In the third installment of “Fishy or For Real”, we will take a dive right into the season of 28-year-old outfielder Garrett Cooper.
Cooper was acquired by the Marlins along with LHP Caleb Smith in November 2017 as part of a three-player trade that sent RHP Michael King and international bonus pool money to the New York Yankees.
He first experienced major league play in 2017 as part of the Yankees organization prior to donning a Marlins uniform. While there, he accumulated a .326 batting average in limited time at the plate, having only 43 at-bats across 13 games.
After taking his talents to South Florida, Cooper’s hitting ability had a strong enough appeal to punch his ticket to 2018 Spring Training. In 54 Grapefruit League at-bats, he did nothing short of impress, slugging three home runs and hitting just a few ticks below .300 with a promising .296 average.
In 2019, Cooper has received more regular season reps than ever before and lived up to his potential. He has been a force at the plate, settling into the No. 2 spot in the Marlins lineup.
Granted that his health has been frequently called to question, what can we—or should we—expect from Cooper long term?
2019 Stats: 96 AB, .281/.375/.448, 5 HR, 16 RBI, .823 OPS, 20.5 K%, 10.7 BB%
The Case Against Sustainability (“Fishy”)
In too many ways, the brief time that Garrett Cooper has spent in Miami is evoking memories of Giancarlo Stanton. Like Stanton, Cooper is built to embarrass pitchers by mashing majestic homers with ridiculous exit velocities. Boasting a 6-foot-6 frame and weighing 230 pounds, Cooper is an undeniably intimidating figure.
However, Cooper was initially a liability to the Marlins. Just a handful of games into the 2018 season, he suffered a right wrist contusion that sent him to the disabled list. Aggravating the injury (torn tendon sheath) disrupted his minor league rehab assignment and required surgery. Consequently, he would finish his 2018 campaign with a sub-par batting average of .212 in 14 games.
Unfortunately, the string of injuries would follow Cooper in 2019. He has landed on the 10-day injured list on two separate occasions with a left calf strain and a left hand contusion.
Now, in evaluating the circumstances between Cooper and Stanton with the Marlins, it makes more sense for the two to be juxtaposed rather than compared. Cooper is not on the payroll beyond this season, much less in the same stratosphere as a $325 million contract lasting through the next decade. Expectations for him, in the eyes of both fans and the front office, are considerably lower.
However, at least during 2018, Cooper’s absence hindered the Marlins organization from fully evaluating their corner outfield options in the aftermath of a massive rebuild. They finished at the bottom—or near the bottom—in the vast majority of offensive statistical categories. Particularly in runs batted in and home runs as a club, they were ranked last in the league. With a lineup stripped of its sluggers, Cooper was a prime candidate to provide power in the heart of the Marlins order, bringing life to a team and a fanbase that, on average, saw just over 10,000 fans attend games in Little Havana.
His health has been, and will continue to be, a concern for the Marlins as they look to reassemble their core for the future.
The Case For Sustainability (“For Real”)
While we have not seen too much of Cooper’s arm while patrolling the outfield, there have been instances this season where his mere presence in right field has held opposing runners to the bag.
In the opening series of the season versus the Colorado Rockies, Cooper displayed his cannon at Chris Iannetta’s expense. On a fly ball hit by Charlie Blackmon, he positioned himself underneath the ball and—without any sort of momentum—sent Iannetta back to the dugout after an attempt to tag up and take third base.
Tying into his throwing ability, Cooper’s fielding has been quietly perfect. Dating back to his time with the Yankees, Cooper has not committed a single error in 224 total chances across 393 2⁄3 innings. Throughout this span, he has split time between first base and the two corner outfield spots.
The former sixth-round draft pick is consistent and dependable so far in 2019. Among all of the plays that he has been responsible for in right field, only five have fallen for hits. Of these, three had a catch probability of 10% or lower.
K% and BB%
Strikeout rates and walk rates are increasingly being used to judge a player’s plate discipline. Cooper has been able to maintain these two rates at levels that are better than the MLB average in 2019.
This season, Cooper has dropped his 2018 strikeout rate by 11.1%, and now lies at 20.5%, which is one percent less than the MLB average. His walk rates with the Marlins have been consistently high. Last season, he walked 10.5% of the time and he’s at 10.7% in 2019; that is well above the league average of 8.3%.
Hard Hit % and Exit Velocity
It goes without saying that Garrett Cooper can barrel up a baseball, but just how hard can he hit? Or, more importantly, how often can he hit hard?
A “hard hit ball,” as defined by Statcast, is considered to be one that has an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or higher. Cooper’s hard hit percentage and average exit velocities off the bat are encouraging statistics and go a long way toward legitimizing his results.
Cooper has crushed baseballs above the hard hit threshold more than 46% of the time. His average exit velocity is 91.0 miles per hour (MLB average: 87.4 mph).
Inadvertently, Cooper’s consistent ability to hit the ball hard has also translated into his recent power surge. Always viewed as a slugger by the Marlins, the prophesied power has emerged in recent weeks.
Since May 22, when he mashed a game-winning grand slam, Cooper has clubbed five home runs, all of which have soared at least 414 feet. Currently, his average home run distance of 425 is ranked seventh in all of baseball.
Verdict: For Real
The skills that Garrett Cooper has are not what is being called to question. Lacking only in speed, where he is ranked in the 45th percentile by Baseball Savant, Cooper is the embodiment of a four-tool player.
In his last 17 games, he has been a monster at the plate, with 22 hits—five of them being homers—and 14 RBI. Through eight games played in June, his slash line has been .385/.500/.615.
Cooper’s ability to crush a baseball makes him a tremendous source of power on a club that’s desperate for it. If he continues to meet barrel with ball, his batting average should remain high enough to keep him on the starting lineup on a nightly basis.
The only concern with Garrett Cooper is his health. When available, though, there is no reason to doubt his impact in the Marlins lineup. He is a “For Real” player with All-Star potential.