The Miami Marlins are in the thick of the 2016 Wild Card race after a surprisingly strong start to the season. The team is 47-41 and tied with the New York Mets for the second Wild Card spot in the National League right now, and they have done that on the back of a few interesting situations. The team has gotten a few breakout performances from two of its young intriguing talents and has gotten ace-level pitching from Jose Fernandez, but much of the rest of the rotation has struggled and the team’s two All-Star choices from last year on offense, Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, had been non-contributors for a large swath of the 2016 season. Somehow, Miami has eked out just enough wins to hit the halfway mark in contention.
We here at the 2016 Marlins Midseason Review want to talk about the 2016 campaign and just how odd and exciting it has been. We’ll start today with the team’s offensive performance.
Runs Scored: 371
Team Batting Line: .273/.332/.411
Team wOBA: .320
Team wRC: 400
Team BaseRuns Scored: 389
The Marlins’ offense has been a conundrum. On the one hand, MLB.com’s Patrick Pinak pointed out something very interesting, even if it does not necessarily mean anything out of context.
Get this: #Marlins have 5 qualifying batters over .300 at the break. It's the fifth time in last 40 years that's happened, first since 1999.— Patrick Pinak (@pinakk12) July 10, 2016
That is cool! The Marlins have a high batting average as a team; their team .273 mark is tied for the National League lead and is second in baseball only to the Boston Red Sox. More importantly, they have the ninth-best OBP in baseball, and that includes all of their horrible pitchers hitting. Their batting line, including pitchers, is three percent worse than the MLB average after correcting for park and is 13th in all of baseball.
However, the Fish have an issue driving home runs. They lead the league in runners left on base, in some part due to the fact that they have one of the lowest-powered teams in the game. Despite having two guys close to 20 home runs in Stanton and All-Star Marcell Ozuna, Miami is still 29th in all of baseball in ISO, ahead of only the pathetic Atlanta Braves. Station-to-station baseball is definitely something that can work, but the Marlins have struggled to move those runners in once the stations are occupied. However, at least the Marlins are getting on base, and singles and other such hits are still ways to score runs. The prevailing thought is if Miami continues to hit like this, the runs should start scoring a little more often on its own. The question is whether Miami can continue to hit this well.
Best Performer: Marcell Ozuna/Christian Yelich
It is really difficult to separate these two from the honors. Ozuna is batting .307/.360/.533, good for a .377 wOBA that has come down after a most recent slump. Christian Yelich is batting .317/.398/.475, good for a .378 wOBA that has come down after an early fiery-hot streak to start the year. Both guys are hitting about the same despite opposite starts/finishes to the first half and completely different approaches to the game.
On the one hand, you have the All-Star starter Ozuna. He has rediscovered his power stroke that he lost in the first half of last year, and he rode a ridiculous month of May (.411/.450/.705, .489 wOBA) to 17 first-half homers and an All-Star bid. He did this seemingly by leveling out his swing and getting more balls off the ground, thus unlocking his power and changing the dynamic of his game. He did not do it by refining his plate approach, which seems almost static as compared to his career numbers. Whatever hitting coach Barry Bonds is doing, it is working.
On the other hand, you have Yelich, who hit seven home runs in the first half and has a so-far career-best ISO of .158 and could not garner All-Star recognition. Power sells a lot better than walks, but Yelich’s line is strong nonetheless. His 11 percent walk rate brought him back to the kind of numbers that got him acclaim in the minors. His on-base percentage is 11th in all of baseball. He is hitting more balls on a line, more balls at a hard clip (93.5 mph average velocity) and even though he has an unusually high number of popups this year, he may still be the rare type of player who can consistently run high BABIPs. He is even pulling the ball more to garner that extra power. Both Yelich and Ozuna look like stars in the making.
Worst Performer: Dee Gordon
I mean, it’s really tough to argue against this. At least Giancarlo Stanton was out on the field, and while he was the worst hitter in baseball around May, he had the time to work out of his slump and recover. Gordon not only struggled to begin the promising 2016 campaign, but he also was shockingly caught with a PED suspension and taken out for 80 games. The Marlins had to be disappointed with their 2015 All-Star second baseman being wiped off the field with one of the more surprising PED suspensions to date.
When he was on the field, he impressed no one. Gordon hit just .266/.289/.340 (.273 wOBA), showing the downside of a guy with no power who depends on BABIP and avoiding strikeouts for his on-base skills. Gordon could not find his way on base, and as a result he only nabbed six stolen bases in eight attempts before his suspension. Meanwhile, after his suspension, Derek Dietrich has come out and shown solid defensive play and a worthwhile bat capable of getting on base. This has left a lot of questions about how the Marlins will manage Gordon and Dietrich’s playing time when the suspended second baseman is eligible to return to the team on July 29.
Key Second-Half Performer: Giancarlo Stanton
There is no doubt that, were it not for Gordon’s complete absence due to a PED suspension, Stanton would earn the bill as "worst performer." He underwent one of the most difficult-to-watch months of struggle in Marlins history, as a great hitter spent all of May hitting .173/.287/.373 (.282 wOBA) while striking out 35 percent of the time. June did not start off on a great note either, but at least somewhere along the line, things started re-clicking for Stanton. In his last 30 days, the Marlins slugger is once again on top of it, batting .304/.379/.630 (.422 wOBA) while striking out "only" 29 percent of the time.
The contact problems that he has had this season were really an extension of stuff that he showed last year. Pitches out of the zone have been more problematic for Stanton than they were in his stellar 2014 season. Whether this has anything to do with his faceguard, his lingering feelings about the wicked beaning that ended that season, or if it is a skill decline for a guy who never made great contact to begin with, it is difficult to tell. But the recent surge once again shows that, like most players, Stanton too can swing back and forth on the pendulum of performance. He still has the hardest-hitting batted balls in baseball, averaging 96.1 mph off the bat. That will carry you a long way, and if he can maintain the contact he has been making in the last month or so, he should be back to his star-caliber ways in the second half.