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Miami Marlins Offense In Line For Regression, Improvement

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After this weekend, the Miami Marlins have scored 68 runs in their first 21 games, a total that ranks just 15th in the National League (only ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates). Overall, the Marlins are averaging just 3.24 runs per game, ahead of only four other teams in baseball (the Pirates, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, and yes, the Philadelphia Phillies!). The team boasts the eighth worst wOBA in baseball, hitting a collective .288 wOBA as a team, and that ranking does not get any better when looking at the park-adjusted wRC+, as the team's current park is too new to have an accurate park factor. By all measures, the Marlins' offense has struggled so far this season, and this was no more evident than when the team failed to score runs effectively over the weekend, almost suffering two shutouts in three games before a late run of offense took four runs for the team against the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday afternoon.

It was that late run, however, that give the Marlins and their fans any glimmer of hope that they will recover in 2012, at least offensively. You see, if we knew one thing going into this season, it was that the Fish were expected to hit decently; Baseball Prospectus projected them to hit a .265 TAv (True Average, or TAv, is an all-encompassing offensive metric similar to wOBA, except that it is scaled to batting average, whereas wOBA is scaled to OBP) as a team, second best in the National League. The team's offense was expected to do some heavy lifting for the Marlins, but it has thus far disappointed. But unlike teams like the Phillies and Pirates, who came into the season with expectations of poor offense (you cannot expect good things when your starting first baseman is Ty Wiggington or John Mayberry Jr), the Marlins were expected to do well, and the horrific starts by the team have not changed that projection by much.

Team-Wide Slump

The reason why the Marlins are dead last in the NL East and among the worst teams in the National League is very clearly their offensive struggles. But it is April, and we are often told that it is simply too early to panic about any one given player. The problem is that the Marlins do not have an issue with any one given player, but in fact have problems with all of their hitters. While not being concerned about Gaby Sanchez or Giancarlo Stanton individually is correct, the collective slumping of the entire team has dragged them down thus far.

Here are how the Marlins' eight starters have done against the National league average among players at their position.

Player wOBA Position Avg wOBA Runs Below Avg
John Buck .283 .320 -1.8
Gaby Sanchez .248 .326 -4.7
Omar Infante .466 .301 +8.2
Hanley Ramirez .317 .312 +0.4
Jose Reyes .249 .290 -3.0
Logan Morrison .338 .304 +1.9
Emilio Bonifacio .295 .334 -4.4
Giancarlo Stanton .281 .327 -2.8

Now, some of these position averages are obviously off given what you would expect from the position spectrum. For example, we would definitely not expect catchers to hit better than left fielders in the league by the end of the season, and we are almost guaranteed to see catchers and center fielders start hitting worse while shortstops and left fielders hit a little better. But for now, these are the averages, and you can see that the Marlins do not compare favorably in most positions. In the five of the eight positions, the team is hitting worse than the National League average, and I would say that even after considering regression of those positions to the usual season-ending norms, the team is still behind in at least four of those positions. Meanwhile, only two players are beating the league average, and after considering position average regression, I think Morrison just about hits the league average. Only Hanley Ramirez seems to be in just the right place, at slightly above average. The last column of the table represents the number of runs the team gained or lost offensively versus the National League average. Total that number up and the Marlins are currently about six runs below the league average offensively thus far, in only 762 team PA thus far.

Things Looking Up

Yes, those numbers look very bleak, but as mentioned, the entire team is slumping, but it was never expected to be this way. Most projection systems saw the club hitting much better than this going into the season, so it would not be surprising at all to see the Marlins bounce back quickly.

Let us consider how the team has fared thus far as compared to their ZiPS rest-of-season (ROS) projections. Consider that the ROS projections have already considered the players' poor starts from this season, so these projections include data from this season and has weighted it appropriately.

John Buck .283 .303
Gaby Sanchez .248 .339
Omar Infante .466 .324
Hanley Ramirez .317 .355
Jose Reyes .249 .351
Logan Morrison .338 .355
Emilio Bonifacio .295 .303
Giancarlo Stanton .281 .379

There is a lot of green on that chart, and that is a good thing. The Marlins have a lot to look forward to heading into the rest of the 2012 season, because the team's offense certainly has nowhere to go but up. Six of the team's eight position players are projected to hit significantly better going forward than they have so far this season, and one other player (Bonifacio) is still expected to improve slightly. Only Infante, who has had a career run in terms of power to start the year, is expected to fall off, and his projection has significantly improved from his preseason expectations with this hot start.

Yes, the Marlins have disappointed in 2012 thus far on offense. But it is not as if the players are all hitting as they are expected to going forward. In fact, most of these hitters are well known to be better than this, and the projections say that they should improve a great deal as the season wears on. Unless something utterly unexpected occurs (and of course, we cannot rule that out certainly), the Marlins should start scoring runs very soon, and they are going to need to if they are going to match their preseason expectations.