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Go Fish: Why Miami Must Move on From Bass

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The Marlins’ reliever is finishing up the first season of a two-year/$5M deal.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With their 8-6 victory over the Washington Nationals Wednesday, the Miami Marlins improved their record to 62-84 in a season that started with a slew of reasons to be excited.

For one, the team entered 2021 hot-off their first postseason berth in 17 years, ultimately losing to the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

Manager Don Mattingly guided a covid-stricken ship to a 31-29 record en-route to garnering NL Manager of the Year honors.

Third baseman Brian Anderson built on a strong 2019 showing to post a career-best 116 OPS+ while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base, and Sixto Sánchez gave Miami fans, and those of baseball in general for that matter, a glimpse into what Derek Jeter and co. were building near South Beach.

However, the team, playing under first-year GM Kim Ng, experienced a rash of injuries—the aforementioned Anderson and Sánchez, to name a few—and prolonged periods of milk-carton missing offense to get to where they are now.

He is not the sole reason for what can best be described as a lost season, but Anthony Bass certainly hasn’t given the Marlins what they expected.

From 2018-2020, Bass enjoyed the best stretch of his career, posting a 3.44 ERA (127 ERA+) over 89 innings pitched. The Marlins understandably projected more of the same when the usually tight-fisted organization shelled out a 2-year/$5M deal to the journeyman reliever.

The surface-level numbers for Bass this year don’t appear too concerning—4.18 ERA with 57 strikeouts over 56 innings pitched. However, it’s the underlying metrics that illustrate why he has been so painful to watch on a regular basis.

No other MLB pitcher has been charged with more losses in 2021 while being used as a traditional reliever than Bass (8). He’s tied with Alex Reyes (Cardinals) and former teammate Yimi García in that department.

Bass entered Wednesday as the owner of a 5.11 FIP, 4.63 xERA (expected ERA), and -0.5 fWAR, according to FanGraphs. He then proceeded to allow two unearned runs to the Nationals in a critical spot, unable to overcome an Isan Díaz error.

When looking beyond the expected statistics, concerning too is Bass’ 1.32 WHIP, thanks in large part to his 24 walks. Oddly enough, though, 2021 represents the right-hander’s best percentage of strikes thrown at 64%.

Bass’ struggles frequently arise in high-leverage situations. This season, in these high-leverage situations, which Baseball-Reference defines as “a value over 1.5 (20% of plays),” where 1.0 is seen as average leverage, hitters have slashed .309/.420/.491 in 70 plate appearances. He’s a liability overall, according to WPA/LI, a metric that divides a player’s win probability by the leverage index of each play that they are a part of. His -0.40 mark—that’s right, negative 0.40—ranks 191st among pitchers to throw at least 50 innings, per Stathead.

In other words, when it matters most, Bass is among the more unreliable pitchers in the sport. And for a team with playoff aspirations in a division constantly in flux, the NL East, handing the ball to Anthony Bass in the later innings has been a formula for disaster.

For $3M in 2022, despite the Marlins’ general reluctance to spend without the intention of netting return, they may be best suited to walk away from what may be another season-long late-inning dilemma with Bass.