Throughout the past year-and-a-half, Marlins leadership has been preaching patience. Cleaning up the mess that they inherited will be a meticulous process, and allowing the temptation of winning now to influence their decisions could hinder or even derail the rebuild.
But within a long-term plan are individual crises. Lewis Brinson desperately needs help and the Marlins are not handling his situation with the appropriate urgency. Revitalizing the former top prospect should be the franchise’s No. 1 priority.
Replacing Brinson on the active roster would inadvertently help the 2019 Marlins win, because it’s hard to imagine any replacement being worse. The production has been considerably below replacement level.
This season, the South Florida native is slashing .194/.247/.264 through 78 plate appearances. Even adjusting for the run environment at Marlins Park, that’s a 41 wRC+ and .228 wOBA—both marks put his offense in the bottom 10% of all major leaguers (min. 50 PA). It has been a maddening continuation of Brinson’s rookie campaign (.199/.240/.338, 56 wRC+, .248 wOBA).
There is consensus among evaluators that Brinson possesses above-average speed and above-average power. Neither tool has translated to the big leagues. He has two stolen bases in 134 regular season games for the Marlins, fewer than Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Belt have in comparable playing time over that span. His 11 total home runs trail role players like Daniel Descalso, Charlie Culberson and Hernán Pérez. We have seen no encouraging signs from his bat since Opening Day with zero long balls, strikeouts in one-third of all plate appearances and a 44th-percentile hard-hit rate.
Baseball history is loaded with examples of special talents who had poor MLB performance at a young age, then “clicked” and went on to successful careers.
However, Brinson’s case should be particularly worrisome—this is poor performance over a large sample, and by modern baseball standards, he’s not a baby anymore! Brinson entered pro baseball nearly seven years ago and turns 25 in a couple weeks. Five of the top 20 position players in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement so far this season are age 25 or younger.
The center fielder is 1-for-25 in 2019 on plate appearances that end with breaking balls, and his chase rate is among the highest in the league. Brinson is struggling to recognize different pitch types and anticipate sequencing.
Those fundamentals must be engrained in him with reps versus lesser competition before he has any chance of applying them in the majors.
The Marlins disagree. According to Craig Mish on the latest episode of his Swings and Mishes podcast, the club plans to utilize him as a fourth outfielder.
“They simply do not have anybody to call up,” Mish was told by team sources. “They would like to get Brinson in with [new assistant hitting coach] Eric Duncan specifically to assist him with whatever is going on.”
From Andre Fernandez of The Athletic (subscription required):
“His work has been good,” manager Don Mattingly said during the team’s series in Cleveland, one in which Brinson did not make a single plate appearance. “I feel like he’s been progressing with the work as far as his BP. We just still haven’t been able to get it to the game. [That’s] the next step.”
To summarize, the Marlins are treating Brinson as a slumping player rather than a flawed player. They have Peter O’Brien and Austin Dean (eligible to be recalled beginning on Tuesday) to fill the roster void while their would-be face of the franchise addresses his weaknesses in the proper setting; they refuse to go that route.
Are the Marlins really failing to diagnose what’s happening with Brinson? Or are they just scared of the optics, optioning the centerpiece of the Christian Yelich trade while the reigning NL MVP continues to thrive?
Neither excuse is acceptable. Demoting Brinson is critical to salvaging his career, a humbling but obvious transaction at this point. By delaying, the Marlins are doing him a disservice and causing fans to question whether or not they have the right decision-makers in place.