Fish Stripes is all done previewing the 2014 Miami Marlins, so all that is left to say and do and is to provide some bold predictions for the campaign. Miami does not have a lot to play for competitively, as the franchise is set to struggle through another difficult season. But if there is one thing we as fans can do, it is to cheer for the #minorvictories and find our own things to bet on in 2014. So what can we expect from the Fish this year? Here are some of my bold predictions.
1. Giancarlo Stanton will hit 40-plus home runs.
The over/under according to the Vegas-based sportsbook Bovada has Stanton at 38.5 home runs, meaning the mean projection is expected to be just that. Considering that Stanton was expected to hit around that total last season before injuries and ineffectiveness hit, you can see that the Vegas people still have not lost a lot of confidence in the young slugger. Given the types of moonshots he hit this Spring Training, I am not surprised either.
So let's bump that total of 38 home runs a bit more. I would be willing to say that Stanton will hit more than 40 homers this season, even if he is forced to miss a small amount of time nursing nagging injuries. He will be motivated to try and earn his impending contract extension, whether that is with the Marlins or (almost certainly) elsewhere. He will have a year of adjustments to the risk-averse pitching style that he has been facing since 2013. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that he will hopefully stay healthy enough to run into enough pitches to take out of the ballpark.
The bet seems easy to make, but as you can see, a good amount has to go right for Stanton. Miami is hoping he can stay on the field and produce at the plate, but question marks abound. I am just willing to be very optimistic about what will likely be the final season we get of Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton.
2. Jose Fernandez will pitch 200 innings and manage an ERA less than 3.00.
Again, this one does not sound terrible, and indeed I projected as much heading into 2014. But not every ace stays healthy and effective enough to get to 200 innings; only 36 pitchers threw 200 or more innings last season. Fernandez managed to surpass the 170-inning mark for the first time in his career last season, and the team is aiming to stretch him out to 200 this year. But in order to do that, Fernandez has to avoid the injury bug that has plagued other great Marlins starters like Josh Johnson and Josh Beckett.
As for the second part, we should expect Fernandez to give up a few more home runs this year after he yielded just 10 last season. Other than that, it is difficult to foresee how his numbers will react after a year of adjustments. He did perform better in the second half than in the first, but that might just be a statistical blip. He does not depend on deception so much as pure awesome stuff, so the sort of decline that someone like Dontrelle Willis saw in his sophomore season is unlikely. Fernandez is also starting from higher ground, meaning that if he falters, he should drop back down to just "very good" numbers.
Oh, and remember the last time he allowed a home run? He came back and did this:
Maybe more of that isn't such a bad thing.
3. Adeiny Hechavarria will challenge for a Gold Glove.
Look, no one is probably as good at shortstop as Andrelton Simmons, so Hechavarria won't win it, especially now with Simmons's reputation behind him. But last year, Hechavarria struggled at times defensively, made more than his fair share of errors, and the defensive numbers did not look pretty. At the same time, he looked the part of "elite defender," better certainly than previous Marlins predecessors Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. So it is difficult to reconcile his elite reputation and good appearances versus his poor numbers from last year.
I'd be willing to give him some slack for his first extended look in the big leagues. Hechavarria is athletic and has a strong arm, so perhaps it will require a little more teaching from Marlins infield coach Perry Hill to nail down the instincts and mechanics of being a great shortstop. Hill has the reputation of being a defensive horse whisperer, and he did coach Alex Gonzalez and Luis Castillo to Gold Glove seasons, so it is not out of reach to say that he has the ability to teach Hechavarria how to refine his athletic defensive gifts.
More importantly, it will be on Hechavarria to perform defensively because he and the team both know he will not do the same offensively. Hechavarria may improve on the offensive side in 2014, but it will not be enough to make him a valuable (or even replacement-level) player unless he adds an award-winning glove to the mix. His job may depend on it.
4. Nathan Eovaldi will post a 3.50 ERA and strike out seven batters per nine innings.
It's a modest increase from last year, but Eovaldi is primed for a potential breakout if he figures out just one basic thing: how to get left-handed hitters out. Last year, his fastball-slider combo whiffed 19 percent of righties faced, and he displayed excellent control against them with a six percent walk rate. Against lefties, those numbers went to 15 percent and 12.5 percent respectively. In short, he was hopeless against left-handers and strong against righties.
How can he improve on that performance? Finding a pitch to go to would be a good start. He tried the curve last season and could not place it for strikes or get hitters to miss. The slider was highly ineffective and never in the strike zone versus lefties. He had to depend more on more on his top-notch fastball as a result, and it was only a decent offering on its own.
Eovaldi likely made the right decision on what pitch between the curve and change to choose, but the development of the offering was weak. It will be up to second-year coach Chuck Hernandez to continue working with him to see if he can reduce the issues with the pitch in 2014. If he can, Eovaldi's effectiveness should bump him up enough to avoid him being the next Daniel Cabrera and make him a solid mid-rotation choice going forward for MIami.
5. Miami will win 73 games this season and place third in the division.
OK, that may be wishful thinking, but it is not that far from the truth. The bottom of the NL East is not a pretty sight, with the overmatched Marlins playing alongside the equally overmatched New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. All three teams have some measure of stardom, followed quickly by the dregs of the league. The truth is that Miami, Philly, and the Mets should be within five games of each other by the end of the season just based on their meager roster construction.
Which of the three is better? Chances are the Mets are the best of the three teams, but only by a smidgen. Miami may go further down and is probably the least talented of the three, but I trust that the age issues of the Phillies could easily lead to injury concerns. The Mets and Marlins should be in for a tight race for the third and fourth spots. It will all be irrelevant once the season and ends and all three clubs are in the cellar far below the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, but the Marlins should take solace in seeing some improvement over their ugly 2013 campaign.