The Miami Marlins played decently in the month of April, reaching a record just above .500 for the first time since August of 2014. The team needed its offense to bring the fire, and the pitching staff has alternated between good and bad performances. Who among these groups are we high on heading forward, and who do we think may be in for some problems? This is Buy or Sell, April edition!
Buy: Christian Yelich
Oh boy, are we buying on Christian Yelich. Yelich was the team's best player in the month of April, batting .346/.471/.481 (.420 wOBA) on the season. That mark is the 19th best batting line in baseball, and he is doing it in some very interesting ways. For one thing, he has been hitting the ball harder than ever before, with an average exit velocity ranking eighth in all of baseball. He still is avoiding the popup, having not recorded one of those all month so far. He posted another high BABIP as a result of all of this, having recorded a likely unsustainable .422 mark on balls in play in April.
The biggest difference between this year and last, however, has been his plate discipline, which has been elite so far. Yelich owns the third-lowest rate of swings outside the strike zone while still owning a swing rate of 58 percent on pitches in the zone. We knew he probably was not going to be able to maintain his strikeout rate from the first week of the season, but so far in 2016, he has walked 18 times versus 17 strikeouts. Since 1993 (excluding strike season), there have been 194 player-seasons in which a player has had more walks than strikeouts and posted a walk rate greater than 10 percent. Of those seasons, 114 of them have been league average or better, so the odds are that Yelich should have a decent season at the plate going forward, even with the hot start excluded.
If he figures out the launch angles on his swings even a little more, watch out world.
Buy: Giancarlo Stanton
This was Stanton's business as usual this past month. He did much of the same stuff he has always done: he struck out (31.9 percent strikeout rate), hit home runs (eight during the month), and posted a fantastic batting line (.253/.362/.582, .400 wOBA). With Stanton, it is easy to get lost in the strikeouts and home runs, but it should be noted that he also walked on 13.8 percent of plate appearances with no intentional free passes handed out. He swung at fewer out-of-zone pitches than he has been used to and picked up his in-zone swings a little more, which is a positive outcome. He still needs to make more contact, as his 63 percent rate right now would be a career low. But given what Stanton has done in other months of April in the past (he owns just a .254/.344/.492 career line in April, his worst month in his career), this was a welcome sight to see him start off on point.
Buy: Derek Dietrich
With Dee Gordon suspended, Derek Dietrich is going to get plenty of time to prove himself worthy or not at second base. I am all aboard on seeing what the Marlins have in Dietrich over the next half-season. So far, it has been pretty impressive, as Dietrich has posted his best month of his career. Before the May 1 game against the Milwaukee Brewers, he was hitting .278/.381/.583, good for a .411 wOBA. In 42 plate appearances, he was flaunting his power with two homers, three doubles, and a triple, which put his ISO at a Stanton-esque .306. Just as importantly, he has looked decent at his defensive positions, and the numbers have him as around average with the glove thus far.
Dietrich will have more time to continue this streak, and if he plays well for this half-season, the Marlins will have a difficult decision with what to do with their roster once Gordon returns. It would be a tough choice to bench any of Gordon, Dietrich, or Martin Prado if the latter two continue hitting well and playing decent defense. A platoon may be in order at third base, but Dietrich has a more potentially important future in Miami than Prado. The trade deadline and the team's situation at that stage of the season may provide us better answers.
Buy: Adam Conley
The Marlins found their solid third starter in Conley, who picked up right where he left off last season. He has mixed some solid starts in with a few weaker ones, but his overall 3.67 ERA and 3.76 FIP are both good enough to serve as the team's third starter in a rotation that has otherwise had question marks at the back. Conley does not have to be elite to hold a rotation spot on this roster, but the fact that he is actually putting up strikeouts, which was a welcome addition to a team bereft of that kind of talent among its prospects, is a positive indicator for the future. Control / command are still an issue, but Miami has likely found its second dependable lefty for the year.
Buy: The top of the rotaton
Jose Fernandez and Wei-Yin Chen have not been perfect, but both pitchers have played their role decently enough to say that the future of the season looks good in their hands. Fernandez has lost a little control over his Defector pitch, and the command has been less present than usual, but he still appears to be missing bats at a good rate. Batters are making less contact than they did in previous years on swings, though that has not added to the overall whiff counts due to his poor location around the zone. He needs to reign in some of that looseness that has led to a walk rate above 10 percent for the first time.
Chen has allowed four home runs so far this season, so that problem has persisted. However, the rest of the game remains thoroughly Chen, as he is putting up a 19.2 percent strikeout rate and 4.8 percent walk rate very characteristic of his game. Once the home runs settle down a little more in his new, larger environments, he should look better and get his ERA down.
Sell: The rest of the pitching staff
The confidence level in the last two spots in the rotation and the bullpen is pretty low right now. Injuries forced a number of veterans into the pen, but none of them were actually any good. Two of them, Chris Narveson and Dustin McGowan, already lost their jobs, while Edwin Jackson landed on the disabled list with a forearm injury. Meanwhile, on the starter side, the Marlins already optioned Jarred Cosart thanks to bad play, and it has not gotten a good month out of Tom Koehler so far this season. It is a good thing that the rest of the staff has worked out well, but on the pitching side, things look more concerning.
The bullpen is a problem heath-wise. The team has honed its late innings around A.J. Ramos and David Phelps, and Kyle Barraclough has been promoted and been somewhat effective. However, the rest of the staff has been a question mark. Mike Dunn will return shortly to help add depth and an added lefty. Jackson will likely get a little more time before any decision is made on him, but Miami has been faster to pull the plug on veterans on their roster than they had been before. With some remaining outlets for promotion like Kendry Flores and potentially Jarlin Garcia as well as bullpen players like Nick Wittgren available, the team may rush a wave of young bullpen talent over veterans on a shorter-than-usual leash.