The latest scoring drought of the Miami Marlins, which reached team record levels on Wednesday, has once again brought the questions of whether the Marlins' brand new Marlins Park is just too deep and unfriendly to hitters. The park's dimensions are among the largest in baseball, so it is difficult to doubt that the Marlins, as well as their opponents, have been hampered offensively by Marlins Park.
At least until you look at the early numbers.
According to Stats Pass research, Marlins Park ranks 26th in the league in total home runs hit this year with 84. The park also rates 19th in total runs scored, averaging 8.32 per game.
Baseball-Reference has Marlins Park with a single-year park factor of 102, meaning that it is slightlyinflating offense. Of course, none of these numbers mean anything just yet, as we are less than one season into the park's existence and park factors like these take years to get a good sense of the park's true run scoring environment.
No, we cannot put much trust into run totals from the park's first year of play. What we can do is put trust into the park's dimensions, which are real, unlike the uncertainty around the effects of the dimensions. With the big dimensions of the park, perhaps this offseason it would behoove the Marlins to "retool" the roster with the expansive stadium in mind.
What Plays In a Big Stadium?
The logical thought when considering how a player's numbers will turn when moving from a smaller to a larger park is that, as a whole, they will go down. But the truth is likely that certain aspects of a player's line will go down, but not all aspects. The fact that the stadium has played close to fair in terms of runs so far this year attests to the idea that home runs, the most likely thing to fall in a park's large dimensions, are not the only determinant of how many runs will score.
One of the things Marlins fans expected would climb in 2012 and beyond would be triples, as the park's expansive dimensions have led it to allow the ninth highest rate of triples in baseball this season. This is a sign of something that went hand in hand with something the Marlins recognized in this season's team structure: speed plays well in large parks. Presuming Marlins Park ends up suppressing runs to a degree and home runs to the degree that we suspect, power players will suffer from lowered productivity. But players who hit fewer long balls and depend more on singles and speed in their game not only have larger gaps with which to work, but also will be worth more relative to the park's effect on run scoring because their production will not fall as badly. If Marlins Park indeed suppresses runs overall due to its power-suppressing ways, but speedy players do not feel the effects of the power suppression, then their performance will not fall but will be more valuable because they will perform the same but in a lower run scoring environment.
The other thing somewhat related to speed that would be useful for the Marlins in a larger park is defensive skill, particularly in the outfield. With a larger outfield with which to work, the Marlins need to value outfield defensive skill more than ever before. The Fish have gone for seasons with players like Logan Morrison, Jeremy Hermida, Greg Dobbs, and others who simply have not been rangy enough for the outfield. Players with range in the outfield can better prevent runs in those spacious gaps, but more importantly, having inferior defenders could hurt the team even more, with balls more likely to sneak past for extra bases or fall in front for bloop singles.
Luckily for the Fish, the opportunities are present to acquire players that fit these descriptions in the offseason. In a free agent year in which the hitting market is extremely shallow, the Marlins should try and take advantage of these aspects of speed and defense (and I mean actually take advantage, rather than the faux interest and lip service that they often serve every offseason) to improve their run scoring and prevention. Rather than chasing an elite starting pitcher, the team could do a good job by simply adding to their defense in 2013 at one or two positions.
The personnel is available. Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino are both available this offseason for more reasonable costs than a so-called elite option like Josh Hamilton. Both are well-known for their defensive prowess and would fit the theme of speed on an already fast ball club. Adding one or both would shore up the team's defense and bring in players who would suffer minimal losses offensively in a larger park. If the Marlins are smart, they will consider the park's dimensions before jumping to a conclusion about adding more power just because the team is lacking in it right now.