Since the beginning of the offseason, nearly all of the coverage on the Marlins has been about how they can improve their pitching, and rightfully so, but despite the importance of pitching, you need to score runs to win ballgames. With the way the Marlins rotation is shaping up, the Marlins will need to score more runs than recent years in order to compete, which is a reasonable supposition.
I know what you're probably thinking. How can the offense improve if the Marlins haven't acquired a single bat this offseason? Yes, the Marlins will likely roll out nearly the same line-up in 2017 as they did Opening Day the season prior, but perhaps what is more valuable than most any free agent bat is the acquisition of health.
The Marlins offense hit the ground running in 2016, hitting a league-leading .275 through the first two months of the season, while sustaining the blow of losing defending batting champion Dee Gordon for half of the season due to a PED suspension. Utility man Derek Dietrich was called on to step in for Dee Gordon and posted a .solid .279 batting average, while reaching base at an impressive .374 clip. Dietrich’s success kept the ball rolling for the Marlins, who seemed to not skip a beat after losing their star lead off hitter heading into the All Star break.
The Marlins enjoyed one of their most successful first halves in franchise history, cruising into the All Star break with a 47-41 record. The Marlins offense was a force in the first half averaging 4.2 runs per game and hitting a league leading .273 as a team. The impressive and unexpected performance of the Marlins offense bailed out the sub-par performance of their rotation, a rotation that saw three out of its five starters pitch to an ERA of 4.50 or above.
The Marlins suffered a crushing blow to their offense just before the All Star break when first baseman Justin Bour sprained his ankle tagging first, forcing the Fish to place him on the 15-day DL. At the time of his injury, Bour was enjoying what was looking to be a break out season. Bour owned a .268/.347/.526 slash-line with 16 home runs and 46 RBI through 68 games, well on pace for 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Unfortunately for Bour and the Marlins, Bour’s ankle never seemed to heal; he would suffer several setbacks prolonging his return to mid September as the Marlins were already fading from the Wild Card race. Chris Johnson was the next man up for the Marlins at first base and to put it lightly, the Fish saw a steep drop off in production on the right side of the infield. Johnson slashed a pedestrian .222/.281/.329 with five home runs and 29 RBI in place of Bour.
To compound that, the Marlins would lose another key bat when star slugger Giancarlo Stanton went down yet again with a hamstring injury. The injuries to Stanton and Bour sapped the Marlins of its power, in fact when the two accounted for just about half of the Marlins home runs in games they played in. Ichiro Suzuki, who was enjoyed his best campaign in years, was forced to take on a role perhaps too demanding of a 42 year-old veteran, stepping in for Giancarlo Stanton as the everyday right fielder. Ichiro hit .335 in the first half, serving the role as a reserve and spot starter but as Ichiro was forced to play every day he began to wear down, hitting .245 in the second half. Another player who suffered from the injuries to his power-hitting teammates was Marcell Ozuna. With two middle of the order bats going down for extended periods of time, manager Don Mattingly was forced to get creative with his line-ups. Ozuna, who had begun to really settle in the six hole for the Marlins, slid around the order as much as anyone, hitting as high as second and as low as seventh. Ozuna never seemed to find his groove in the second half, owning a meager .209/.267/.342 line while only hitting six long balls and 29 RBI, a far cry from his first half that saw him hit .307/.360/.533 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI. Ozuna was undoubtably the biggest beneficiary of having Stanton and Bour in the line-up, hitting over .150 batting average points higher when batting behind the powerful pair.
The Marlins may not have acquired any impact bats yet this offseason and don't seem to be intent on doing so other than a body or two to fill the bench, but there is still reason to believe that this offense can perform at levels we haven't yet seen or just got a small taste of last year. As poorly as things ended last season for the Fish there were many bright spots. Christian Yelich is blossoming before our eyes and really seemed to find his power stroke in the second half, slugging 14 home runs. Dee Gordon finally found his stroke towards the end of the season, shaking off the rust from his 80 game absence, and while Martin Prado may not replicate last year's fantastic season that saw him hit .305 and an even more impressive .424 against lefties, it can still be expected that he will continue to eat left handed pitchers alive and drive runs in. J.T. Realmuto broke out last year, finishing second on the team with a .303 average. Marcell Ozuna may have proved that he cannot shoulder the load of the offense but he did show flashes of the multi-tooled power hitter that many in the Marlins organization think he can become.
For the most part, everyone in this Marlins line-up has their role carved out. We know Dee Gordon and Martin Prado will get on base and we know that Yelich, Stanton, Bour, and Ozuna will all drive in runs while J.T. Realmuto looks like one of the best seven hole hitters in the game, then you round the line-up out with Adeiny Hecheverria who you will take whatever you can get from. The 2016 season proved that the Marlins offense is balanced but can easily be thrown out of sorts. The key for the Marlins offense next year is pretty simple, stay healthy. In the fragments of last season where the Marlins had a completely healthy line-up, their offense was potent, clicking on all cylinders. The Marlins are a relatively young line-up but a large portion of it has been together for several seasons and has really started to gel when intact. If healthy, I won't be surprised to see this offense take the next step and possibly find themselves near the top of the league in runs scored, which they must do in order to compete.