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2015 Miami Marlins Season Review: Outfield problems

The remainder of the Marlins' outfield was a mess for much of the 2015 season, from Marcell Ozuna's struggles to Ichiro Suzuki being stretched too far as a regular starter.

It was rarely a good time for Marcell Ozuna in 2015.
It was rarely a good time for Marcell Ozuna in 2015.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins had one outfielder struggle at the beginning of the season before recovering and another one tear it up at the start of the year before getting injured. The third outfield spot, nominally a spot reserved for incumbent center fielder Marcell Ozuna, was in a tumultuous state all throughout the 2015 season. Due to injuries and Ozuna's on-field struggles, the Marlins were forced to play players who were stretched as starters and left them to struggle through a rough campaign.

PLAYER PA AVG OBP SLG WOBA AVG WAR
Marcell Ozuna 494 .259 .308 .383 .302 0.7

The Marlins expected another near-All-Star season from Marcell Ozuna, who broke out in a big way offensively in 2014. After putting up a solid .269/.317/.455 (.338 wOBA) with 23 home runs to his name, the Fish wanted another three-plus win season from the 24-year-old outfielder. Instead, the Fish got very little, if anything from Ozuna.

First off, the power dissipated in the first half of the season. Ozuna hit just four homers in the first 327 plate appearances he got before he was demoted to Triple-A for an extended stay to manipulate his service time. For a guy who was seen as a masher who could anchor the middle of the lineup, this was a pathetically small result. Ozuna's first half had a lot more softly-hit balls than he provided last season; he hit grounders on 53 percent of his balls in play and hit nearly 20 percent of his balls in play as "soft-hit" balls. These numbers were all worse than his established marks from 2014.

The other problem was his defensive performance. Ozuna notably made a few gaffes at the start of the season defensively and appeared to be moving more slowly than he did last season. This, along with his struggles at the plate, led to concerns that he was out of shape and not well-conditioned. His defensive numbers certainly did drop, with every system rating him negatively over the course of his 924 innings in the outfield. It had gotten bad enough that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wanted Ozuna to spend more time in right field, which would not have benefited Ozuna's long-term prospects with the team.

These first-half problems culminated in Ozuna's controversial demotion, which was likely due to service time issues than anything else. It was a veiled attempt to save money on Ozuna in the future, and given that the Marlins were light on outfield depth after Giancarlo Stanton was injured and eventually out for the season, it was a poor showing by the Fish to a player they wanted as part of their core.

The good news is that Ozuna recovered well once he was promoted again. He hit .278/.320/.469 (.340 wOBA) with six homers in a little more than half of the plate appearances he had in the first half. He posted a lower grounder rate and more line drives and hard hit balls than he did in the first half, better mimicking his breakout 2014 season. The power numbers also came along with better contact overall this year; Ozuna swung at the same number of pitches all season long but made contact on 75 percent of them rather than the 70 percent from last year. This dropped his strikeout rate significantly, down to just 22.3 percent from 26.8 percent last year.

There are some positive signs for Ozuna in the future, and the Marlins would be wise to see them through in 2016, if only to build trade value for a seemingly inevitable move.

PLAYER PA AVG OBP SLG WOBA AVG WAR
Ichiro Suzuki 438 .222 .282 .279 .250 -0.6

The Marlins signed Ichiro mostly to be a decent pinch-hitter, clubhouse veteran, and occasional spot starter on road AL games or things of that nature. The Fish never expected to use Ichiro for 438 plate appearances, and that clearly stretched the 41-year-old thin. He simply was not built to be a Major League starter this season.

Ichiro suffered his worst BABIP of his career this season, putting up just a .257 mark on the year. Knowing that Ichiro rarely walks or puts one over the fence, much of his game ends up being dependent on hitting them where they ain't, so to speak. This season, that just was not the case. His infield hit rate of seven percent was the lowest of his career, indicating that he may have lost a step speed-wise as well. Ichiro stole just 11 bases in 16 attempts and was actually about net neutral in terms of baserunning for the first time in his career despite interesting wiley veteran advantages on the bases.

Ichiro did walk seven percent of the time this season and swung at fewer pitches than he ever has in the past, but for an older player, that is not necessarily a positive thing. It is likely Ichiro's bat is slowing down like his feet are, and that means he is holding off on more pitches than he used to.

All of this has led to one of the worst offensive seasons in Marlins history. Among Marlins players with at least 400 plate appearances in a single season, Ichiro's 53 wRC+ and .222/.282/.279 line was the second-worst in Marlins history, ahead of only Alex Gonzalez's 2000 season (.200/.229/.319 in the height of the offensive era, yikes!). It was worse than Adeiny Hechavarria's 2013 season, worse than Emilio Bonifacio's 2009 season, Miguel Olivo's 2007 season, and a myriad of other well-known bad Marlins years at the plate. It was not a pretty season for the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.

PLAYER PA AVG OBP SLG WOBA AVG WAR
Cole Gillespie 157 .290 .333 .428 .330 0.3

Gillespie was a Triple-A veteran and former prospect who has spent a long time hanging out in the high minors with different organizations, so his 157 plate appearances with Miami should not be seen as a revelation. He did hit well, batting .290/.333/.428, but it was done with a .342 BABIP that cannot be projected for the future as of right now. He was also stretched by being forced to play center field initially when the Marlins demoted Ozuna. He made one very visible mistake in center field, but he was at best average and may have been a bit worse than that over his short span at the position; UZR had him at a total of nearly eight runs below average in the outfield in just 315 innings. It is not likely he was that bad, but GIllespie's batting line was offset somewhat by a tough defensive year.