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The Marlins had a historic pickoff problem

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These unforced mistakes get magnified when you’re constantly losing games by small margins like the 2021 Marlins did.

Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies catches a pick-off throw as Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins slides back during the first inning at loanDepot park Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It wasn’t enough to simply be a bad team: the 2021 Marlins had a propensity to infuriate us. This came in several forms, ranging from roster moves to batting order configurations and in-game substitutions to fundamental gaffes by the players themselves.

In the absence of elite offensive talent, the Marlins needed to do all the little things right to produce runs at a respectable level. Unfortunately, they couldn’t.

Marlins baserunners were picked off 23 times this season. That’s an average of once every seven games or nearly once per week. They totaled the most pickoffs in Major League Baseball by far—no other team had more than 13 (Mets and Nationals). And that’s despite rarely getting on base in the first place (.298 OBP ranked 29th in MLB).

Eleven Marlins players—Isan Díaz, Miguel Rojas, Bryan De La Cruz, Jesús Sánchez, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Starling Marte, Jon Berti, Magneuris Sierra, Corey Dickerson, Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach—combined to set an ignominious single-season franchise record in this department. It was contagious!

I wanted to rewatch each of these mistakes to better understand what went wrong. Then, I paired the broadcast footage with Statcast’s player-tracking simulator for you to “enjoy” as well:

If I had to rank the three most infuriating Marlins pickoffs of the season...

  1. Rojas caught by Rafael Marchan (Phillies) with the Marlins down 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth—He was the trail runner! Where was he trying to go? Moreover, Rojas sustained a finger injury diving back to the first base bag. He missed several weeks on the IL as a result and had to play through discomfort for the rest of the season.
  2. Sierra caught by Jeurys Familia (Mets) with the Marlins tied 1-1 in the top of the eighth—This was a doubleheader game and therefore an extra-inning situation. By rule, Sierra was placed on second base to begin the inning with nobody out. The batter Rojas was squared around to bunt on the pitch, but Sierra made his break for third too early. With Sierra’s elite speed, it was unnecessary for him to “cheat” like that to make the sacrifice successful.
  3. Isan Díaz caught by Elias Díaz (Rockies) with the Marlins down 4-3 in the bottom of the sixth—Ah, the rare strikeout/pickoff double play. Miami’s individual pickoff leader with four, Isan drifted off first base here for no particular reason. Even before the pitch arrived at the plate, you can Elias squaring his shoulders to throw. First baseman C.J. Cron was standing within a few feet of the base the entire time and applied the tag easily.

Nearly half of the Marlins’ pickoffs followed a similar pattern of failing to react quickly enough to a pitcher’s step-off and throw over. I’m not sure how fixable that is. According to Statcast, Marlins baserunners this season took an average primary lead of 11.7 feet, tied for the third-shortest in the majors. Covering that distance shouldn’t have been such a challenge for numerous players.

However, the overview is mildly encouraging. Miami’s pickoff pace slowed down as the season progressed. About 70% (16 of 23) occurred before the All-Star break. Marte, Dickerson and Wallach are no longer with the Marlins organization, and I project Díaz, Sierra and Alfaro to be gone/buried in the minors in 2022—these were the culprits behind 12 of the pickoffs. Also keep in mind that first base coach Keith Johnson had a brief absence from the team. At least two of the first base pickoffs came under the watch of Eddy Rodríguez, who filled in for Johnson.

Considering all elements, the Marlins actually rated as an average baserunning team in 2021 (0.4 BsR on FanGraphs and 1 Rbaser on Baseball-Reference). But understandably, when you’re constantly losing games by small margins, the miscues get magnified.