First baseman Jesús Aguilar was one of the bets the Marlins made during the last offseason and it paid off. Motivated to get in better physical shape, the Venezuelan proved to be a threat at the plate. Let’s take a look at his season.
After the Tampa Bay Rays made clear last winter that there wasn’t room for Aguilar by placing him on waivers, the Marlins addressed one of their needs. They claimed the 30-year-old hoping he could regain the form he showed back in 2018, when he made the All-Star team and hit 25 doubles, 35 home runs, and drove in 108 runs.
Fortunately for the Fish, he did look great all year long. It all started fantastically for Aguilar: a two-run knock on July 24 during the first game of the season. By the end of his fourth game, he had sent three balls over the yard.
As the days passed, the Maracay native kept raking in the heart of the lineup while splitting DH and 1B duties with Garrett Cooper. When all was said and done, Aguilar led the team in hits (52), doubles (10—tied with Miguel Rojas), walks (23—tied with Jon Berti), and had the second-best mark in home runs (8), ribbies (34) and extra-base hits (18).
The Marlins made the most out of the $953,704 adjusted salary they paid to Aguilar. He ended up being one of the most valuable players in 2020 for the Fish offense, in fact earning team MVP honors from the South Florida chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Some of the reasons for Aguilar’s success at the plate included limiting ground balls (GB% decreased from 42.9% in 2019 to 37.5% in 2020), doing damage against fastballs again after struggling a year ago, and continuing to increase his contact percentage:
- 2017: 68.8%
- 2018: 72.6%
- 2019: 75.6%
- 2020: 79.9%
- His hard contact rate keeps falling down, according to FanGraphs. Since 2017, it’s decreased steadily from 45.2% to 35.5% in 2020.
- At the same time, Aguilar’s strikeout percentage has decreased notably as well. It was 30.2% in 2017, but 18.5% in 2020. His contact rate improvement likely has a lot to do with this.
- Among Marlins hitters with at least 100 batted balls in 2020, Aguilar had the best exit velocity (89.3 MPH), according to Statcast.
High points: Hitting a clutch two-run home run on Opening Day against the Phillies (video #1); driving in four runs at Toronto on August 12; swatting a two-run goner to extend the Marlins’ lead vs. the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLWC on September 30 (video #2).
Low point: Going 2-for-16 with six strikeouts, no RBI, and no extra-base hits in the final four games of the postseason for the Fish.
Because of how much Aguilar meant to the Marlins lineup and their clubhouse, we are assuming that there will eventually be an agreement in place for 2021 or a salary arbitration hearing (like they had in 2020). However, with a new general manager potentially coming in from outside the organization and some confusion about how arbitration-eligible players will be viewed by the independent panel, there is a scenario in which the 30-year-old gets non-tendered.
Aguilar was on pace to hit 32 doubles, 26 home runs, and to collect 108 ribbies in a hypothetical 162-game campaign. He secured regular reps at 1B and DH duties alongside Cooper, though we are still awaiting for confirmation from Major League Baseball about whether the DH will be used universally again next season. His fit with the Fish makes more sense if that’s the case.
Jesús hasn’t stopped working and improving at the plate—that’s what I like most about him. He’s taking more walks and striking out less while keeping his power and his ability to hit extra bases. For a Marlins lineup that’s still lacking in over-the-fence threats, his well-rounded offensive game is so important.