I promise, I am not trying to antagonize Dan Greenlee or the Marlins with this headline. That is just my main takeaway from listening to Greenlee’s interview with Craig Mish and Jeremy Taché on the Swings and Mishes podcast on Thursday.
“If nothing else, this is a very competitive team,” Greenlee says.
That is irrefutable. The Marlins have scored more runs than they’ve allowed, seldom losing games by large margins. The successful analyst turned front office executive insists on Swings and Mishes that their 20-28 record (.417 winning percentage) belies how much talent is on the roster. Greenlee says that he and his colleagues care about turning their season around just as much as the fans do. But he doesn’t make a convincing case that they’ll be able to overcome their sizable deficit in the standings to legitimately contend for a postseason berth.
Greenlee was pressed about the two most frustrating aspects of the 2022 Marlins, beginning with the offense’s inability to capitalize with runners on base. He cites weighted runs created plus (wRC+)—a stat we use here on Fish Stripes every single day (often multiple times per day)—to validate that the Marlins lineup is doing the important stuff well. Entering Thursday, they are tied for ninth among MLB teams with a 107 wRC+ (100 represented league average). That’s a positive.
“The hard part is becoming a good offense,” Greenlee says, “and these guys who have demonstrated an ability to get on base and hit for power are ultimately gonna be able to come up in those [clutch] moments and succeed at an average rate or an above-average rate relative to the rest of the league, just like they have at all other moments.”
However, there are more ingredients that contribute to how many runs a team actually scores. The Marlins rank 25th in the majors at making “productive outs,” per Baseball-Reference. They’re similarly tied for 25th in extra bases taken. Moreover, two valuable, versatile and experienced pieces of the Marlins roster—Brian Anderson (128 wRC+) and Joey Wendle (119 wRC+)—both landed on the injured list this week. Is this offense going to sustain its April/May pace when most of the Anderson/Wendle reps are going to Willians Astudillo and Luke Williams?
The other “frustrating aspect” is the closer carousel. The Marlins pitching staff has consistently faltered in the ninth inning this season, whether it’s been Anthony Bender or Cole Sulser or anybody else who receives those high-leverage opportunities. Shocking! Not really.
From what I could tell, the vast majority of fans correctly recognized there was a need to upgrade in that area over the winter—I personally advocated for signing Kenley Jansen or trading to get the Brewers’ Josh Hader (if available). When Dylan Floro suffered a setback during spring training, at least the Marlins did something by acquiring Sulser and Tanner Scott from the Orioles. Greenlee admits that there have been “trade concepts” presented to the Fish in the past featuring traditional shutdown closers, but those asking prices were unreasonable, he says.
More from Greenlee:
“You have clubs, when they don’t necessarily have Josh Hader in house, they go this route of trying to get as many complete and competent bullpen pieces as they can and hoping that all can be trusted probably to keep us in games and some players will rise to be effective, backend options. So far, that group through two months has been really good at keeping us in games when behind and less effective at protecting small leads. We think there’s enough talent there for the latter portion of that area to change. The past few years have shown we’ve been able to identify those guys and those guys have been successful. Just through two months of this season, we just haven’t had the same fortune in that inning in particular.”
Greenlee defends the Marlins’ decision to keep Elieser Hernandez in the starting rotation with the claim that “home run rate is one of the most volatile features of a pitcher.” Hernandez has allowed 14 long balls in 43 2⁄3 innings pitched. “You’d like to think that’s gonna normalize,” Greenlee says.
Why Greenlee thinks that is unclear. Putting the stats aside for a moment, simply watch the games and you see that Hernandez lacks the quality of stuff and the diversity of pitch types to overcome his imprecise command. The majority of homers against him comfortably sail over the fence. Bad luck doesn’t satisfactorily explain his struggles.
In all five of his MLB seasons (2018-2022), Hernandez has posted a HR/9 rate of at least 1.5. Via Stathead, I found that the only other MLB pitchers with that same unfortunate distinction are Heath Hembree, Yoan López and Emilio Pagán. Those are relief-only types who have thrown fewer innings than Hernandez.
At the end of the interview, Greenlee referenced the slow-starting 2021 Braves who aggressively added veteran talent at the trade deadline despite low playoff odds and went on to win the World Series. He stopped short of directly comparing them to the Marlins, but...yikes. That’s no way to manage the fans’ expectations. For what it’s worth, the Marlins’ current playoff odds are 7.8%, according to FanGraphs.
Anyway, take a listen for yourself.