The Miami Marlins just had a rough month of May ahead of the team's traditionally horrific June, and a number of players had a hand in the bad month. However, how many of those players are probably on their way up, and how many are struggling further downward? Let's take a look at some names in this month's Buy or Sell edition!
Buy: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton hit two home runs on Saturday in Miami's winning effort against the New York Mets, totaling seven homers for the month. Indeed, the power was the only thing that went well in May for him, as he horrible luck on balls in play throughout the month. Stanton hit just .186 on balls in play heading into yesterday's afternoon finale versus the Mets, a truly horrific mark that stood opposite his .368 average in April.
Stanton's .192/.287/.471 mark boasted a power-laden .279 ISO and strikeout and walk marks that were very similar to his successful April month. In case you thought he was getting less of the ball this month than he had been the month before, fear not: Stanton's soft-hit rate was static from April and his hard-hit ball rate was actually higher!
All of Stanton's May points to an extended run of bad luck on balls in play. He has more or less been the same hard-hitting monster he was in April and in year's before.
Buy: Justin Bour
Bour's extended hot streak continued into May, and it finally turned into some power. Thanks to Michael Morse's injury, Bour got an extended run in the starting lineup and has responded well, hitting five home runs in the month (including a game-tying blast yesterday) and batting .309/.356/.582 (.403 wOBA) in 57 plate appearances before yesterday's game. His overall line is impressive, but still inflated by his good fortune on balls in play. Once that BABIP drops, you may see a line closer to the ZiPS-expected .264/.318/.405 line (.314 wOBA) that is being projected.
However, that line is currently equal to what Morse is expected to hit at this point. Given Bour's hot streak and Morse's cold spell and now a hand injury, and it would not be unusual to at least see a platoon situation with Bour getting the majority of appearances until Morse appears to settle in or Bour runs into a cold spell. Now that both players are expected to be on even footing, Dan Jennings should probably ride the hot hand.
Buy: Middle infield defense
The Marlins' middle infield has somehow turned into a spectacular double play combination, just as Perry Hill and the Fish expected when they assembled it. Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria may be cooling at the plate, but they have continued playing well up the middle. There is at least some reasoning for the improvement on Gordon's behalf, as it sounds as though Hill has been working on his positioning in a way that he never experienced in Los Angeles. That perhaps has increased his ability to get to the right balls by improving his pre-hit chances.
The improvement by Hechavarria is harder to grasp. The numbers so far this season are finally in his favor defensively after years going against the grain. Entering this season, the contrast between the bad numbers and the good reputation made me believe that he was probably an average shortstop. So far, the numbers and the eyes agree, and that has at least helped make Hechavarria more of an asset than he had been in previous years. The hope is that it continues.
Sell: Middle infield offense
As mentioned above, both Gordon and Hechavarria are cooling off after terribly hot starts. Gordon has suffered less this past month, as he continued his April success into the beginning of May before slumping a bit. Overall, he hit .345/.390/.409 before yesterday's game, but that inflated average only translates into a .348 wOBA (!), about equivalent to what Christian Yelich hit last year.
Hechavarria has been a good deal worse. Like Gordon, he has maintained a superficially nice batting average at .283. but overall he hit just .283/.314/.323 (.280 wOBA) despite a .333 BABIP. That kind of batting line would be 26 percent worse than league average and would be hard to watch at shortstop without Gold Glove defense, which admittedly he has provided thus far. Still, it is hard to get excited about where he is going offensively.
Sell: Christian Yelich
It has been a month since Yelich returned from his back injury, but quietly he continues to struggle at the plate. He has displayed no improvement on the ugly strikeout and walk numbers he was posting when he initially returned, and while he has had some nice swings, they have appeared to be fewer and farther between than last year. Yelich is still working on his plate approach, which may have been affected since the back injury. He is still swinging at 25 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, which is about three percentage points more than what he usually does.
His contact has improved slightly, which was the other concern. If his discerning eye gets back on track, the Marlins should see improvement. The ground ball rate remains at a high rate, though it too improved last month as he recovered from injury. However, for now, Yelich's changes have at least been upgraded to "concerning" given his lack of power.
Buy: A.J. Ramos
Ramos has been so impressive in curbing the problematic control issues of seasons' past. Hitters are seeing pitches in the zone at the same rate (46 percent), and they are swinging at the same rate (48 percent) both in and out of the zone. The difference is that they just cannot seem to make contact with them, especially with pitches out of the zone (33 percent). The 65 percent contact rate is the lowest in Ramos's career, and it has led to a career high strikeout rate.
However, that does not explain the walk rate improvement. Or does it? From an earlier article here:
That huge dip in contact rate almost entirely explains the change in balls and strikes. Perhaps rather than fouling off pitches to extend plate appearances or putting the ball in play, batters are missing those would-be balls and not giving themselves a lot of time to get walks off of the erratic Ramos.
Indeed, Ramos is getting fewer foul balls off the fastballs this year (around 16 percent of his total fastballs) than last year (around 21 percent). Perhaps those fastballs are now turning into whiffs, transitioning would-be plate appearance extenders into outs!
Whatever he is doing, he should keep it up.