The Miami Marlins recently got good news when they reactivated right fielder Giancarlo Stanton from the disabled list. Unfortunately for the Fish, at around the same time, they had to send Chris Coghlan to the DL for possible sciatica in the right leg. This left the Marlins without a "true" center fielder, insomuch as Coghlan himself could be considered one. Without Coghlan on the roster, the Fish would likely turn to Justin Ruggiano to play the position.
Except that last night, in Stanton's first game back, Ruggiano was once again on the bench against right-hander Yovani Gallardo, and instead the Fish went with a lineup of Marcell Ozuna in center field, Stanton in right, and Juan Pierre in left field.
This once again prompts the question: Why is Justin Ruggiano not starting now?
Before, it was at least passably understandable. Ruggiano was losing playing time to Coghlan, a player whom the Marlins wanted to test because he had gotten hot in the month of May while Ruggiano had run cold. Despite Coghlan's relative inability to play center field compared to Ruggiano, the Marlins were at least right to test Coghlan's bat. After all, he is owed arbitration for the first time next season and the Marlins should know what they may be getting into.
But with Coghlan injured, the Marlins really have no one to test out in the outfield right now other than Ruggiano. Stanton is a known commodity and is always going to start, and Ozuna has earned himself a starting job with his early play this season. The last player in last night's starting lineup, Pierre, is the one who is the most baffling. Like Stanton, Pierre is also a known commodity, and a terrible one at that. Before the season began, Pierre was expected to hit .284/.333/.337 (.299 wOBA). The best projection for Pierre would have been a one-win player this season. That status could only get worse when you consider his 2013 season, in which he has hit .245/.298/.300 (.262 wOBA) and been a replacement-level player thus far.
Yet somehow the soon-to-be 36-year-old Pierre is still playing despite his terrible season thus far. Meanwhile, Ruggiano, who was expected to hit .260/.318/.422 (.322 wOBA) before this season, is somehow languishing on the bench in favor of Pierre. When you consider that Ruggiano is the better defender and hitter, it is puzzling to even consider why he is on the bench and Pierre is ruining games at the top of the lineup.
Yet this "top of the lineup" factor may have been the exact reason why Pierre stayed in the lineup. Fish Stripes reader Jigokusabre has the details:
As he points out, Pierre is a "leadoff hitter" only in the sense that he is fast. Ruggiano, on the other hand, is not only a more-than-capable baserunner, but he also does everything else better than Pierre. With the two players having more or less insignificant differences in OBP and considering Ruggiano's significant edge in power, it is not difficult to declare the benched Ruggiano the better hitter. Yet because of his hitting profile, the better hitter is on the bench.
Not only are the Marlins sacrificing hitting and defense in keeping Ruggiano on the bench and playing Pierre instead, but the Fish are also risking further defensive problems by playing Marcell Ozuna in center field. So far, Ozuna has proven himself to be a very good defensive right fielder, especially with the cannon arm he possesses. But after all that success, the Marlins are moving him to a tougher position in center field. He has very little experience at the position, having played just 38 games in the minors, so you expect some hardships despite his skill.
Beyond that, Ozuna's future on the roster is not in center field. The Marlins know that top outfield prospects Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick are better suited athletically to handle the position in future seasons. The Marlins once justified not playing a capable Stanton in center field because they knew they would have to move him back into the corners in the future, but the same could be said for Ozuna, who is similarly built. Why are the Marlins so willing to move a future corner outfielder into center field for parts of one season when they have a good defensive center fielder on the bench?
The move to keep Ruggiano on the bench in favor of Juan Pierre will probably be a platoon situation, as Pierre has not made many starts against lefties as of late. But, just like with Coghlan, platooning Ruggiano not only fails to test his abilities as a major league regular, thus allowing him to build trade value, but it also is the better move for the on-field product. Ruggiano has proven so far that he deserves to be in the starting lineup, at least over a proven poor player in Pierre, so why is manager Mike Redmond continuing to shuffle on this issue?