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The Miami Marlins might be using more analytics next year

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The Miami Marlins might incorporate more analytics into their decision-making process than they did in previous seasons. We'll see about that.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, the Miami Marlins might be stepping up their analytic game for the 2016 season and beyond after their failures of 2015.

As the organization aims to figure out how to move forward, I’m expecting the Marlins to become more analytical in 2016. It’s widely known Miami is at the lower end of teams that rely on advanced metrics when making roster decisions. That is likely to change.

Instead of having one person or a small group of people crunching numbers — as the team currently does — the Marlins may create an analytical department.

As the team's beat writer for the Marlins-run MLB website, Frisaro has unprecedented media access to the team and has more opportunity to discuss important topics with team honchos like president of baseball operations Michael Hill than most folks. However, it is pertinent to point out that nowhere in that article was there some sort of quote from a Marlins executive that said anything about the Marlins' interest in expanding their fledgling, small department of analytics. The Fish for the first time hired a group of folks for a small analytics division last year.

Of course, it is well known that the team is behind the times. An ESPN article from earlier this year noted the Marlins were alongside only the Philadelphia Phillies as "non-believers" in terms of sabermetrics. The Fish are notorious for pooh-poohing the numbers as being not indicative of what happens on the field, and their decision-making process often bears that out. The team has made numerous questionable decisions over the last few years that would have seemed more odd when viewed through an analytic bent, including trading for Jarred Cosart and Dee Gordon within the last year. The team is now beginning to feel the effects of those awkward deals.

Still, it is commendable that the Marlins may take a more nuanced analytic approach to their talent evaluation after spending years denying its existence and belittling its results. The Fish, like the Phillies, are late adopters on the bell curve of new innovations, and that has left them behind against other teams that started that process early and continue to help innovate the league. Being late to the party means the club may have spent several seasons behind in terms of making ill-advised moves that could have been prevented with analytic input. As the league moves more and more towards analytics as an extremely helpful tool, the Fish would have had to turn to this in order to stay competitive. It is no longer about gaining a competitive edge, but rather just keeping up with the Joneses.

However, you can still see that the personnel around the Marlins are both skeptical and not knowledgeable about this frontier. MLB analyst Mike Lowell, who was rumored to be a managerial candidate, had this to say about analytics.

"I like it to a certain degree," Lowell said the other day at Marlins Park. "I don’t like it where I think some people are so extreme that they believe the numbers can explain the outcome day in, day out. Baseball is so weird. You can have a guy that swings the bat really well and go 0-for-4, and guy that swings terribly and goes 2-for-4. Does that mean the guy who swung the bat bad is a better player? I think it evens out over the course of a season."

Clearly Lowell is not a part of the team at the moment like, say, Jeff Conine or Tony Perez are. However, the Marlins' brass surrounds itself with former players who, like Lowell, seem to not understand analytics at all. Lowell describes regression to the mean here, which is a simple statistical concept that almost any sabermetrically-inclined person would understand, yet he bemoans that the "stats people" may buy into a guy being 2-for-4 being a better player. It makes no sense and is a complete misrepresentation of statistics as it is being used by teams. If this is the thinking front office types like Hill and Dan Jennings will have when faced with statistical arguments, then it will be hard for decision makers to accept what is being sold to them. What good is an analytics department if the front office does not understand its arguments and dismisses them incorrectly?

The kicker is the idea that the Marlins will not be "solely" relying on statistics to make their analysis.

Most likely the Marlins won’t become strictly an analytical club, either. They likely will strive for balance.

"I buy into some of it, not all of it," Lowell said. "But I think you’ve got to accept the technology that comes with the game."

There are no strictly analytical clubs in baseball, contrary to what Frisaro says here. Even the heaviest-bent teams like the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, and Oakland Athletics have robust scouting staffs and combine both numerical and observational data to drive decisions. This is not 2003, nor is the movie (or the book) Moneyball. There is no ongoing turf war between scouts and stats, and there is no reason to choose one or the other. This is yet another misrepresentation of analytics and its involvement in baseball.

It would be a positive step forward if the Marlins continued to bolster their analytics department and their use of the numbers that are now influencing all of baseball. But given their known inclination against this and their front office's lack of knowledge in this area, the road ahead may be longer than is represented here by Frisaro.