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Miami Marlins' offense facing June struggles

The Miami Marlins' offense was playing over its head earlier in the season, and this recent series versus the New York Mets highlighted its critical weaknesses.

Rob Foldy

The Miami Marlins have gotten to where they stand, just a few games back of the National League East division lead, in part because their offense has improved greatly since the ugly 2013 campaign. In fact, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs pointed out last week in this Fox Sports article, this offensive turnaround has been the greatest single-season bounce back in league history were it to be the end of the year.

But then this past week for the Marlins' offense happened. The Fish scored just 19 runs in seven games against the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, invoking memories of last season's ugly offense. The team hit just .203/.274/.292 from the start of the Cubs series to Saturday's shutout loss to the Mets, which was the team's second shutout in the four-game series.

This past week really highlight's a month's worth of struggles. The Marlins were a top-ten offense for the first two months of the season, but they have quietly cratered during the last month. The team's non-pitchers are hitting .239/.297/.335 (.279 wOBA) for the month, which is the second-worst park-adjusted offensive number of any team in the league, ahead of only the San Diego Padres.

Surprisingly, Miami has not suffered in the way that one would expect. Earlier in the season, the Fish were hitting above their heads on balls in play. The team hit .333 on balls in play by the end of April, fueling a major offensive spree in the month. But the Marlins hit just .314 and .316 on balls in play in May and June respectively. That is still above average, but four teams hit better than .310 in the 2013 season and seven clubs did so in 2012, so it is a possibility.

No, instead the Marlins are just accentuating the areas where they were mediocre. The club was already struggling with strikeouts before this past month, but they have upped the ante with an even worse performance. The team is fourth in baseball in strikeout rate, but the Marlins' non-pitchers lead Major League Baseball with a 26 percent strikeout rate this month. Strikeouts in and of themselves are not any worse than a regular out, but the propensity for Miami to whiff hurts them when they do not get as many hits on balls in play as well. By not getting hits and striking out more often, the team is increasing its number of outs made, and that eventually hurts the bottom line.

The team can add to that problem a distinct lack in power. The Marlins are dead last in ISO this month and are in a four-way tie for the second-lowest number of home runs this month with just 11 to their name. By comparison, Miami hit 25 homers in the first month of the season and 31 in May, so their paltry output this month is very reminiscent of the 2013 campaign.

Whom can the team blame for their problems this month? Part of the problem has been the injury to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty was not excelling in May anyway, but his injury forced full-time duty onto Jeff Mathis with predictable offensive results. Only one team has had a worse batting line from the catcher spot than Miami's .153/.218/.181 (.176 wOBA) mark. Saltalamacchia is back in the lineup and has already at least added some doubles to the team's cause.

The team's up-the-middle infielders also struggled. Rafael Furcal returned from injury this month and was predictably bad, but with a .214 BABIP, his luck would have probably turned around shortly. Ed Lucas, on the other hand, contributed to the strikeout problems and has no such hope going forward. Adeiny Hechavarria was also terrible at the plate as usual, and the Marlins should consider improvements in these positions as the trade deadline looms, especially if they believe Derek Dietrich is not an answer at second base.

The embodiment of the club's glaring struggles, however, is first baseman Garrett Jones. Jones has logged 71 plate appearances this month and hit just .231/.282/.323 (.265 wOBA) on the month, with just one of the club's 11 homers. He has an ISO of less than .100, which is second-worst among the team's regulars. What makes him a primary culprit was that the team has expectations of better play from him this season, and he did not deliver this month.

The Marlins have gotten better hitting from Giancarlo Stanton and others, but even that has come with some difficulty. Stanton has struck out  25 times in 85 plate appearances and quietly put up only a .247/.329/.479 (.338 wOBA) batting line this month, including just four home runs. Marcell Ozuna has had similar problems; he has hit .268/.333/.493 (.358 wOBA) in spite of 31 strikeouts in 82 plate appearances, a 38.5 percent rate.

The Marlins' offense has not suffered simple regression to the mean of its more luck-based factors. Miami has looked and hit like a different team in June, and the hope is that the Fish figure out their problems soon. Miami cannot stay in contention if it continues to play like this.