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What Did the Marlins Lose in Bonifacio?

May 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Emilio Bonifacio (1) hits an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
May 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Emilio Bonifacio (1) hits an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

A couple of days ago, the Miami Marlins announced that Emilio Bonifacio was likely to miss four to six weeks following surgery on his thumb (scheduled to occur today). This dealt a blow to the Marlins' outfield depth, especially when combined with Austin Kearns's disabled list stint with a hamstring issue. Marlins fans were immediately concerned because Bonifacio had played well thus far this season, batting .268/.351/.315 with 20 steals in 21 attempts. Those numbers were good for a .329 wOBA, which is about five percent better than the league average.

Of course, there was more to Bonifacio's performance than just his offensive game, and no matter which system you ask, it seems Bonifacio has been a pretty solid negative out in center field defensively. Most systems have him between one and five runs below average thus far, which would amount t an astronomical loss in value by the end of the season. Even if you did not buy that, however, Bonifacio still contributed about 0.6 to 0.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) so far this season.

Now that he is out of the game, how can the Marlins replace him? Well, the truth is that the Fish may have an easier time than initially thought.

Projections Versus Past

Sure, Bonifacio hit this well so far, in part because he heated up a bit before the injury (he hit .408/.448/.630 in the week before the injury, including all three of his triples). But it does not necessarily mean that he was going to continue hitting that way going forward. Here is what ZiPS projected for the rest of the season.

Bonifacio, 2012 AVG OBP SLG wOBA
ZiPS Projected ROS .263 .330 .345 .311
Current Season .268 .351 .315 .329

Do not mind that the numbers are lower in the projection, but take a good look at them. Are they not a completely realistic projection of how good Bonifacio should be going forward? His projected walk rate in this case is at 9.0 percent, which reflects his improvement at the plate without taking his 2012 performance at face value. His BABIP in the projection is .334, which is a slight drop from his career .340 mark due again to regression. Given that he is currently hitting .268, projecting a .263 batting average does not seem absurd. This projection is about as reasonable as one could make for Bonifacio going forward.

With that sort of batting line, ZiPS projects Bonifacio as a 1.0 WAR player through the rest of the season. Now, that also includes some poor defensive projections for Bonifacio, but even if you thought he would only cost the Marlins another run or two in the outfield, you would at best be looking at only a 1.5-win player for the rest of the season. This is decent, and it shows that Bonifacio is indeed growing as a player, but consider the alternatives.

Petey Better Than You Think

Compare Bonifacio's projection with that of fellow center fielder Bryan Petersen.

Emilio Bonifacio .263 .330 .345 .311
Bryan Petersen .255 .331 .369 .308

Petersen is not as fast or dynamic on the bases as Bonifacio, but even when you credit both players for their basestealing, Bonifacio still is not a whole lot better at the plate than Petersen. Their wOBA projections are basically even, and in total you can maybe give Bonifacio a two- to four-run advantage on the bases when it comes to non-steals. That is not a large edge on offense, and that is due in large part to the fact that Petersen has always been the guy into which Bonifacio has just now developed. Petersen's career walk rates in the minors (2074 PA in parts of six seasons) and in the majors (298 PA) are almost identical at around 10.1 percent, and his strikeout rate in the majors thus far more or less matches that of Bonifacio's. While the favored speedster has only recently become this player, it seems that Petersen's modus operandi has always been one of patience to make up for a lack of power.

Their difference on offense is also mitigated by their difference on defense. In center field, it is generally accepted that Petersen is the superior defender, if only because he has had greater experience in the field. If you give him a two-run advantage in the outfield (and that is just a conservative guess) going forward for the rest of the year, then we are basically talking about a difference between the two players of about two runs in 400 or more PA. Indeed, ZiPS projects Petersen to also be a 1.0 WAR player in 346 PA, very similar to what they showed for Bonifacio.

Now, Bonifacio is out for a maximum of six weeks, during which the Marlins would play 38 games. In that time, Petersen could get an estimated 165 PA worth of playing time, presuming he spent every day in center field. If the difference between these two players was about four runs in 360 PA, then the difference in 165 PA is almost two runs. Now yes, the Marlins could use every run possible in a potentially tight playoff race, but since this is not necessarily a fixable or preventable circumstance, there is no need to nitpick small amounts runs. This is especially true since we were being mostly generous about the difference between them, as the actual difference could be even lower. If the Marlins give Petersen the opportunity to play, it is very likely that the team would not even significantly feel the difference between these two very similar players.

The Backup's Backup

The problems of depth in the Marlins bench are another concern. While I generally do not worry about bench depth, it can have a significant effect if other players go down with injury and further backups like Triple-A callups Chris Coghlan and Kevin Mattison need to play consistently. Coghlan is in a rut, but he is likely better than this. Nevertheless, he is not a good defender and likely would cost the Marlins a few more runs from Bonifacio and Petersen's level. Mattison is not a real prospect and is really organizational filler, so his presence in the majors is a problem if he has to play consistently.

In other words, the Marlins will not feel a drop-off from Bonifacio to Petersen. They would, however, feel a drop-off if significant time has to be given to the backup's backups, as neither Coghlan nor Mattison can be counted on for significant playing time. The Marlins can live with their current situation, but any further injuries may make life and contention a little more difficult going forward.