The Miami Marlins have a series of important players and a series of important numbers to look out for in the 2013 season. Each of these numbers has a specific relevance to the player at hand, and it is something we should be tracking as the season progresses. What are these numbers and what do they mean? Let us look at the team's starting position players and ask the relevant questions.
Rob Brantly: .170
Of all the interesting things that happened in Rob Brantly's short but successful first stint with the Marlins, his surprising power had to be the most intriguing. Brantly had a .170 ISO in 2012, including three home runs on a perfectly acceptable 10.3 percent home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate. This would not be out of the ordinary for a lot players if they were well-known for having some power, but Brantly's career ISO in the minors was a much smaller .112, and his highest mark in a full season was a light .126 during his 2011 campaign in two levels of Single-A ball.
Based on his history, it seems highly unlikely that he will produce the doubles and home runs necessary to keep up his early power surge. But where will his power eventually fall? If he is not Charles Johnson in terms of power, is he at least Paul Lo Duca? Or is he closer to Mike Redmond? The 2013 season will go a long way towards determining that.
Logan Morrison: 130
Logan Morrison has not played 130 games for the Marlins in any one season. In 2011, he was injured for a month and held back for another week, causing him to fall seven games shy. Last season, he spent much of the year injured, as his surgically-repaired knee was not fully healthy upon return and only got worse with yet another year of the rigors of the outfield.
This season, Morrison will be moved to first base, his natural position, and the surgically-repaired knee was taken care of much earlier and with more thoroughness than last season's procedure. However, there are already indications that he might miss Opening Day, so the injury question looms large over Morrison. Given that he is due for his first arbitration raise next season, the Marlins are going to be on the lookout for any reason to trade Morrison, and his injury history is definitely atop that list.
Donovan Solano: .674
Last season, Donovan Solano hit .295/.345/.375, good for a .717 OPS and a .314 wOBA. For any second baseman in the depressed run environment in which we live, that would be an excellent number, especially if the player is a decent defender. However, it seems extremely doubtful that Solano can continue to do that given how well he has hit in the minors in the past. In his last four Triple-A seasons, he has hit just .275/.320/.354 in 940 plate appearances. That mark translates to just a .674 OPS, or a .305 wOBA mark. Given how much easier it is to hit in Triple-A, what makes us so certain that Solano can keep up his meager offensive production in another major league season?
Solano hit .315 on balls in play for his Triple-A career, and he hit .357 last season, so he is likely due for some regression in that department. However, to his benefit, he still has a little room left to grow given that his will be his age-25 season; Emilio Bonifacio, who similarly showed very little promise in the minors, began shifting his approach towards the better at age 25, so Solano is not completely ruled out as a no-patience slap hitter. But history and a lack of game-changing Bonifacio speed are against him.
Placido Polanco: .292
That was Polanco's BABIP in 2011, his last successful campaign with the Philadelphia Phillies. Last season, injuries, age, and likely declining effectiveness brought Polanco's value down enough that the Phillies declined his final option in favor of a new look at third base. But in just the previous season, Polanco hit a mediocre .277/.335/.339 (.303 wOBA) with yet another Gold Glove-caliber year at third base. Indeed, it was such a strong defensive year that he actually won the Gold Glove award that season.
Every defensive metric had Polanco worth between nine and 14 runs above average on defense in 2011. Last season, the metrics had him worth between two and five runs above average, and that was in approximately half a season of work. If Polanco can stay healthy and play three-quarters of a year, he only needs to hit close to what he did in 2011 to be a league-average player. And if he performs decently, the Marlins are likely to be able to ship him out for help towards the trade deadline, making his acquisition a win-win for the team.
Adeiny Hechavarria: 7.6
Adeiny Hechavarria burst onto the Triple-A scene with the Toronto Blue Jays in the last few seasons, putting up a composite line of .327/.376/.446 (.366 wOBA) in just over 600 plate appearances. Now, that composite line probably was not more than ten percent better than the league average, but even being close to the average as an elite defensive shortstop would make him a very valuable commodity.
One of the factors that may actually carry over into the major league level is Hechavarria's improved plate discipline, and that includes his 7.6 percent walk rate in Triple-A. That number slowly climbed from his initial performance in the three or four percent range, and that indicates at least some improvement and learning for a player who was considered very raw at the plate at the start of his career. If Hechavarria is indeed improving and can show he can walk more than 2.9 percent of the time (as he did last year in the majors), he may get just enough hits to push him into relevancy.
Juan Pierre: .300
It is as simple as this for Juan Pierre, who has been a known commodity for seven seasons. more or less: if he hits .300, he can be a valuable player to a team. Last season, Pierre hit .307, thanks to a slightly elevated .326 BABIP, and that led to a pretty prototypical .307/.351/.371 (.320 wOBA) "good season" line. Thanks to his baserunning and passable defense in left field, Pierre was worth close to two wins last season in shortened playing time.
However, it was not too long ago that Pierre hit .279 for the Chicago White Sox, thanks to a .294 BABIP, and turned in a sub-replacement level season. For Pierre, his batting average basically determines the entirely of his value, as his baserunning, walk rates, and non-existent power always seem to be level. For that matter, his strikeout rate also has remained static at around six percent for the last seven years, meaning his batting average is entirely based on the defense and luck that comes with his balls in play. If he hits them where they ain't, expect decent things. If not, turn away.
Justin Ruggiano: .401
That was Justin Ruggiano's BABIP last year. He is not that good and is certainly due for some regression. His batting average will almost certainly fall, especially given his high strikeout rate (26.3 percent in 2012). But the question is whether or not that high BABIP will stick around just enough to make Ruggiano a valuable center fielder. Remember, he did not embarrass himself at the position last year, meaning he gains some positive value for being a passable center fielder. He has power, as evidenced by his 13 home runs and .222 ISO last season. Unlike guys like Bonifacio, Ruggiano has a lot more supporting his value than just that fluky batting average.
But for a guy who strikes out 25 percent of the time, it may be difficult to hold onto any sort of acceptable batting average, and eventually that average can bring down any other value you provide. Most systems are projecting around a league-average batting line, and such a result would be a boon for the Marlins. But if Ruggiano's BABIP falls in a big way towards the league average, he could struggle despite all of his power.
The race to 40 home runs once again begins for Giancarlo Stanton. Last season, I asked if he could sustain a 24 percent HR/FB rate when only the elite sluggers tend to hover around that area. I wondered if Stanton would have to hit more fly balls to just get more dingers out of the park. Well, in 2012, he shut me up pretty nicely, as he maintained a 40 percent fly ball rate (41.7 percent in 2012, career 40.1 percent) while hitting homers in almost 29 percent of his fly balls. Stanton, it seems, earned himself even more raw power last season.
So now, I will not doubt Stanton's power. He may hit homers on 30 percent of his fly balls this season, for all I know. The only question is if he can remain healthy to finish the race to 40 homers this year. Last year, he missed a month and played 123 games, but still managed 37 home runs and an almost six-win campaign. If he plays anything close to 140 games, he may shatter anyone else's chances at the home run crown. And if there is any reason to watch the Marlins in 2013, it is to see that happen.