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Hitting coach change has had zero effect on Marlins’ MLB-worst offense

We now have equally sized samples of the 2019 Marlins with Mike Pagliarulo and without him, and the results have been equally bad.

Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

“It’s a results-oriented job,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill told reporters in Miami on Apr. 19 after firing hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo. “Offensively, we haven’t been getting it done. Just felt like it was time for change.”

Hill promoted Jeff Livesey to interim hitting coach and reassigned Eric Duncan from minor league hitting coordinator to fill Livesey’s shoes as assistant hitting coach. I expected the team’s performance at the plate to improve following these changes, not because of the coaches themselves, but because the Marlins were on a historically bad pace. Too much talent for that to continue. They were due for some progression, right?

Wrong. Production through the first 20 games (under Pagliarulo/Livesey) versus the past 19 (under Livesey/Duncan) has been virtually identical. Injuries aren’t an excuse—Marlins position players are remarkably healthy relative to other MLB teams.

So...who does Hill hold accountable now?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins did not attempt to construct a competitive team for the 2019 season, but they have tinkered with their roster and approach frequently since Opening Day to curb this embarrassment. It’s worth a closer look...

Games 1-20 (Mar. 28-Apr. 19)

Team offense: 717 PA, 51 R, .215/.277/.326 (.603 OPS), 17 HR, 49 BB, 187 K, 23 GIDP

Offseason acquisition Jorge Alfaro (.300/.340/.480, 3 HR) was an initial bright spot. On the other hand, he was also a poster child for their lack of plate discipline. Lewis Brinson (.190/.239/.254) demonstrated the same over-aggressiveness without any of the over-the-fence power to capitalize on pitchers’ mistakes. He gradually saw his playing time reduced.

Fish Stripes original GIF

The Marlins peaked with a 10-run, 18-hit explosion against Zach Eflin and the Phillies. Austin Dean led the charge, but defensive gaffes in the outfield prompted his demotion back to Triple-A just a week later.

Home/road splits aren’t all that notable in this analysis. Dating back to the opening of Marlins Park in 2012, the club’s production has been minimally affected by venue. But for those who are curious, the Fish played 13 of these first 20 games in Miami.

Games 21-39 (Apr. 20-May 11)

Team offense: 710 PA, 54 R, .223/.289/.292 (.581 OPS), 7 HR, 52 BB, 170 K, 11 GIDP

The Marlins immediately responded to the Pags firing by pummeling the Nationals pitching staff for nine runs, securing their first series win of 2019. Kudos to radio broadcaster Glenn Geffner for celebrating the team effort without getting carried away:

They haven’t won another series since.

Brinson was sent down, his role filled by Isaac Galloway, who somehow did even worse with the opportunity (.143/.143/.167, 38.1 K% since Apr. 20). They have since been reunited in New Orleans.

Neil Walker is slashing a robust .386/.491/.500 during this stretch to elevate his overall production to meet expectations. Meanwhile, Alfaro came crashing down (.193/.281/.298), and although it seems to have gone under the radar, Miguel Rojas (.203/.263/.216) is failing to justify the everyday shortstop role that he’s been given. Also, Starlin Castro endured the longest hitless streak of his decade-long career.

The lack of over-the-fence power is hard to comprehend. Homering once every 101.4 plate appearances—like the Marlins have these past 19 games—is comparable to Adeiny Hechavarría’s career rate. Though improved from where it used to be, the team’s strikeout rate remains worse than the league average. What an awful combination.

And yes, Zach Eflin got his revenge.

After 39 games played (with nearly one-quarter of the regular season completed), the Marlins rank 30th in Major League Baseball in the following hitting-related categories:

  • Runs (105)
  • Home runs (24)
  • Walks (101)
  • Intentional walks (0)
  • OPS (.592)
  • wOBA (.264)
  • xwOBA (.288)
  • wRC+ (65)
  • FB% (30.6%)
  • HR/FB (8.4%)
  • Barrel % (5.4%)

In many cases, they rank 30th by a wide margin.

Is there a silver lining to it? Yes!

The Marlins have been unlucky. The 24-point drop-off from their expected weighted on-base average to their actual weighted on-base average leads MLB; keeping hitting the ball hard, they will find more holes in the defense (that means you, Brian Anderson). This falls outside the hitting coach’s jurisdiction, but increased activity on the basepaths would help manufacture runs. The Fish have only 22 stolen-base attempts (no attempts to steal third) despite their athletic personnel. On live balls, they take the extra base on 29% of opportunities, which ranks—you guessed it—30th in MLB.

Recent call-up Harold Ramírez should be an upgrade over what they’ve had, as should Austin Dean and JT Riddle in the near future. Baby steps.

However, none of them—not even late-season possibilities like Monte Harrison, Isan Díaz or a reinvigorated Brinson—have “carry the rest of the lineup” potential.

This mess falls on Michael Hill’s shoulders. We suspect that it was by design: tank for premium 2020 draft position. But if CEO Derek Jeter genuinely expected to take a step forward at the major league level, he ought to seriously consider changes within the baseball operations department, because they’ve cooked up an inedible dish for Marlins fans in 2019.