Without looking at any stats, who would you say is the best hitter on the 2019 Marlins?
Miguel Rojas was extremely steady from the leadoff spot prior to injuring his hamstring, but rarely showed the over-the-fence power that’s so essential to run production in Major League Baseball these days. Brian Anderson has emerged as the team’s most impactful all-around player, for sure, and a big aspect of his game is making consistent hard contact. If this past weekend is any indicator, Garrett Cooper appears to have rediscovered the stroke that worked so well in the season’s first half. Rookies Jon Berti and Harold Ramirez are pesky, too.
Well, those of you who are familiar with my work know that I feel stats are critical to MLB analysis. In this case, they demonstrate that the Marlins sorely lack great offensive talent. Meanwhile, not only have former Fish stars thrived with a change of scenery, but even discarded role players are enjoying out-of-nowhere breakouts.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantifies the value of each plate appearance and adjusts for league, era and ballpark to put everybody on the same scale, with 100 representing the average. Backup catcher Bryan Holaday (122 wRC+) leads the Marlins in that category this season, followed closely by Cooper (116 wRC+), Anderson (112 wRC+) and Berti (112 wRC+). With apologies to Holaday, I’m setting a minimum of one plate appearance per team game to omit tiny sample size flukes (at least 123 PA entering Monday). Therefore, Coop’s 116 is the mark to beat.
Which old friends would have the most valuable bat in Miami’s lineup right now? Read it and cringe.
Christian Yelich (.335/.424/.698, 176 wRC+ in 491 PA with Brewers)
Yeli has to be from Area 51. Unreal.— MLB (@MLB) July 17, 2019
(MLB x @PapaJohns) pic.twitter.com/jKQdoqw9sF
Without rooting against Yelich directly, I can admit that my preference is for the Baseball Writers Association of America to elect somebody—anybody—else as the National League MVP this season. Marlins fans have suffered enough from what was, at the time, an entirely reasonable trade. Now that he’s following up his 2018 NL MVP campaign with an even better 2019, Major League Baseball has plastered his baby face everywhere.
Yelich is in a serious pursuit of the first-ever 50-homer/25-steal season. Although those totals wouldn’t be quite as high with home games at Marlins Park, the park-adjusted wRC+ and majestic swing make it obvious that he is a special talent.
Cameron Maybin (.309/.391/.522, 141 wRC+ in 202 PA with Yankees)
At 32 years young, Maybin has restructured his swing, as detailed by Lindsey Adler of The Athletic. The Giants cut ties with him after a spring training DUI arrest, then the Indians traded him after a slow start with their Triple-A affiliate. So instead, it’s the juggernaut New York Yankees who get to enjoy this post-peak power surge.
Previously, Maybin’s best wRC+ in a season with substantial playing time was 121 with the 2016 Tigers.
Austin Nola (.314/.362/.537, 139 wRC+ in 131 PA with Mariners)
Well-known and well-liked as an organizational depth player with the Marlins from 2012-2018, utility player Austin Nola finally earned an elusive major league call-up from the Mariners in June. And all of a sudden, he’s raking.
Like Maybin, Nola has no track record of over-the-fence power, yet he’s gone deep six times already through 45 career games at the highest level. What the f***?!
In a critical feature on the Marlins front office published last May (subscription required), Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that Nola was deemed expendable because he rated poorly as a pitch framer. The team didn’t value his intangibles as much as the old regime.
Donovan Solano (.335/.366/.476, 120 wRC+ in 175 PA with Giants)
The Colombian infielder has lost some athleticism on the wrong side of 30 and he’s relying on a .405 batting average of balls in play. Unsustainable, sure, but the Giants will take it! Solano’s production indirectly forced World Series contributor Joe Panik off the roster while keeping this mediocre team afloat in the NL Wild Card race.
Derek Dietrich (.207/.349/.514, 119 wRC+ in 273 PA with Reds)
Y'know, just go ahead and build a Derek Dietrich statue out front of GABP— Red Reporter (@redreporter) April 20, 2019
Released by the Marlins in November, Dietrich returned to his native state of Ohio after signing a minor league deal with the Reds and instantly became a fan favorite. The ultimate platoon player, he made it through Memorial Day on pace for more than 40 dingers...and then the next day, he blasted three more.
Miami’s franchise leader in hit by pitches, Dietrich even elevated that facet of his game to a new level. He’s been “taking one for the team” once every 12 plate appearances.
Predictably, Dietrich began to steeply regress around midseason. Defensive issues continue to plague him, too. He has been sidelined since August 4 due to left shoulder inflammation.
Marcell Ozuna (.259/.338/.506, 116 wRC+ in 382 PA with Cardinals)
In addition to wRC+, Ozuna would be leading the Fish this season in most counting stats, including runs, home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases. That’s despite spending more than a month on the injured list!
If the Marlins miss him so much, keep in mind that he’ll be a free agent this winter (heading into his age-29 season). The Cardinals seem unlikely to offer Ozuna full market value considering their existing payroll commitments and promising internal options.
J.T. Realmuto (.280/.330/.485, 107 wRC+ in 469 PA with Phillies)
Entering the second half of the season, I can remember seeing Phillies fans lamenting the Realmuto trade. Despite earning another All-Star selection, he had seemingly regressed from his 2018 Marlins form.
Adjusted for Citizens Bank Park, Realmuto is still behind that pace, but he’s making up ground quickly with a 143 wRC+ over the last 30 days. Driven largely by his defense and baserunning, he has been their most valuable overall player in 2019 (4.8 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement).
For all their injuries, the Phillies remain very much in the NL Wild Card mix; that likely wouldn’t be the case had they stuck with the toolsy yet infuriating Jorge Alfaro.
This is not to suggest that every move the Marlins make has backfired. Dee Gordon hasn’t been the same sparkplug in Seattle. Giancarlo Stanton can’t stay on the field. Justin Bour is in the minors.
However, let’s stop using Marlins Park as an excuse for this season’s NL-worst run production. Eventually, new franchise leadership must prove they’re capable of developing or discovering great major league hitters. Otherwise, the era of sustainable contending we’ve been anxiously looking forward to will never arrive.