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The Miami Marlins' youth movement is on the rise

The Miami Marlins' self-imposed "small market" mentality has forced them to rely upon their youth. Luckily for them their young players are blossoming into highly valuable assets. New metrics point to a positive 2015 for The Fish.

The Future's Looking Bright
The Future's Looking Bright
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

What’s a "Small Market?"

Let’s explore the term "small market". Generally speaking, small markets are small cities with small media markets whose sports teams have small budgets. Well-known examples of "small market" teams are the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland Athletics, the Kansas City Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers. If we want to cross sports, think Buffalo (Bills), Memphis (Grizzlies) and Columbus (Blue Jackets). Small market teams are not afforded the luxury of attracting marquee free agents. Due to sub-par payrolls they are often forced to rely upon alternative methods for roster improvement. These methods include: drafting young talent, in-season acquisitions (trades and/or waiver claims) and relying on cutting edge trends in the analytics space. Despite league-sanctioned policies that aim for competitive parity, small market teams are at severe disadvantages when it comes to building consistent and competitive rosters.

Let’s face it, the Marlins don’t fit the general schema when it comes to "small market" franchises. After all, they reside in Miami, a relatively large media market (13th) with an extensive Latin-American population (70%). One would expect the Marlins to be a large market team boasting their home as a destination city. On the contrary, the Marlin’s tend to broadcast themselves as a frugal team, content to draft overwhelming talent at cost-controlled prices and subsequently selling off their young assets at a premium. This keeps payroll down and with it overall competiveness.

These "tactics" tend to grind on the fan base as they see perennial All-Star after All-Star's eventual departure from the team via free agency or trade; only to see the player earn his new team the ultimate prize, a championship. Such a pattern has become the M.O. of the Marlins. That being said, in recent months the organization seems to have turned a new leaf (philosophically speaking); offering Giancarlo Stanton a long-term commitment.

While this might seem to good to be true, I believe it’s just the beginning. The Marlins have other talent to analyze. Talent they acquired through some of the alternative methods mentioned above. They must decide which to keep and which to move on from. As has already been written, Miami only plans on signing the best of their young crop. Being a small market team (albeit self-imposed), Miami needs to utilize the methods above if they hope to compete on a year-to–year basis.

Given the fact that the Miami Marlins are reported to be one of the least analytically inclined organizations in all of sports (an argument for another time) and given that we have already discussed off-season transactions (ad nauseam), this article will delve into the youth movement currently taking place in Miami.

An Explanation of "Youth"

For small market teams with low payrolls, youth is key. There are three things to keep in mind about youth

1) Youth is cheap.

2) Youth is valuable.

3) Youth is volatile.

One of the primary benefits of youth, particularly for small market organizations, is that youth is cheap. At the behest of Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), young players are cost-controlled for six years and subject to minimum wages with the occasional substantial pay raise (via arbitration) for extraordinary performances. This keeps burgeoning all-stars from ballooning the payroll throughout prime performance years and allows franchises to flip the aging stars once they’ve hit the free market (and their peak).

Youth can also be valuable from a commodity standpoint. Teams that focus on fostering fruitful farm systems often remain the most competitive over multiple seasons. These farm systems are the lifeblood of small market franchises. Youth provides bargaining chips in trade discussions and can often help teams attain talent that they wouldn’t be able to afford on the free market.

Finally, it’s important to note that the volatility of youth is a virtual coin flip. On the one hand youth can provide high ceilings and positive performances. On the other, youth can dole out draft busts and growing pains. Fielding a roster with a large percentage of young players can provide both optimism and pessimism for the front office and fans alike. While there are a myriad of benefits to relying on youth, the inconsistency and volatility can become both frustrating and disheartening.

Needless to say, the Marlins rely on youth. They boast one of the youngest and most talented rosters in the major leagues. This emphasis on youth can be seen most in the outfield, where Stanton & Co. gracefully patrol the expansive gaps of Marlins Park. While Giancarlo Stanton is the most well known of the three (and the most wealthy), Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are progressing at an astounding rate.

The Value of Ozuna and Yelich

A few days ago, I was attempting to see how I could incorporate Yelich and Ozuna in an article when I stumbled across Off and Def, the offensive and defensive runs above average metrics that make up WAR. This led me down a rabbit hole but allowed me to make an exciting discovery. With reference to Off and Def, Yelich and Ozuna rank among the Top 30 Players in the NL.

Yelich boasting an Off of 16 runs above average and a Def of four runs, while Ozuna isn’t far behind, ranking a 10 offensive runs above average and a five defensive runs above average. Both players are above average in both traits. When identifying the names surrounding them, this is quite impressive. Considering that Yelich and Ozuna are just 23 and 24 years young respectively. this is an excellent start. Additionally, consider that both of them rate high offensively AND defensively. Many of the names ahead of them are superior in one skill and inferior in the other. However, players like Anthony Rendon, Carlos Gomez, Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy all boast high ratings in both Off and Def leading one to surmise that their value extends through both aspects of the game.

When you combine those two numbers and rank players by total Runs Above Average in 2014, Yelich and Ozuna hold up nicely.

Name Off Def Runs Above Average WAR
Andrew McCutchen 51.1 -8.6 42.5 6.8
Anthony Rendon 30.7 9.2 39.9 6.6
Jonathan Lucroy 23.4 14.6 38 6.3
Giancarlo Stanton 41.5 -5.1 36.4 6.1
Carlos Gomez 26.8 7.8 34.6 5.9
Buster Posey 26.8 7 33.8 5.7
Anthony Rizzo 36.4 -3.8 32.6 5.6
Jhonny Peralta 12.2 18.8 31 5.4
Josh Harrison 25.2 3.1 28.3 4.9
Yasiel Puig 33.5 -5.7 27.8 5.1
Jason Heyward 10.1 17.3 27.4 5.1
Jayson Werth 33.3 -8.5 24.8 4.8
Todd Frazier 19.5 3.4 22.9 4.7
Hunter Pence 25.4 -3.4 22 4.7
Starling Marte 25.3 -4.5 20.8 4.1
Christian Yelich 16.1 4 20.1 4.3
Ian Desmond 11.2 7.2 18.4 4.1
Chase Utley 7.6 10.3 17.9 4.1
Freddie Freeman 28.5 -11.4 17.1 4.2
Justin Upton 24.4 -7.7 16.7 3.9
Neil Walker 21.5 -4.8 16.7 3.7
Hanley Ramirez 21.8 -6.1 15.7 3.4
Denard Span 17.7 -2.4 15.3 3.8
Marcell Ozuna 10.3 4.9 15.2 3.7
Jimmy Rollins 5.2 9.5 14.7 3.6
Matt Holliday 23.7 -9.1 14.6 3.8
Billy Hamilton -7.9 22 14.1 3.5
Matt Carpenter 12.1 1.4 13.5 3.8
Adrian Gonzalez 17.9 -6 11.9 3.5
Lucas Duda 21.1 -11 10.1 3

I personally like the aesthetic of catchall statistics like WAR and its component Runs Above Average. They seem clean and all encompassing. I like that they tend to be weighted and come in an easily digestible format. While I yield that these catchalls often create contentious debate with differing views on calculations, I feel that this is part of their charm. They represent the everlasting quest to measure the immeasurable.

One thing is certain from examining the value of Off and Def: the Marlins have been able to harness their talented youth. While Miami may have self-imposed their "small market" mentality, they are leveraging the tool of youth quite nicely. The growth and overall value of Yelich and Ozuna, under the tutelage of Stanton, can only mean good things for the Fish in 2015 and beyond.