The Miami Marlins started Monday night with five deserving members of their team as potential All-Star candidates for the 2016 All-Star Game, and they ended the night with four All-Stars, a new team record! All four guys selected were well deserving of accolade, even if one of those guys has only been a Marlins for about one week now in total. Ahead of next week’s All-Star game, let’s review the resumes of the team’s four All-Star players.
It should be no surprise that Jose Fernandez made the contest, as he has been one of baseball’s best pitchers in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Fernandez has been worth somewhere between 3.5 to four wins so far in just about 100 innings pitched, and in most leaderboards he is second place behind only the injured Clayton Kershaw in terms of Wins Above Replacement. He has upped his strikeout rate to an insane 37 percent mark this year, the sort of strikeout rate only good relievers usually post. At the same time, he has curtailed the command issues that led to big walk rates earlier in the year, as his walk rate is down to 7.9 percent. Batters are only making contact on a mere 67 percent of pitches swung at.
Most importantly of all perhaps is that Fernandez has done all of this while remaining healthy. He has had no issues now that he is more than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and with the early problems seemingly resolved, Miami has to be very happy with their ace’s second appointment to the All-Star contest.
Well, if you had to pick only one Marlins outfielder to make the All-Star Game, the last one you would have chosen was Ozuna. Last year, Ozuna was hitting the ball hard but it was going nowhere until he had a nice run to end the year after his demotion. This year, he started off with a pop-less month of April that portended bad things, but he has had two ridiculous months at the plate that have propelled him to top-20 status in terms of Wins Above Replacement according to most leaderboards. Ozuna is second on the team in overall value, putting up about a 3.5-win season with a fantastic .310/.363/.540 batting line (.381 wOBA).
He has done this not by changing his strike zone or being smarter around the plate. Rather, it is what he has done with the ball when he does swing and make contact that has helped his success. Ozuna has been nailing more balls on a line and fewer into the ground, thus taking advantage of his strength. His ground ball rate is down from 47 percent career to just 42 percent, and those extra flies and liners are landing a bit more out of the park. Ozuna is set to beat his old home run record for a single season that he put up in 2014 with a 23-homer campaign; he already has 17 homers this year, second on the team. The problem we saw all last season was that Ozuna was still getting an above-average number of hits on balls in play, but he was not putting enough of them over the fence. Leveling out his swing has seemingly done that and helped raise his game at the plate in a big way.
Ramos is not having as good a season this year as he was having last season by the middle of the campaign. Last season, Ramos had walked just 6.7 percent of batters faced to go along with his typically strong strikeout rates and had taken over the closer role successfully from a struggling Steve Cishek. He had a 1.11 ERA and 1.81 FIP and probably did deserve a look as an All-Star relief candidate. This year, his ERA is back up in the low 2.00’s with a 2.38 mark to go with a 3.17 FIP. He is still striking out plenty of guys, but the walk rate is back up to where it was before the beginning of last season; he has walked 13.9 percent of batters and 12.8 percent of them in the 66 innings he has pitched in the last calendar year. The days of dreaming of a control-fixed Ramos appear to be at an end.
Ramos is in the game most likely because of one stat: he is 25 of 26 on save opportunities this season as the team’s primary closer, and those 25 saves are tied for third in all of baseball alongside other dominant closers like Kenley Jansen and Zach Britton. Ramos looks vulnerable now as compared to the first half of last year, and expectations on his gameplay should be tempered appropriately. However, he is still a strong reliever, and while you could argue David Phelps was more deserving if a Marlins reliever had to make the roster, Ramos remains a very talented reliever who could be justified for the roster.
Rodney started this year as a closer as well and he has yet to blow a save opportunity technically. Of course, with the Marlins he probably will not get many save opportunities, but his performance will be leaned upon, and no one can argue that he has performed poorly this season. The ERA is deceptive at 1.11, and his 2.93 FIP is more concerning for the future. Still, he has re-found his strikeout rate and that should help make him a valuable reliever. There were names who could have gone ahead of both Rodney and Ramos, but they were in the mix with guys like Seung Oh and Addison Reed for competitors for one of the few relief spots.
Each Marlins player had an argument for the All-Star Game, and at least two of those guys were prominent enough to not only be no-brainers but possible starters, though ultimately neither will start the contest. We’ll be watching when the first half wraps up and up to four Marlins potentially take the field in Petco Park this year on July 12, 2016.