And just like that, April has come and gone, and with it, so has the first full month of the 2023 Major League Baseball season.
Resuming a series of columns from last season, let’s dive into of the notable highs from the just-completed month before officially flipping our calendars.
The Marlins enter May fresh off four consecutive one-run wins, concluding April at 16-13. However, when you look at the underlying numbers, it’s hard to chalk up April to anything less than a bit of talent and a lot of luck.
Miami became just the second team since 1901 to finish April with a winning percentage over .500 despite being outscored by more than 30 runs (134 to 99), joining the 1984 New York Mets. According to Stathead, of the 401 teams to post a run differential of at least minus-30, only 35 have managed to finish the season with a winning record.
Among the many shortcomings that plagued the 2022 Marlins was their inability to perform in one-run games (24-40 record). In fact, their 40 one-run losses were in a four-way tie for the third-most such losses in a single season.
However, 2023’s first month brought with it a newfound penchant for winning games of this nature. Through the end of April, the Marlins are 10-0 in one-run games. They have more wins of that variety than any other MLB team this far in addition to being the only team that’s still undefeated.
Jean Segura wins it for Miami! Their first walk-off win of the year.— Isaac Azout (@IsaacAzout) April 29, 2023
The Marlins are back over .500. pic.twitter.com/itri9lTxXP
A major adjustment seems to be the club’s uptick in performance in the latter third of games. After posting a collective .615 OPS in innings 7-9 last year, Miami enters May OPS’ing at a .758 clip, good enough for 8th in the Majors. Though this is something one would expect to even out as the season goes on, you’d be hard-pressed to count Miami out when it’s close late.
(Don’t) Bring in the Lefty
Remember how last year’s Miami Marlins couldn’t hit left-handed pitching if their lives depended on it? Their .597 OPS against southpaws in 2022 was historically bad, the lowest such mark in half a century.
Fast forward to 2023 and this is another split that they’ve improved upon. Their .778 OPS (114 sOPS+) against the minority arm is good enough for 8th-best in the Majors. If that even sustains itself at a league-average level, look for the Fish to certainly win more than the 69 victories they did a season ago.
Tale of Two Garretts
If you’re like me, the news that Miami had signed INF/OF Garrett Hampson to a minor league deal ahead of Spring Training did little in furthering your excitement for the season that lay ahead. But given what he’s done in his short time here, I guess we can defer to Kim and Co. knowing something we don’t.
Entering play on Tuesday, Hampson has provided the Marlins bench a boost, hitting .267/.313/.467 while seeing time at four defensive positions.
Hampson further solidified his role with the club in the April finale last Sunday, ripping two doubles in Miami’s 4-3 win over the upstart Cubs.
The other Garrett in question is one Marlins fans are more familiar with, that being Braxton Garrett. After yo-yo-ing between the minor and Major leagues between 2020 and 2021, Garrett demonstrated that he belonged at the highest level in 2022, posting a 3.58 ERA over 17 starts.
Though he began the season in the bullpen, an injury to veteran acquisition Johnny Cueto quickly forced Garrett back into the starting rotation, and he hasn’t looked back ever since. In 19 innings over 4 starts, the former 1st-round pick has a 1.89 ERA. Dating back to the start of 2022, Garrett owns a 3.35 ERA (122 ERA+) over 110 innings pitched.
After years of questioning whether Miami would get anything positive out of their left-hander, now the question is how you could even consider demoting him once Cueto and Trevor Rogers get healthy.
Strong first inning for Braxton Garrett with two strikeouts. Great slider here to get Olson. pic.twitter.com/koTyhjTxP3— Nick (@Nick_0305_) April 27, 2023
You’ve Been Puk’d
When the Marlins parted ways with former prospect JJ Bleday in a one-one swap for SP/RP A.J. Puk, fans at the time were dubbing the trade an absolute fleece. Bleday’s first taste of big-league baseball resulted in a .586 OPS and -0.5 bWAR over a 65-game sample, while Puk overcame many injury-riddled seasons to post a 3.12 ERA over 66 1⁄3 relief innings.
Though first-year manager Skip Schumaker initially noted the team would approach the 9th inning with a closer-by-committee ethos, Puk has gotten a bulk of the opportunities in the game’s final inning (5 of the team’s 8 saves).
Puk’s 0.75 ERA in the month of April registered as the 7th-lowest in club history with a minimum of 10 innings pitched. His 3.05 FIP suggests some luck has been involved—his 9.8 K/9 is pedestrian even for late-inning reliever standards—but Puk has been pretty close to automatic for Miami through their first month of play.
AJ Puk, Sick 84mph Sweeper...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/27HapAEKzt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 29, 2023
Not wanting to sound too hyperbolic in our praises for Luis Arraez, we’ll just note his slash line as we begin the month of May: .438/.500/.551/1.051 (190 OPS+).
Sure, we can marvel at the fact he’ll play May games firmly above the vaunted .400 batting average mark, but how about doing it while striking out just 4.9% of the time? He has more than twice as many RBI (11) than he does strikeouts (5)!
I will admit to, on multiple occasions, being guilty of comparing Arraez’s career thus far to that of the great Tony Gwynn. The sheer combination of bat-to-ball skills and the ability to consistently find vacant areas of the field are what make it such a fun exercise in honoring legends of the game’s past.
Luis Arraez's first 411 career games: .320/.380/.417/.797, 478 H— Louis Addeo-Weiss (@addeo_louis00) April 28, 2023
Tony Gwynn's first 411 career games: .322/.372/.411/.784, 503 H
One month into his Marlins tenure, what Arraez is doing at the plate isn’t even all that surprising considering his special skill set. More satisfying is the fact that he’s managed to play well-above-average defense. That’s why his 1.6 bWAR is MLB’s best among second basemen.
Luis Arraez has 4 DRS so far this season at 2B, tied with Andrés Giménez and Ha-Seong Kim for second most in MLB. pic.twitter.com/7qW78CqIdM— Louis Addeo-Weiss (@addeo_louis00) April 30, 2023
We talk about trades that work well for both teams, and this is the dictionary definition of that. The Twins have benefited from the innings gifted to them by Pablo López and are so bullish on his future that they committed $73.5M to him over the next four seasons to keep him in the Twin Cities. Many a Marlins fan are calling for Arraez to receive an extension of his own.
I’m breaking my vow to avoid hyperbole: Luis Arraez may be the best trade acquisition in Marlins history!