Outfielder Magneuris Sierra only had 53 plate appearances for the Marlins during the 2020 season—plus 11 more in October—but still gave us a lot to think about. Let’s dive right into it.
Midway through spring training, Sierra’s fit with the organization looked tenuous. The Marlins made a concerted effort to get Jonathan Villar comfortable in center field, flanking him with veteran free agent signings Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce. Though the Dominican speedster got semi-regular reps in the Grapefruit League (20 PA in 14 G), his production paled in comparison to Harold Ramirez, Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison. Considering all of that competition and without the flexibility to option Mags to the minor leagues, the club was days away from deciding whether to squeeze him onto the Opening Day roster or put him on the trading block.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic helped Sierra’s career.
When Major League Baseball resumed in the summer, it did so with an expanded active roster size (30 spots instead of 26) and a universal designated hitter rule. That meant Sierra could have a role that accentuated his strengths without necessarily pushing valuable vets to the bench. So he made the roster over Brinson (COVID-19 recovery) and Harrison, who the Marlins wanted to continue honing his craft at the alternate training site in Jupiter.
Sierra quickly went from accessory to essential when the virus outbreak enveloped the club’s traveling party during the season-opening series in Philadelphia. Villar had to return to his middle infield roots in the absences of Isan Díaz and Miguel Rojas, creating a void in center field.
The Marlins won each of the first eight games (six starts) that Sierra played in. He recorded four stolen bases in August and frequently used his legs to gain extra bases on balls in play, too (e.g. scoring from second base on a single). He did not consistently make quality contact—18.4 Hard Hit% was barely half the MLB average, according to Baseball Savant—but occasionally showed warning track power. This season featured three of the four farthest batted balls of Sierra’s major league career.
Unfortunately, a right hamstring strain sidelined Sierra for one month (essentially half the season), making it difficult to draw conclusions from what was such a tiny sample size. However, he gained some valuable experience in the postseason, starting four straight games as the replacement for an injured Starling Marte.
- FanGraphs valued Sierra at 0.5 Wins Above Replacement, tops among all Marlins outfielders (if we’re counting Jon Berti and his 0.9 fWAR as an infielder/utility type instead).
- The 24-year-old’s Sprint Speed of 29.0 ft/sec was a career low, but still good enough for 95th percentile in the majors this season, per Baseball Savant.
- Through 315 career plate appearances, Sierra has never homered or grounded into a double play. There aren’t any other active players with substantial playing time who have zeroes in both categories.
- He also remains barrel-less thus far in his career.
High Points: Hitting extra-inning, go-ahead RBI single vs. Blue Jays on Aug. 12; padding lead with RBI single vs. Cubs during Oct. 2 NL Wild Card Series clincher
Low Point: Suffering hamstring strain vs. Nationals on Aug. 23
Conveniently for the 2020 Marlins, Lewis Brinson caught fire as soon as Sierra went down. That combined with the Marte trade helped keep them in postseason contention.
Would it be redundant to have both Sierra and Brinson on the roster next season? There are many variables to consider, such as what the MLB rules will be regarding roster size and the DH. Despite the Marlins’ overall success, they still have a clear need for power bats. If they, for example, start Dickerson on a daily basis in hopes of a bounce-back season and sign a veteran right fielder in free agency, that would reduce Sierra’s role. And what about Berti? He has earned the opportunity to play frequently, and he’s versatile enough for practically any defensive assignment.
Ultimately, I do not expect Sierra to still be a Marlin on 2021 Opening Day. Players with his offensive profile don’t correlate as closely with run scoring as they did in previous generations. He has suffered at least three separate hamstring injuries since the Fish acquired him, which is a red flag for someone who generates most of his value while running. And as a reminder, the club has used up all of his minor league options.
On Sierra’s best days, you can squint and see Juan Pierre 2.0. His 95 wRC+ this year was actually very comparable to JP’s tenure with the Marlins (98 wRC+ from 2003-2005). But I’m still skeptical of him maintaining that over a full-length season. An organization with so much outfield depth in the high minors and the financial flexibility to get a more proven player via free agency or trade should be exploring alternatives.
But hey, what do I know...Will Magneuris Sierra still be with the Marlins for their 2021 season opener?
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