Last year, the Miami Marlins were among the worst teams on offense in the majors. It came as a surprise to no one, because Miami was littered with marginal talent at each and every position aside from right field to begin the year, and it barely improved as the season progressed and the team turned to younger options. This season, the Marlins desperately want to improve on offense as a result of last year's failures. One method they have turned to is to improve on baserunning, in part by hiring new third base coach and former speed demon Brett Butler.
Another point of interest for the Marlins' offense next season will be their attempt at staying patient at the plate. New hitting coach Frank Menechino is interested in seeing Marlins players take more pitches this season.
"Frank has talked a lot about approach, and taking pitches and trying to work deep into counts," manager Mike Redmond said. "I think the first few games, we've done a nice job with it. [On Monday], we didn't do very well at that. We were aggressive, and kind of came out of our game plan.
The point here is likely that Miami wants their hitters to work deeper counts and either draw walks or at least stretch the opposing pitching staff into heavier workloads during the game. The latter is of questionable use, but at least the former may help the team. The Marlins drew walks in 7.2 percent of plate appearances last season, which was good for only 23rd in the league. Combined with their terrible performance in terms of batting average, that led to a paltry .293 team OBP, worst in the majors.
So if the Marlins see more pitches, that should help them find better things to hit and probably draw more walks, right? It is certainly possible. Last year, the Fish saw just 3.79 pitches per plate appearance, good for 22nd in the big leagues and tied with the Philadelphia Phillies. The stat follows walks fairly well; according to just last year's results for the 30 Major League teams, pitches per plate appearance had an R-squared value of 0.44 with walks, meaning that about 44 percent of the variance of walks can be explained by changes in pitches per plate appearance.
While they were the worst hitting team of the clubs below them, the Fish were not alone in being terrible as a result of their lack of patience; there were only three teams remotely close to league average among the eight teams below the Marlins in that statistic. However, the numbers do not point to nearly the same correlation between pitches per plate appearance and batting proficiency. In running a linear correlation, you can find an R-squared value of just 0.09 between pitches per plate appearance and wOBA or wRC+, the total offensive metrics used by FanGraphs. That means just nine percent of the variation in offense can be explained by taking more or fewer pitches.
Does that make Menechino's advice moot? Not necessarily. But the Marlins are not guaranteed success by simply taking more pitches, because that effect only plays a small role in increasing offense. More importantly, the Marlins need to be selective rather than merely patient. Regardless of their patience, Miami still has a large number of offensive holes on the roster, and the lack of talent means that pitchers are more aggressive with the team in the strike zone. The Marlins saw about 50 percent of their pitches in the strike zone, and that represented the eighth-highest amount in baseball. This number becomes more drastic when you consider the very low zone percentage for Giancarlo Stanton compared to the rest of the punchless roster. The offense has improved with the addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a full season of Christian Yelich, but the team may still be weak enough elsewhere in the lineup to warrant a continued aggressive approach attacking the strike zone. Patience only helps if you stop swinging at bad pitches, but the Marlins probably still have to be aggressive in the zone.
Still, the idea of the approach probably cannot hurt the team, and being more patient in general may lead to better selectivity as well. Emilio Bonifacio became a passable player in 2011 in part by bumping his walk rate up to nine percent, and he did so almost exclusively by taking more pitches, good or bad. If a player like Adeiny Hechavarria or Marcell Ozuna can find the OBP spark by simply leaving the bat on the shoulder a little more per plate appearance, the Marlins could benefit in a relevant way by turning a negative asset into a neutral or positive one. If the hapless Bonifacio figured out how to do it, any player can at least try it, and Menechino's idea puts it in their minds. It is yet another small step towards attempting to find a winning formula for a flawed team.