The Miami Marlins may have struggled with their pitching, but the team definitely tried to help their roster by performing above average on the defensive end for the first time in what seems like an entire decade. The team washed away the remnants of the 2006 era in 2013, and with it attempted to usher yet another lip service attempt at "pitching and defense." The club finally at least accomplished the latter in 2015, as a combination of perhaps better positioning, better luck, and better players has led to the team putting up strong fielding numbers.
UZR: +16.6 runs above average
UZR Rank: 5th
DRS: +19 runs above average
DRS Rank: 7th
RZR: 0.832 plays made in zone of responsibility per chance
RZR Rank: 7th
No matter how you look at it, the Marlins seemingly have established themselves as a good defensive unit, mostly on the back of the team's surprisingly stellar defensive duo. In retrospect, however, it is not hard to see why the players up the middle have excelled for Miami. Combined with the tremendous outfield, which is still above average despite a subpar year at the plate for two of the three members, and Miami has fielded a top-10 fielding unit.
Best Performer: Adeiny Hechavarria
The numbers have seemingly finally caught up to the hype. After two years of mediocre defensive stats backed up by a lot of talk about Hechavarria's fantastic play, we could not be sure that he was better than a league average player. Seeing his strong performance from 2015 makes us a little more certain about his reputation. Hechavarria has been the team's best contributor at the most difficult non-catcher position on the team, and he has done it by being above average in every category. He has gotten along swimmingly with fellow up-the-middle mate Dee Gordon and has done an above average job turning double plays. He has finally put up positive range numbers, meaning he may be better positioned now under infield coach Perry Hill than he ever was before.
Most importantly, however, is that Hechavarria is utilizing his sure-handedness thus far. He has made only four errors thus far this year, while only four other shortstops have made fewer miscues in at least 500 innings on the field. That has helped Hechavarria gather up more than four runs above average on errors alone according to FanGraphs, which is the third highest run total among shortstops in the game.
Right now, we can be fairly certain that the fantastic Andrelton Simmons is a better defender. But at least through the first half, it is hard to find a lot of guys who are gloving better than Hechavarria at shortstop. At least this season, he has been on the short list of top defenders one tier below Simmons.
Worst Performer: Michael Morse / Justin Bour
By default, the defensive team at first base has earned "worst performer" honors, but honestly, neither has been a disaster at first base. Both players appeared to be handling the position reasonably well, but they happen to be the most negative performers on an otherwise stacked, above average defense.
However, when compared to the rest of the league, the Marlins' duo at first has been among the worst. They are 27th in UZR and 21st in DRS, and in terms of getting to balls judged to be in their zone of responsibility, they hold just a .740 rate, good for 28th in the league. Luckily, first base is a light position in terms of volume, so Miami's group is unlikely to be significantly hurt with their lack of range.
Key Second-Half Performer: Dee Gordon
Last year was the first season in which Gordon was switched to second base. The position is easier than his native shortstop, but Gordon was deemed a bad enough shortstop that the Dodgers would rather play the disaster known as Hanley Ramirez there. Part of that move was to placate Ramirez, but at least some of that had to do with the likely fact that Gordon was not much better at short than Ramirez. He subsequently was rated below average at second last season.
Flash forward to this year and the work with coach Hill seems to have helped Gordon. Positioning has been the name of the game, as he mentioned that the work they have done before the pitch has helped him get to balls he was not reaching in 2014. Armed with that knowledge, we can feel a little more assured that these defensive changes are "real" and that Gordon may stick as a high-caliber defender at his position.
Still, this is half a season, and there are still a couple of odd points. With more raw data from BIS in terms of RZR and out-of-zone plays, Gordon looks like he falls outside of the top ten in terms of plays made in and out of his zone of responsibility. It is possible he was receiving harder-quality plays early on in the year, but is just as easily possible that this nice start is a blip compared to what he was doing last season. However, knowing he has shortstop pedigree and speedy, athletic tools to handle the position, Marlins fans should feel safe betting on Gordon.