to believe that Johnson will really excel now that his velocity looks like it has fallen to the 92 mph area for good. But perhaps, throughout the season, he has begun to adjust to pitching at the new velocity. One observation that could point to that adjustment is that Johnson's fastball usage has gone down a lot this season. According to his Brooks Baseball pitching card, his fastball and "sinker" usage is down to just 56 percent this season. Compare that to 61 percent two seasons ago and 64 percent for his career. That drop may be in part due to the recognition that his fastball is not as effective as it once was.
If Johnson has indeed figured out how to be effective and get strikeouts with less fastball usage, then he can perform well and survive the velocity drop. If he puts up a 2.80 ERA the rest of the way through, he can finish the season with an ERA just below 3.50, and I think he will do that.
5. The Marlins will finish .500 for the season.
That would be a disappointing mark for a team that was desperate to compete and wanted to get into the playoffs in order to impress a fan base as part of the team's re-design. But the Marlins have dug themselves into a tiny hole thus far this season, and while three games under .500 is not insurmountable, it is likely that we at least overestimated some of the Marlins' talents before the season began. I mentioned before the season that, if things bounce right for the Fish over the course of the year, the Marlins can push themselves near 90 wins and well into playoff contention range. Unfortunately, things clearly did not bounce well and instead went the other way, and as a result the Fish are instead more likely to end up at .500 than in the playoffs.
Of course, there is still time, and it is still worth cheering for this second half. But because of all those poor early season bounces, my confidence in this team's chances of pulling into a Wild Card spot are low at the moment. Hopefully, they prove me wrong.