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Jesús Aguilar: It Might Be Time to Face It

How much longer can the Marlins expect to win with this kind of 1B production?

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Through 11 games into the 2022 season, the Miami Marlins are sitting at 4-7. Surprisingly, the team entered play Wednesday with a 109 wRC+, good enough for 12th in the Majors. This, despite giving regular playing time to first baseman/designated hitter Jesús Aguilar.

The Venezuelan’s first two seasons in Miami were somewhat of a career renaissance. In 181 games between 2020-2021, Aguilar hit .265/.336/.458 (113 OPS+). His 30 HR and 127 RBI paced the club during that span.

But now, two weeks into a critical season of the club’s rebuild, manager Don Mattingly has penciled Aguilar’s name into the lineup in all but one game. He’s been rotating with Garrett Cooper between 1B and DH.

Through April 20, Aguilar has hit .171 with a .433 OPS in 42 plate appearances. In 5 games as a first baseman this year, he has fared especially poorly, hitting .167 with a .357 OPS.

The roots of Aguilar’s struggles can be traced back to 2021. Through August 15 of that season, he had a .823 OPS, hitting 22 home runs whilst driving in 86 in a slightly above-average 1.08 leverage index. Since the start of play the following day, among the 285 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Aguilar’s 44 wRC+ ranks in the bottom 10. He hasn’t homered once during that span, posting a league-worst .022 ISO (285th of 285) and accruing -0.7 fWAR.

Some of this may be attributed to a knee injury that cost Aguilar virtually the last month of play and required season-ending surgery. With few exceptions, he’s constantly making soft contact, translating to an 8th-percentile expected slugging percentage. Whatever the reason for his deep decline, continuing to put this version of Aguilar in such a prominent role is not conducive to winning games.

Jesús Aguilar’s 2022 Statcast Percentile Rankings
Jesús Aguilar’s 2022 Statcast Percentile Rankings
Baseball Savant

Meanwhile, Lewin Díaz is off to a hot start in AAA (.948 OPS in his first 13 G). Miami would be foolish to keep him down on the farm if that sustains much longer. We know too of Díaz’s prowess defensively, as he tied with Paul Goldschmidt for the league-wide lead in DRS at first base in 2021, saving 9 runs in just 258 13 innings.

Aguilar, while serviceable at the position (+4 DRS since ‘21), turns 32 in June.

Questions surrounding Díaz’s bat are valid, as attested by a career 64 OPS+ in 169 plate appearances. However, the defensive value could do enough to offset him being a work-in-progress in that department.

With what the raw data illustrates, Jesús Aguilar has gone from a once-professional hitter to a glorified bench bat. On a club that has recently been unable to develop its core of position players, it’s getting difficult to continue justifying blocking a talented internal option like Díaz.