The Miami Marlins have struggled all season on offense, but their pitching staff has been able to hold ground for the team and keep them from a historically poor performance. Part of the success of the pitching staff, however, lies in the relative success of the team's fielding. The Marlins last season were not a good defensive team. By UZR, they were 24 runs worse than average, and that was in large part due to a few problems around the diamond. The team played Greg Dobbs in multiple positions, often times out of position in places like left and right field, and it ended disastrously. Logan Morrison manned left field for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez did not adapt to third base. There was even a question as to how good Jose Reyes was at shortstop.
All of those problems led to issues on the fielding side that did not help a pitching staff that was a strength for much of last year. But this season, the Marlins vowed to strengthen their fielding (as they do every season) and actually followed through. The team's replacements at multiple positions bought the Marlins a few runs back this season.
Runs Allowed: 395
Team UZR: +4
Team DRS: +2
Team TotalZone: +14
The Marlins range from league average to a little better over the course of the half-season so far. That is a major improvement over last year, and if the team can stay around that mark through the remainder of the season, it could be an improvement of between 10 to 40 runs, or one to four wins, over last season, depending on what system you ask. For a team that lost a lot of wins on offense, gaining at least some of those wins back is a #minorvictory for 2013.
The Good: Marcell Ozuna
Before the season started, Marcell Ozuna was not likely to be on the Marlins' radar as a starting outfielder in 2013. But he was on the prospect radar, and part of the reason why he was a prospect is because he was a talented right fielder. In particular, Ozuna's arm was highly praised as accurate and powerful, and there was no doubt that that aspect of his would play in the majors. There were, however, some questions as to where he would play in the big leagues, particularly if Giancarlo Stanton remained in right field and the Marlins continued to groom Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick for center field.
Well, Ozuna has erased all doubt that he belongs in a spot somewhere in the future Marlins outfield by playing spectacular defense to begin the season. Ozuna has patrolled both right field (during Stanton's injury) and center field, and he has been terrific in both. Overall, Ozuna has been 12 runs better than average by UZR. Even if you consider that number off the mark, he has been four runs better than average by DRS and three runs better by TotalZone. The systems all consider Ozuna an above-average outfielder, and the biggest reason is the arm. Throws like this one have become routine things from the young outfielder, who has quickly grown into one of the better throwers in the game.
But the arm is only a part of it, and Ozuna is holding up as a rangy center fielder in an expansive Marlins Park. If Ozuna can keep up the performance, he could be in for a well above average season on the field to go with his decent performance at the plate. He has proven that his center field range is no joke, and the Marlins now have some serious questions about whom to play in center.
The Bad: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton has a reputation for poor starts to the season, and that extends beyond his performance at the plate. He has actually played poorly to start the year in the outfield as well, and the 2013 season was no different. Stanton looked oddly uncomfortable in the outfield, and his routes were still shaky at the beginning of the year. The difference is that, in the past, he has recovered well, but so far this year, the numbers are still down. Most systems have him between four and ten runs worse than average this year, and watching him try and get to balls and make poor decisions on approaches confirms those numbers.
Stanton classically has good range and a fantastic arm, but those have not shown so far this year. His athleticism has usually been what helps him make up for below-average instincts in the outfield, but this year all of it has faltered for him. He may still have a nice chance for a rebound, but right now he has been the team's worst regular defender.
Second-Half Watch: Adeiny Hechavarria
Hechavarria came to the Miami Marlins with a spectacular defensive reputation at shortstop. However, so far this season, that has not shown in the numbers. Each of the advanced defensive statistics have him at about average between a run below and a run above average. UZR's breakdown has him being better than average in terms of errors, but about two runs worse than average in terms of range.
The reason why Hechavarria is a player to watch for the second half is because, despite the poor numbers, I have seen nothing to indicate that he should be rated as a poor defender. As you know, UZR and other defensive metrics hold very little meaning in the short-term, especially in half a season. These statistics have difficulty filtering noise or bias from their systems, and combine that with the small sample and there is no way we can tell that Hechavarria has played this poorly. Given that his first half performance still looks good for a shortstop, I see no reason to believe that we will not see a great defensive second half from a player who needs Gold Glove performance to make up for his awful bat.