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The surprising Miami Marlins 2016 projection

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Are the Marlins closer than we expected to contention in 2016?

Are the Marlins still babies in the contention race in 2016?
Are the Marlins still babies in the contention race in 2016?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It is still way too early to make predictions for the 2016 season and how the Miami Marlins will fit in, but it does seem as though the roster is a bit far from contention. Last year's Marlins squad won 71 games, and even if you expect some improvement, you would be hard-pressed to pull out the other 19 or so wins that the team would need to feel confident about qualifying for a playoff spot. That is why we discussed the need for the Marlins to trade some talent this offseason in order for them to stock up prospects for an underwhelming farm system.

But an interesting thing happened along the way. I checked the current FanGraphs depth charts based on the Steamer projection system, and the Marlins are not terribly ranked.

Team Bat Pit WAR
Cubs 29.5 22.3 51.8
Dodgers 25.1 22.5 47.6
Red Sox 25.5 18.7 44.2
Nationals 21.4 21.0 42.4
Mets 20.4 21.2 41.6
Yankees 20.7 19.9 40.6
Cardinals 22.0 18.5 40.5
Astros 22.2 17.5 39.7
Giants 23.7 15.8 39.5
Blue Jays 26.4 12.6 39.0
Pirates 22.1 16.8 38.9
Indians 18.4 20.2 38.6
Mariners 19.7 16.4 36.1
Rays 19.2 16.6 35.8
Rangers 18.7 15.8 34.5
Angels 23.4 11.1 34.5
White Sox 15.1 18.2 33.3
Athletics 17.1 14.9 32.1
Marlins 18.8 13.2 32.0
Diamondbacks 16.9 14.3 31.1
Reds 17.0 13.9 31.0
Tigers 18.8 11.8 30.6
Twins 17.2 13.3 30.5
Orioles 17.2 12.6 29.8
Royals 17.4 11.6 29.0
Padres 11.9 16.8 28.7
Rockies 12.4 12.9 25.3
Brewers 12.7 12.3 25.0
Braves 11.8 8.8 20.6
Phillies 8.6 10.1 18.8

The Marlins are in the middle of the majors as of right now in terms of their projection. The Fish rank 19th in expected total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as calculated by FanGraphs. This projection would put the Marlins at 80 expected wins for the 2016 season with their current, unchanged roster. That is a surprise for me and for a number of Marlins fans who share my view that the Fish are not yet close to being a competitive squad.

Where is Steamer seeing the good in this Miami squad, and where can the Marlins still improve? And does being closer to 80 wins make a difference in the plan to trade out of the 2016 season?

The Good

Marcell Ozuna: After a difficult 2015 season and a tumultuous offseason, Steamer projects a solid campaign for Ozuna in 2016. Ozuna is projected to hit a very reasonable .267/.318/.439, worthy of a .327 wOBA that would be six percent better than league average. Inside those numbers is expected to be a 17-homer season in more limited plate appearances, as Ozuna is only flagged for 523 chances this year in 124 games. Things might look even better if he plays well enough to hold onto his spot in the outfield full time as he did in 2014, when he played 153 games. Overall, FanGraphs has him posting a 2.3-win season, a little better than league average. That is an improvement over his one-win 2015 season.

Giancarlo Stanton: Stanton's "improvement" is not so much in rate performance; Steamer projects a .277/.372/.576 season (.396 wOBA), and that lines up exactly with what he did last season. Last year, Stanton had hit 27 home runs in just 74 games and was in line for a monster season, having almost put up four wins in that short time frame. Then he got hurt, and that is where FanGraphs is being more optimistic. Stanton is being projected to hit 630 plate appearances, around the same number he reached in 2014 when he played almost entirely through the start of September before his face injury. That extended time gave him a projected 5.8-win season. Stanton's year owns the third-highest projected win total among position players in baseball, behind only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Jose Fernandez: Fernandez has a similar thing going with Steamer and FanGraphs as Stanton does. FanGraphs's Depth Charts are expecting Fernandez to throw 181 innings, which would be the highest single-season innings mark of the young ace's career. It is already well known that Fernandez is a dominant starter, and he would be very dominant throwing almost a full season in Miami. Fernandez is slated to put up a 2.77 ERA and 2.69 FIP, and that would be good for almost a five-win season according to FanGraphs. That number ranks seventh among all starting pitchers, behind only the most elite names in the business.

Carter Capps: Capps only threw 30 innings or so this season, and he has not reached the 69 projected innings he has slated for 2016 according to FanGraphs, but there appears to be a strong belief that whatever he discovered in 2015 should transition well into next season. And they have every reason to, as we all know his delivery is not going anywhere this season barring a new banning by MLB, and that hop-step delivery is the key to getting Capps's fastball to look even faster than Aroldis Chapman's. Capps is expected to put up almost a two-win season out of the bullpen.

Needs Improvement

First base: The Marlins, as listed by the projections, could use help at first base. Steamer is not optimistic about Justin Bour's chances of repeating his offensive campaign from last year. The system has him hitting .256/.318/.424 (.317 wOBA), which would be a league average mark for the year. He is slated to hit just 18 homers after hitting 23 homers in fewer plate appearances last year. Still, overall, the production is similar to what he put up this season, which is about half a win.

Starting Pitching: Beyond Fernandez, it is indeed a wasteland for starters. The Marlins rank 24th in total starting pitcher WAR, right with the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. The next best projected starter is Jarred Cosart, who may hit 1.5 wins this year. The highest inning count goes to Tom Koehler, who is expected to throw almost 200 innings but hit only 1.1 wins this year. If Adam Conley hits a full season on the mound, he may be worth 1.6 wins this year, and he has the early lead on a starting role with this current roster. Still, no Marlins starter is expected to be league average in a full season aside from Fernandez.

Does it Matter?

Does it matter that the Marlins are perhaps an 80-win team right now? Yes and no. An 80-win projection means the team could land anywhere between 72 and 88 wins in terms of the team's standard deviation of performance. On the one hand, the fact that this total is high enough to reach 80 means that, if the club just made a few small signings and got some friendly bounces, they could be close to contending late into the year.

Then again, another injury to a key performer would leave the club with no depth and little chance. Ultimately, the best way for Miami to get back on track is likely to trade down this season. Contributors like Martin Prado will likely be gone by next year, meaning this squad probably is not long for this world. Aside from Stanton, Christian Yelich, and perhaps Fernandez, no one really has a guaranteed spot going forward, so the Fish should consider restocking their farm depth and going for a better run in 2017 and beyond, especially if the team is not planning on making a significant free agent splash this offseason.