The Miami Marlins are excited about their offseason additions, but they also seem excited about their offseason renovations. The Fish finally caved in and moved the fences lower and in at Marlins Park, which is expected to provide more run scoring and more home runs than it had been providing before. Prior to today, the thought is that this move would boost scoring in order to help out in attendance. After all, folks like to see runs scored, right?
We can get to the attendance argument later. Right now, I want to focus on a few points made in two articles. The first is from this MLB.com piece by Joe Frisaro.
The thought here is that the Marlins made an investment of about the league minimum salary and are planning on juicing enough offense out of the team's home players that it will be more than worth the price of the renovations. This represents the team's method of improving the offense without signing or acquiring a new talent. Instead, the club will improve its existing talent by moving the fences in.
One can see how this is a silly idea. Moving the fences in may get more home runs out of lighter hitters like Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto, but it should also affect how opposing hitters respond to the park. Both sides should be scoring more runs, making the overall environment less pitcher-friendly. If that is the case, the extra runs the Marlins are scoring are not contributing more relative to the run environment. If hitters like Yelich hit a few more homers at Marlins Park, both Marlin or opponent, how does that benefit Miami enough to be worth the renovation costs?
The Marlins seem to understand that this will affect the overall environment, but they also seem to think that the Marlins may benefit more from the move. From this piece by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald:
Far be it from me to question the fledgling analytics department of the Marlins, but let's take a look at a few things. Could the Marlins benefit more from moving the fences in than their opponents? Let's start with the team's ground ball and fly ball rates on offense. Last season, the Marlins led all of baseball in ground ball rate offensively, posting a 52 percent grounder rate. The team's expected 2016 lineup had a number of primarily worm-burners on the roster.
Stanton is the only player on the roster who is not primarily a ground ball hitter compared to the league average. The rest of the roster hits more ground balls than the average player, with three players posting rates over 50 percent. In fact, the Marlins hosted the players with the two of the top 10 highest ground ball rates in baseball since 2013. It is very possible that this iteration of the Marlins' offense is the least likely team to benefit from a movement of the fences, simply because this roster does not hit enough fly balls to make it worthwhile.
On the pitching side, the Marlins like to focus on ground balls, which was previously an odd move given its spacious dimensions. I was always in favor of the Fish pursuing fly-ball pitchers like Chen because they would be more easily bailed out by the deep fences. However, Miami's current rotation just added the fly-ball inducing Chen and their expected rotation does not own a great ground ball rate.
Obviously Conley's numbers are based on a pretty small sample, but this pitching staff indicates a group that is also not built to withstand a move closer to the fences. The team just added an extreme fly-baller (although one that also induces a lot of pop-ups) and only has one heavy ground-baller to counteract the effect. On average, if the first five players listed threw an equal number of innings, Marlins starters would average about a 45 percent ground ball rate, which is right around league average. One would expect that moving the fences in would affect their home run rates at least as badly as the average opposing pitcher.
The Marlins are figuring to improve their offensive output, but it almost seems as though they did not consider their pitching output with this fence move. Without a slew of ground ball experts like Henderson Alvarez and Cosart, the Fish are more in trouble to allow the long bomb than they were before, especially with Chen aboard. Meanwhile, the Marlins' offense may improve, but it is hard to see how it could improve more than the pitching and defense would with this change. This current lineup hits too many grounders to take advantage of those shorter dimensions. How the Marlins are finding two or three extra wins out of this move is perplexing at best.