In a season that could best be characterized as “different,” the narrative surrounding the success of the 2020 Miami Marlins is apt to the strangest year of baseball most of us have bore witness to.
For a season that didn’t kick off until the 24th of July, the team would see 18 players and staff test positive for COVID-19, raising cause for concern about whether a season was even possible amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fortunately for many, there would be a season and for fans of the Miami Marlins, 2020 would gift more surprises than first-expected.
Finishing the year 31-29, the team’s first winning season since 2009, the Marlins found themselves victorious in the Wild Card round against a Chicago Cubs team whose window appears to be nearing its expiration. Though they were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series, for a team many expected to be cellar-dwellers in the ever-changing National League East, 2020 can best be seen as a year of growth for the Fish.
At the center of what looks to be the embryonic fruits of a return to a place of relevancy and respect is third baseman Brian Anderson.
Without batting a blind-eye, shortstop and team captain Miguel Rojas is the heart and soul of the Don Mattingly-led Marlins, but were one to be posed the question of who serves as a major building block to this team’s success as they move forward with what has been a Sisyphus-esque rebuild, Anderson would be the position player most would argue to build around moving forward.
Since becoming the team’s full-time third baseman in 2018, Anderson owns a steady .266/.350./436 triple-slash line with an OPS+ of 113, respectively. In the greatly-reduced 2020-season, Anderson played in 59 of the team’s 60 games, finishing with a career high 119 OPS+, smashing 11 home runs in 229 plate appearances.
These numbers, while not exactly on par with some of the sport’s elite offensive players, prove Anderson more than serviceable as a big-league hitter. The separator, however, is the former Arkansas Razorback’s defensive aptitude.
While winning a Gold Glove at the hot corner may prove difficult so long as Colorado’s Nolan Arenado remains in the senior circuit, Anderson finished the 2020 season with +4 defensive runs saved in 56 games at third base while also making a 1-game cameo at first base, a position he had never played professionally prior to doing so on August 5th against Baltimore.
A partial right fielder prior to 2020, Anderson played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right last season, finishing with 5 defensive runs saved in just 55 games played. While ruling out the possibility of Anderson manning the corner once occupied by Giancarlo Stanton isn’t totally out of the possibility—given in large part to the offensive struggles of the likes of former top prospect Lewis Brinson—Anderson is an asset at third base because of this aforementioned defensive aptitude.
WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a statistic, while, not universally accepted by the baseball community, looks to account for all of a player’s on-the-field contributions. Per baseball-reference, since the start of the 2018 season, his first as an everyday player, Anderson ranks 8th in WAR among third basemen with at least 200 games played, with 8.7 rWAR, respectively.
For the 2020 season, Anderson finished with 1.7 rWAR (baseball-reference), good enough for 7th amongst all qualified third basemen.
Anderson showed some resiliency in 2020 as well, hitting .400 across 12 Division Series plate appearances against Atlanta after going 0-for-9 with 4 strikeouts the Wild Card series against Chicago.
While Anderson may never be a dominant power hitter by MLB standards, a 30 home run season—in conjunction with hardware-worthy defense—isn’t out of the realm of possibility and would only further establish him amongst the elite at the hot corner.
For a Marlins team on the rise, signing Anderson long term should be the first in a slew of a business-savvy moves CEO Derek Jeter and Co. jump on to hold together the next core of winning Marlins baseball.