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What Went Well: First Half

There were positives from the first half of the 2022 Marlins season that are worth noting.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) delivers a pitch during the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at loanDepot Park. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

We are 91 games into the 2022 season and the Miami Marlins sit at 43-48. The team is currently in 4th place in the NL East and enters the “second half” with only a slim chance to make the playoffs (1.8% per Baseball-Reference and 2.9% per FanGraphs).

Thus far, the return on the $89M that Bruce Sherman committed to Jorge Soler and Avísail García has netted them -0.1 rWAR, with all of the positive value coming from the power of Soler, who posted just a .299 OBP in 70 games played. Jazz Chisholm Jr. has lost large chunks of his season to injury and Trevor Rogers and Jesús Sánchez are enduring sophomore slumps.

As the title may suggest, though, let us use this opportunity to escape from an otherwise disappointing season and reflect on the bright spots.

Smoother Jazz

When anointed the everyday 2nd baseman’s job ahead of the 2021 season, Jazz Chisholm Jr. gave baseball another young star worth paying attention to, albeit one whose raw talent had yet to be refined. Between 2020-21, Chisholm became just the 21st player in baseball history to hit at least 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in his first 145 career games. That’s despite 164 strikeouts in those games and a .296 OBP which ranked 20th among those to do so.

The 2022 version of Chisholm would appear more mature, and more polished, hitting 14 home runs, stealing 12 bases, and posting a 140 OPS+ en route to earning the start at 2nd base for the NL in the All-Star Game. While a back strain may have cost him the chance to play in the Midsummer Classic, should this be a sign of things to come, the Marlins’ young star could be a perennial participant in the event for years to come.

Did we also mention he’s 5th among 2nd basemen with 9 DRS since the start of 2021 according to Fielding Bible? Well, he is.

Sandy Days in South Beach

The Sandy Alcantara who graced the Major League Baseball landscape from 2017-2021 was successful. The former top pitching prospect of the St. Louis Cardinals posted a 121 ERA+ over 487 13 innings over that span, garnering an All-Star nod for his efforts in 2019.

Come 2022, Alcantara has blossomed into arguably the sport’s best pitcher.

In an MLB-best 138 13 innings pitched in the first half—one that lead many a publication to champion for his starting the All-Star Game—Alcantara also boasted the NL’s best ERA (1.76). He led the majors in complete games (2), batters faced (524), Adjusted ERA+ (233), and rWAR (5.3). The Marlins’ ace enters the second half in the midst of a 13-start streak of pitching at least 7 innings.

While no pitcher in the 30 seasons of Miami baseball has been bestowed the NL Cy Young, should Alcantara sustain this level of dominance, it will be hard to argue on behalf of anyone else.

All About that Bass, No Trouble

In his first season of a multi-year deal with the Marlins, Anthony Bass got off to a rocky start. While the 3.82 ERA and corresponding 110 ERA+ from him in 2021 were respectable on the surface, peripherals such as FIP tell a different story. Among the 106 relievers who pitched at least 50 innings with aLI (Average Leverage Index) of at least 1.10, Bass ranked 103rd in FIP at 4.93. In 61 13 innings, Bass allowed 11 home runs and finished in a four-way tie for losses among relievers with 9, slipping up at the worst possible moments.

Fast forward to 2022 and it’s been “new year, new me.” Lowering his WHIP from 1.29 to 0.96, Bass has authored the best season of his career to this point, allowing just 6 earned runs in 39 23 innings (1.38 ERA). In the process, he has also drastically cut back on his previous long ball propensity, with only 1 being hit against the Michigan native (0.2).

Whilst still not striking out guys with the fervor of most shutdown relievers (8.6 K/9), 2022 Bass has also set career-highs in K/BB (4.75) and FIP (2.13). From someone who wrote him off after 2021, I have to eat my words and declare Anthony Bass the best-kept secret in all of relief pitching.

A Glimpse Into the Future?

Quick trivia question: In the post-Stanton/Yelich/Ozuna era of Marlins baseball, which hitter (min. 750 PA) has the highest adjusted OPS+?

If you answered Garrett Cooper, then you’re either an ardent devotee to the franchise, a frequent Stathead user, or all of the above. He has a 117 OPS+ in 1,169 PA.

With all due respect to Cooper, a 31-year-old, oft-injured 1B/DH being the franchise’s most productive bat is evidence that a core of young, controllable positions players hasn’t exactly manifested itself.

The Marlins do, however, have reinforcements waiting in the wings. Some of them have already dipped their feet into big league waters.

Lewin Díaz is the presumed first baseman of the immediate future, but the presence of Cooper and Jesús Aguilar has made the path to playing time difficult for the 25-year-old. He has seen action in 3 major league games this season. A possible trade of one of the two vets would open the door for Díaz to assume a regular role on the 26-man roster.

In the outfield, Jerar Encarnacion announced his presence with authority, hitting a go-ahead grand slam in his MLB debut on June 19. Like Díaz, Encarnacion, JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick, and Griffin Conine are demonstrating that they can contribute if the above-mentioned Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler miss extended periods of time (or miraculously switch teams this coming winter).

The Saturday ahead of the All-Star break did see the arrival of the club’s second-rated prospect, Max Meyer, another potential star to compliment Alcantara and Co. in one of the sport’s more promising starting staffs.