Joe Maddon is often touted as one of the most intuitive and resourceful managers of our time. One of the hallmarks of Maddon’s style of managing, even going back to his early days with the Tampa Bay Rays, is his knack for moving guys around to play different positions. With versatile pieces like Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, and Sean Rodriguez at his disposal, Maddon has never shied away from challenging his players in new defensive roles. Not even keystone players like Kris Bryant are safe from Maddon’s tinkering; Bryant played all positions in the outfield as well as first base in 2017. Although it’s uncertain how much of this strategy actually helps the team, it does prove intriguing for students of the game. Especially when a pitcher ends up playing outfield...
The Marlins in the recent past have been sort of a contrast to that, due much in part to the positioning of their own keystone players. With Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton manning down the corners, (or Yelich playing left field in 2016, if you want to get picky), Dee Gordon playing air-tight defense at second, and defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria holding down shortstop, there hasn’t been much room for creativity in the Marlins lineup as of late.
Gone are the days of aforementioned players; now, the Marlins are left with a myriad of relatively unproven players, who will have multiple chances to see increased playing time over the course of the upcoming season. With that being said, the pieces that Don Mattingly has to arrange are, for the most part, considerably less attached to any one position than the previous class of players. Instead of committing to running the same hum-drum lineup out every night, with seemingly nothing to lose, the Marlins may benefit from continuously shaking up the lineup throughout the season. Before we look at how they can do so, let’s take a look at what we have to work with.
|Garrett Cooper||1B, LF, RF||-0.4|
|Tomas Telis||C, 1B||-4|
|Derek Dietrich||1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF||-21.6|
|Miguel Rojas||1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, RF||24.2|
|JT Riddle||SS, 3B||4.8|
|Martin Prado||1B, 3B||36.7|
|Brian Anderson||1B, 3B, LF, RF||-0.6|
|Christian Adames||1B, 2B, 3B, SS||-0.4|
A point of clarification. For the most part, the “position(s)” category is not necessarily a representation of where the players have played. Instead, the positions listed shows how far I would go in finding a position on the field for a player. For example, according to Fangraphs, Garrett Cooper hasn’t played any position other than first base in his professional career. Still, he tweeted out this picture on Tuesday, which leads me to believe that if he has a fancy new outfield glove, he is capable of using it.
Shoutout to @wilsonballglove for dropping these in the mail before I head out to Florida next week #ST2018 pic.twitter.com/7lL4DJLKSE— Garrett Cooper (@CoopaLoop1) January 10, 2018
The same goes for Brian Anderson at first base and in the outfield, and J.T. Riddle at third.
Without further ado, if you would humor me, here are some creations I might implement if I were the Marlins’ manager:
The Beef Lineup
How do you get 96 home runs back into a lineup? As #BaseballTwitter would say, one large adult son at a time. Nowadays, it doesn’t get much larger for the Marlins than Justin Bour and Garrett Cooper. The Great Bourbino has always been the Gentle Giant that Marlins fans have come to know and love. Come April however, Marlins fans may be surprised to see the lesser known Garrett Cooper towering three inches over Bour.
It’s obvious that this is a lineup built for offense more than anything. While according to defensive runs above average, Cooper and Brian Anderson are about average defenders at their own positions, there is no telling how they would fare in the outfield. But how else are you going to get these three hitters, coupled with Prado, on the field at one time? The Marlins are going to be aching for pop in the lineup this year. When the lineup needs a shock, Mattingly might need to count on some players to step outside of their comfort zones.
The Point Guard Lineup
In stark contrast to the previous lineup, this lineup is built for speed and defense. While Dietrich is generally extremely versatile, his DEF shows that he ultimately struggles defensively. The only position at which he gets into the black for Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating is first base. While the ever-consistent Prado takes the hot corner, and Riddle mans his normal post at shortstop, chameleon Miguel Rojas takes second, as well as the nine-hole to be the second leadoff man. No one has to borrow an outfield glove here; leave that to regulars like Christian Yelich and Magneuris Sierra.
This is the kind of lineup that keeps a manager on his toes. With capability on the diamond and speed on the base pads, a manager can really indulge his creative side to manufacture runs. If the Beef Lineup starts slumping, switching out the power forwards with this lineup can change the game, and again give a jolt to the team.
Vs. Left-Handed Pitcher
Perhaps most important for the Marlins is that they will finally have platoon options. By bringing guys like Cooper, Riddle, and Castro to the team, the Marlins will finally have the diversity in the lineup and on the bench to counter certain pitching situations. Assuming in this scenario that J.T. Realmuto is around to play catcher, starting with him, a lefty pitcher would have to survive a potential onslaught of seven righties here to turn the lineup over. Compare that to last year, when the Marlins had no righty options at first base. That’s not the case anymore; Mattingly can now get as crafty as he wants here if he wants to stuff the lineup with righties. He can play:
A) Prado at 3rd, Cooper at 1st, Anderson in RF
B) Anderson at 3rd, Prado resting at 1st, and Cooper in RF
C) Prado at 3rd, Anderson at 1st, and Cooper in RF
Martin Prado is now 34 coming off a season where he was predominantly injured; it couldn’t hurt to let him rest his legs at first base. Meanwhile, Anderson and Cooper are still young bucks; they should get the chance to stretch their legs in the outfield every once in a while. The result: a lineup fit to give any lefty nightmares.
Vs. Right-Handed Pitcher
Assuming that Christian Yelich plays centerfield and Magneuris Sierra plays left field, in a lineup, the Marlins can potentially play at least six lefty hitters, seven lefty hitters if Tomas Telis plays catcher, and eight lefty hitters if the pitcher is a lefty. That is pretty absurd.
Former Rockies minor leaguer Christian Adames is a switch-hitting super-utility player who accepted a non-roster invitation from the Marlins in December. Adames is coming off of an extremely successful season in the Dominican Winter Leagues, where he has thus far raked to the tune of a .371 on-base percentage over 45 games. If Adames can carry his hot winter into Spring Training, he can easily earn a spot on the team as a gap-filler. In this case, he is just what the team needs if Mattingly ever wants to counter a righty with an obnoxious amount of lefties.
If I could describe what the upcoming season is going to be in one word, I would say it’s going to be an experiment. The Marlins now have a blank slate. Almost no position on the diamond is reserved exclusively for any one player; everything is up for grabs. Although most people would vehemently disagree, the “Blank Slate Experiment” may prove to be intriguing enough a reason to tune into Marlins games this season. With expectations at an all time low, the Marlins have nothing to lose by just going out every day and playing hard. Why not shake the lineup around? Letting the players field new positions and take on unique roles can function to keep the clubhouse fresh, and morale up.
And if morale stays high, who knows what could happen? To quote the Star Wars movie Rogue One: “One fighter with a sharp stick and nothing left to lose can take the day.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com