The Miami Marlins' moves this offseason were aimed at filling some of the team's roster holes. Their most significant acquisition was free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who provides some much needed offensive value from the catcher position. The team also added free agent first baseman Garrett Jones, who replaced incumbent Logan Morrison.
Joe Frisaro of MLB.com mentions that these two moves were aimed at bringing lefty power and lineup balance to the roster.
There are a few interesting aspects to these comments. The first is that, before the addition of Casey McGehee to the roster, Miami's so-called "balance" actually crippled the lineup versus left-handers. Both Saltalamacchia and Jones have been significantly worse versus lefties during their career, and Jones almost certainly needed a platoon partner. Thankfully, the Marlins found one in McGehee, who will likely split time with Jones at first base along with being the team's regular third baseman. Without that partner, the lineup's balance would have been skewed once again, this time in the other direction.
But the other interesting thing that I read into this article is that Miami appeared to have a goal to search out power for the lineup. Frisaro mentions a number of poor stats for the Fish in terms of home runs, including the fact that, since 2003, the Marlins have the lowest number of left-handed home runs by any team in the league.
Actually, the Marlins have by far the fewest amount of home runs by left-handed hitters since Jeffrey Loria assumed ownership in 2002. In that span, Miami has 392 home runs from lefty batters. The team ranked 29th? Houston, with 608. The Yankees lead the Majors in that stretch with 1,474.
The reason for that is part talent, part environment for the Fish. Part of that is the lack of left-handed hitting talent, which was supposed to be rectified by players like Jeremy Hermida and Logan Morrison. But part of that is the Marlins' unfriendly left-handed hitting environment. Recall the dimensions for right field at Sun Life Stadium and how unfriendly they were. Add that to the current situation in Marlins Park, where the Fish currently have the second-worst park factor for left-handed homers in baseball behind only San Francisco's AT&T Park. It should come as no surprise then that the Fish have struggled to provide left-handed power.
But the environment question is the exact reason why the FIsh should not chase the lefty power they were looking for. Left-handed Marlins hitters will lose home runs in Miami, and bringing in players whose value is primarily derived from power is counter-intuitive. Jones has a career walk rate of 8.3 percent and a career OBP of .316. His value is all involved in his home run hitting and slugging, and that is exactly what half of his games will try and take away. In moving from Pittsburgh to Miami, we would expect to see Jones lose six percent of his home runs. It could have been a lot worse than even that had the Marlins pursued a player who made a name for himself in a friendlier environment like Yankee Stadium or Camden Yards.
The Marlins seem reluctant to change the dimensions of their stadium at the moment, so the team's goal should not be to build a roster running counter to what the stadium allows. Rather than focus on power, the Marlins should have focused on quality, with an eye towards playing to the park's strengths. Marlins Park has large alleys and allows more triples than usual; a speedier or at least line-drive style hitter would be a better fit for those gaps than a slugger. In fact, Logan Morrison, with his ability to get on base and better contact, may have been a good choice for the park over someone like Jones. Even with all of Morrison's struggles, he hit about as well at home as he did on the road in 2011 while playing in Sun Life Stadium and similar (if friendlier) dimensions.
But the Fish's focus on power led the team to choose Jones over Morrison, despite the fact that the question of quality fell on Morrison's side. This speaks to a fundamental problem in evaluation, where the team is chasing a quality of hitter instead of chasing the hitter's overall quality. The Marlins may have hit the fewest home runs of any team last season, but homers are not the only way to derive value. The Giants hit the next fewest home runs in baseball with 107, but they hit .260/.320/.381, good for a .309 wOBA and a batting line one percent worse than league average for their park. The team with the fourth-lowest home run total was the St. Louis Cardinals, who hit .269/.322/.401 (.322 wOBA) and scored the most runs in the National League.
Those teams had quality in their lineups, not necessarily a lot of power. Pop is just one way to derive value with the bat and with position players. The team wants more power, but they could use players who could get on base first to be able to score. The Marlins supposedly pride themselves on defense, but the franchise has not fielded an above-average defensive squad since 2005. There are multiple avenues of improving, but the Marlins eschewed a number of them to focus on the most glaring need. The team could instead not focus at all and find the best players to acquire rather than think solely about power. It may not hurt them this year, but when significant personnel decisions need to be made, it could be costly in the future.
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