The Miami Marlins have a number of talented players and are looking to earn themselves a playoff spot after two forgettable seasons in 2012 and 2013. Here at Fish Stripes, we already predicted how many games the Marlins would win, and that seems to be the most likely result for the 2015 season. However, the most likely result is not the one that Marlins fans are dreaming about. Fish fans want to see the best thing that could happen in 2015 in order to get pumped and excited for a new year!
Well, here at Fish Stripes, we are never one to disappoint. Here are five things that could happen for the Marlins in 2015 that could make this year the team's best-case scenario.
1. A full, healthy, MVP-level season from Giancarlo Stanton
This sounds attainable, since Stanton is 25 years old, was an MVP candidate last year, and is one of the presumed favorites heading into this season. He also just finished a nearly-healthy campaign in which he played essentially rest-free from April to early September. However, Stanton also had two straight seasons before this that cost him more than a month in each year, leaving him at just 500 plate appearances in each of those seasons.
In our projection for Stanton, I granted him only 580 plate appearances in 2015. If we bump that up with a full healthy season of 660 plate appearances, his projection would be expected to go from 5.1 wins to 5.8 wins, more than half a win more. Tacking on that extra half-win is more meaningful than you think, and it puts Miami closer to the 84-win territory.
2. Jumps from Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich
Last year, depending on what system you asked, Ozuna and Yelich combined for something like seven to eight wins as a two-man unit to the right of Stanton last year. However, we have them projected at almost six wins as a group next season. This may appear to be a drop-off, but it reflects the likelihood that neither player will exceed the work they did last season. After all, Ozuna struck out 26 percent of the time and still hit .269, and Yelich won a Gold Glove and got away with a .356 BABIP. It may be a tough task to ask for a repeat of these performances.
However, both players are still very young at ages 24 and 23, respectively. There is a lot of promise in a guy like Ozuna, who essentially never got the benefit of seasoning in Double-A and made the jump to the majors raw with only 47 plate appearances in the higher levels. It is promising to see Ozuna looking as good as he has, approaching Yelich's level despite a distinct lack of plate polish, despite not having gone through the crucible of Double-A.
Yelich could still be filling out his frame to add more power, and his ability to avoid popups may give him added BABIP skill. His balance of skill in various areas also helps to diversify his profile and could help him avoid any collapses or regression.
The Marlins do not really need much. If the two of these guys can put up a similar season like they did last year, you could easily see them adding two wins to the total projection for 2015.
3. Adeiny Hechavarria, Gold Glover
The swing from best-case and worst-case scenarios in any one key Marlin is probably greatest in Adeiny Hechavarria. When we discussed him in our Marlins keys to success, we said he was the highest-variance player on the team. On the one hand, his best-case scenario involved at least a repeat of his still-anemic offense from last year combined with the kind of elite defensive play Marlins coaches seem to see in him. On the other hand, the drop down to replacement-level talent is not far for Hechavarria, and if he plays like a below-average defender at shortstop, one need only look at 2013 to see what the results could be.
The difference between those two extremes of Hechavarria is on the order of three wins. Our current projection for Hechavarria has him as a 0.7-win player. If you think he is a bit above average on defense, you can see him as a projected one-win player. However, if he fulfills the Marlins' dreams of Gold Glove defense, you could definitely tack on at least another one win onto the total. Suddenly the Marlins are now at 86 to 87 wins.
4. Mat Latos, redeemed ace
In order to redeem himself as a guy who once cost the Cincinnati Reds a boatload of prospects, Mat Latos would have to regain his velocity. As we discussed in our projection for him, that simply seems unlikely. Without that velocity, it is hard to peg him as a pitcher who can make a great comeback from average-ish starter back to the ace-level work he put up just two years ago.
However, fixing his shoulder and elbow may be the tweak he needs. Even with some velocity loss, he could still retain a crafty style that adjusts to his decreased raw power with a larger variety of well-timed pitches. If he can put up a low-3.00s ERA for the Marlins, the Fish could expect him to be one win better than his current projection.
5. Dee Gordon steals first base
Glenn Geffner had an interesting article on his MLBlog about the complaints about Dee Gordon's walk rates. Gordon got a huge percentage of pitches in the strike zone, so how is he supposed to draw any walks? True, Gordon saw nearly 52 percent of pitches thrown his way in the zone. Oddly enough, Matt Carpenter had a 52 percent zone rate last season and he put up a 13 percent walk rate. Dustin Pedroia had a 53.5 percent mark and drew walks on 8.4 percent of his appearances. Luis Valbuena, who was available for trade in the offseason, had a 13 percent walk rate with Gordon's exact zone rate.
In other words, if you make enough contact and are smart about what to swing at, you can still draw walks. Gordon has not done that in his career, but if he can figure out how to "steal first base" more often, via traditional walks or less-utilized skills like bunting or infield hits, he can beat his value. Repeating last year alone would be enough to give the Marlins a huge edge, and most of the advantage of last season from his hitting. The difference between his projection this year and the work from last season is a little more than a win.
Add those extras from these five players, many of whom are simply tasked to repeat their 2014 seasons, and you get 89 wins for the Marlins. That win total should easily put them firmly in the Wild Card picture. Some misfortune on the side of the extremely deep Nationals and that is not far off from division contention as well. It may be a lot of positive breaks, but each of these occurrences are not all that unfeasible. Miami could be rolling high if just a few players deliver a little extra this year.