The Miami Marlins are done with the first half of the regular season, but there are still a lot of games left to be played for the Fish and company. And that means Miami still has questions to answer for the 2014 campaign, questions that are likely important to the future development of the franchise. Here, we'll address some of those questions to be answered in this second half.
1. How will Andrew Heaney perform?
As the Marlins' top prospect heading into this season, Heaney may be the most important player on the Marlins' second-half club in terms of development. So far this season, Heaney has not pitched well. His 5.29 ERA and 4.70 FIP do not look good, so I understand the concern from some fans. But the peripherals look OK for now. Heaney is whiffing 17.9 percent of batters faced, which is a respectable number. But that figure could be even better given that he has gotten hitters to swing and miss on nearly 11 percent of his total pitches. That is in part thanks to a devastating slurve offering, which has gotten an improbable 60 percent whiff rate per swing from hitters early on.
Combine this with a good walk rate (4.5 percent so far) and a 52 percent ground ball rate, and things should be on the up and up for Heaney going forward. If he has this kind of swing-and-miss stuff, the strikeouts should be on the upswing, and he almost certainly will not be allowing a home run in each outing going forward. Heaney is perfectly fine right now, and Marlins fans should carefully watch him in the second ahlf.
2. Can Hits McGehee continue this?
All signs point to Casey McGehee's hot streak on hits should stop sooner rather than later. He should not be carrying a .364 BABIP for as long as he has. Of the 10 players with a BABIP currently higher than McGehee's, seven are star players who might expect this kind of over-the-top performance in half a season, including Giancarlo Stanton. The other non-stars are Chris Johnson, who has a history of this (career .363 BABIP), Matt Adams, who is trying to establish said history, and Jose Altuve.
Is it possible that McGehee joins that group? Prior to 2014, he only once posted a year with a BABIP significantly above the league average. and that was in 2008. It seems impossible that he continues this streak, but we cannot tell when a hot hitter will stop hitting so hot, so the only thing we can say is that McGehee should stop running into hits on grounders up the middle soon, but who knows when soon will be? ZiPS is already projecting a .325 BABIP for the rest of the year, which means that this half-season has had a real effect on his projection.
More importantly, can Hits McGehee continue to hit this poorly in terms of power? For a guy who had 16- and 23-homer seasons to start his career, having one home run and a .076 ISO seems completely out of line as well. The general expectation was that McGehee's hits would go down while his homers would eventually climb to even out his regression, but that has not come close to happening yet. Marlins fans patiently away a Homers McGehee sighting.
3. Can the middle infield play any worse?
Adeiny Hechavarria, Derek Dietrich, and the slew of infielders who have replaced them due to injury and odd demotions have combined for 0.4 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), which is not very good for two different positions and over 697 plate appearances worth of playing time. The middle infield could use an upgrade, but the Marlins are enamored with Hechavarria and won't replace him during his latest injury, and the team has jerked Derek Dietrich's playing time around between the majors and Triple-A New Orleans. But the word of Dietrich's offensive prowess has been overstated; so far he is hitting .226/.326/.388 (.322 wOBA).
That line is above average, but it's not fantastic. At the same time, it's miles better than what Miami's other infielders are providing. Hechavarria is the most heinous culprit, as he is hitting poorly just like he did last year (.272/.299/.322, .280 wOBA) while providing questionable defensive contributions. Dietrich''s defense has been terrible thus far too, but the team's more defensive-minded replacements are awful at the plate. Right now, the Marlins' only option is to continue playing these two players unless they attempt to acquire someone like Ben Zobrist, but can either Dietrich or Hechavarria improve on their problem areas in 2014?
4. Will Miami find the right bullpen combination?
The Marlins have spent most of the 2014 season with Steve Cishek playing out of his mind and the rest of the pen struggling badly. The team's middle-of-the-road statistics do not go into how poorly the bullpen has performed in clutch situations; the team's pen has the second-highest number of Meltdowns, as measured by FanGraphs.
If clutch is the issue, you would suspect that the team's pen would just regress to the mean, but even its mean is questionable. Its two best non-Cishek relievers were A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn, and neither has instilled confidence this season. Dunn has been eminently mediocre, while Ramos's walk rate has skyrocketed this season. The Fish had to go outside to acquire talent, especially in the wake of Carter Capps's elbow injury, but after their preseason signing of Carlos Marmol did not pan out, the team made strange acquisition choices. They traded one of their competitive balance draft picks for nobody reliever Bryan Morris and signed Kevin Gregg, who is terrible.
Morris has panned out so far, with surprisingly good strikeout numbers and a through-the-roof ground ball rate. But Gregg has been predictably Gregg-like, and Miami has not tolerated poor bullpen performances in the past. The Fish could let Gregg loose shortly if he continues to struggle, and that means the team would be down a man again in the pen. Who could that player be? Would Miami turn to one of their prospects, like Arquimedes Caminero, Sam Dyson, or Grant Dayton? Will they make a trade? Will it matter in 2014?