On a night when the San Francisco Giants intentionally forfeited the right to a designated hitter to keep Madison Bumgarner in the lineup, the Miami Marlins watched as their left-hander—Wei-Yin Chen—went his usual 0-for-3 at the plate.
Chen remains hitless on the 2016 season. He might own the weakest bat among Marlins rotation members, but it’s hard to tell—collectively, the team’s pitchers have done a historically poor job of providing their own run support.
Nearly midway through the summer, 15 different guys at that position are responsible for an anemic -57 wRC+, with only five total hits from anybody not named Jose Fernandez. It’s been the worst performance of any NL club. Miami pitchers have scored a single run, which is fewer than several American League teams (the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays).
Across the United States and around the globe, there are preteen boys preparing to compete in the Little League World Series. Through a combination of bunt attempts and taking pitches out of the strike zone, I’m confident that a few of them—right now—could improve the current state of Marlins pitcher production. It’s that bad.
This frustration shouldn’t feel entirely new to Fish fans, considering their pitchers also stunk it up in 2010 (-33 wRC+) and 2012 (-36 wRC+). But the latest struggles would establish new franchise record lows in categories like AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, wRC+ and K/BB, just to name a few.
On an individual level, Chen and Adam Conley are batting 0-for-32 and 0-for-26, respectively. That puts them on pace to be the first-ever Marlins players with 50-plus plate appearances and zero hits in a season. Remember: knuckleballer Charlie Hough joined the team as a 45-year-old in 1993, and even he connected on a couple singles that summer.
No Marlins pitcher has won a Sliver Slugger award, but we’ve seen several of them bring meaningful offense to the bottom of the batting order. Jeff Conine and Chris Hammond were teammates from 1993-1997…and Hammond posted the higher walk rate (10.4% to 9.2%). During his years in South Florida, Dontrelle Willis (.234/.280/.359, 15.8 K%) was like a left-handed Adeiny Hechavarria (.258/.293/.342, 15.2 K%), with extra home run pop compensating for lesser speed. Josh Johnson mashed three home runs in 2009 alone.
The current futility of the ninth spot disrupts what would otherwise be a “cyclical” lineup. There’s virtually no precedent for a Marlins lineup receiving above-average production from so many of its regulars.
Coming into 2016, Giancarlo Stanton’s power and Christian Yelich’s on-base skills were known assets. On top of that, Marcell Ozuna and Justin Bour have emerged as All-Star-caliber sluggers, and Martin Prado ranks among the National League hits leaders. Derek Dietrich has capitalized on Dee Gordon’s suspension, while J.T. Realmuto’s rise takes the sting out of the failed Jarrod Saltalamacchia contract.
That gives Miami seven players with at least a 100 wRC+ after 200 plate appearances, not to mention star reserve Ichiro Suzuki (177 PA). The only other time this organization had seven everyday contributors perform at that level throughout the season’s first half was 2002. Back then, however, the Marlins spent their All-Star break negotiating a trade of fWAR leader Cliff Floyd; this time around, they have already identified themselves as buyers.
Most of the position players continue making positive strides, but their pitching teammates can’t even sacrifice them to the next base. A limited sample size could be to blame, as could inexperience. Per Baseball-Reference, the Marlins are sixth-youngest in the majors by weighted pitchers’ age (27.8), and prior to this season, the veteran Chen had spent all his MLB time in the AL. Perhaps repetition alone will yield better results down the stretch.
The Marlins have very little margin for error in their pursuit of a playoff berth. Even pitcher plate appearances must be taken seriously if they expect to contend in the second half.
In case the team doesn’t achieve respectability in this phase of the game, there’s a back-up plan: the Little League World Series wraps up on August 28, just in time for roster expansion!