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Miami Marlins offense getting away with ground balls

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The Miami Marlins have hit a lot of ground balls to start out the 2015 season, and that trend may continue. It generally is not a positive offensive trend.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins got a sweet offensive performance last night fueled by two big home runs by Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki. Those homers were the 12th and 13th bombs of the year; prior to that game, the team was ranked 27th in baseball, tied with two other teams, in the home run department. Of course, the club has also been hitting surprisingly well after an early-season rut.

A good part of that recent success goes to the slap-hitting success of Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria, who are on an absolute tear at the plate. Gordon is batting an absurd .409/.418/.484 (.394 wOBA) while Hechavarria stands at .321/.349/.481 (.357 wOBA) on the year. Those two are traditionally not power hitters and hold strong track records of slapping the ball on the ground. The ground ball has been a weapon for Miami thus far, as the team has hit an improbable .279 on those balls. The Fish have a .259 wOBA on ground balls, which is currently the second-highest in baseball right now behind only the fiery-hot Detroit Tigers.

This is not the first season the Fish have hit the ball on the ground a lot, and those two above players are not the only ground-bound mavens on the roster. The Fish led the majors in ground balls hit last season as well with 49.1 percent of their balls in play. The 2013 version of the roster, which is a good deal different than this version, also hit a high number worm-burners, posting a 48.3 percent rate. This year's Marlins stand at 51.8 percent, essentially tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In addition, the Marlins boast a fair number of players with high ground ball tendencies. Take a look at these numbers for all of the current Marlins regulars in 2015 compared to their career rates.

Player 2015 GB% Career GB%
Dee Gordon 60.8 58.2
Giancarlo Stanton 35.0 41.6
Martin Prado 40.3 47.6
Michael Morse 63.0 47.7
Adeiny Hechavarria 50.8 52.3
Marcell Ozuna 45.7 47.7
Ichiro Suzuki 62.5 55.6
Christian Yelich 81.3 62.6

The Marlins' average career ground ball rate among those eight players with the most plate appearances is 51.7 percent, which is right where the Marlins stand right now for their overall ground ball rate. Not only have the Marlins started off high in the ground ball department, but their current team composition is set up to hit a lot of them. The team replaced their second base situation with more grounders from Dee Gordon. They did at least replace Casey McGehee, who seems to have turned into a grounder machine, into Martin Prado, who has less of a proclivity. Overall, this Marlins team, minus Ichiro's heavy grounder rate affecting the early season, should end up around where the team was last year if things do not change.

The question is whether hitting a lot of grounders is a good thing for the offense. Last year's Marlins posted the third-highest grounder rate since 2003, when FanGraphs first had batted ball data. It was the highest rate since 2010, when the offensive environment ticked back down towards its current levels. The top 10 offenses in terms of ground balls were not impressive overall (note: non-pitchers only).

Team GB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2005 Minnesota Twins 49.9 .260 .324 .392 .313 90
2007 Minnesota Twins 49.8 .265 .331 .392 .318 91
2012 Minnesota Twins 48.6 .261 .326 .391 .314 96
2014 Miami Marlins 48.3 .259 .325 .390 .316 99
2004 Pittsburgh Pirates 48.3 .267 .328 .412 .322 90
2011 Minnesota Twins 48.1 .248 .307 .360 .296 82
2008 San Francisco Giants 47.9 .269 .328 .394 .317 88
2014 Texas Rangers 47.9 .257 .314 .376 .305 89
2012 San Diego Padres 47.9 .255 .329 .393 .316 104
2014 San Diego Padres 47.9 .232 .299 .352 .290 90
Average .257 .321 .385 .311 92

The average offense among these high ground ball rates was eight percent worse than the league average. This list barely missed the 2013 Marlins, who famously were horrific, batting .236/.299/.342 (.285 wOBA, 77 wRC+) that year. Obviously the deficiency for the majority of these teams appears to be in the home run department; only three of those 10 teams managed more than 130 home runs, and one club fell short of 100 homers.

Currently, the Marlins are not on pace to hit many homers with their high grounder rate. The team has 13 home runs in 814 plate appearances thus far. If it continued at this pace with its paltry 7.8 percent home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate, the team would reach just about 98 home runs in 6100 plate appearances.

Of course, not all of this is going to stick. The expectation is that Marcell Ozuna and Michael Morse will be providing a little more power than they have thus far. However, Miami currently has five regulars as of right now who are not projected to finish the 2015 season with more than 10 home runs, including Christian Yelich once he returns from his injury. Furthermore, only Stanton is expected to break 20 home runs, and indeed as much as 38 to 40 percent of Miami's home runs may end up attributed to Stanton alone.

The Marlins will need their offense to perform well after a reasonably league-average performance last season. The team upgraded at various infield positions, and while defensively the club has shined, the bats need to also awaken. A few players have track records that should buy them more power numbers, but the Fish cannot continue to pound the ball on the ground like they are right now. History is not on the side of the team who errs too far on the grounder side. The club needs more balance at the plate.