AnalysisNL East

Miami Marlins Season Preview

As we prepare for the 2021 season, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s off-season and previewing the season to come. Today, Kara Godsey takes a look at the Marlins!

On the heels of Miami’s first playoff appearance in 17 years, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. The stars aligned for the Marlins in 2020, and many people attributed their success to the quirky nature of the shortened season. Rather than a fluke, consider last year to be a preview of a Marlins team three to four years in the future. While the full potential of this group likely will not materialize in a playoff appearance in this full 162-game season, the hope of future success can now be visualized.

2020 Season-In-Review

2020 was a banner year for the Marlins. After 10 straight losing seasons, Miami finally finished above .500 and even pulled off a few playoff wins. Thanks to the quirky short season, there were plenty of opportunities for the young talent to get some big league reps.

Sixto Sanchez, the Marlins ace of the future, burst onto the scene with seven starts in 2020. As a power arm with a good changeup, Sanchez showed the ability to strike batters out, to the tune of 7.62 K/9. His stuff is electric, and the Marlins play with a bit more swagger when Sixto takes the hill. In four of his seven starts, Sanchez went at least 6 innings. His ability to go deep in games will alleviate pressure on the bullpen, which has typically been a weak spot for the Marlins.

Offensively, the Marlins took a huge step forward, scoring 4.38 runs per game. In the past ten years, Miami has only eclipsed 4 runs per game in two seasons. Additionally, the Marlins greatly improved on the base paths, averaging 0.85 stolen bases per game. This is the highest rate since the 2012 squad led by Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio.

Off-season Review

Key Losses from 2020: Brandon Kintzler, Matt Joyce, Brad Boxberger, Nick Vincent

Notable Free Agent Additions: Adam Duvall, Anthony Bass, Ross Detwiler

Notable Trade Acquisitions: Adam Cimber, John Curtiss, Dylan Floro

I would grade this offseason as a B+ for Miami. The front office brought in a bevy of relief pitchers to address the noticeable lack of Major League caliber depth in the bullpen. Anthony Bass signed a 2 year, $5 million contract with the Marlins. Miami also inked journeyman Ross Detwiler to a 1 year, $850,000 contract.

While they lost a platoon bat in lefty Matt Joyce, the Marlins added considerable power with the signing of Adam Duvall to a 1 year, $5 million contract. Duvall had a very good year for the Braves last year and looks to play a big role offensively. Snatching a big bat from a division rival certainly helps the team as well.

The Marlins are not typically big spenders in the offseason, and this year was no exception. Overall, Miami seems to have high confidence in the young core as evidenced by their propensity for signing veterans to short term deals.

2021 Season Preview

Projected Lineup:
Bold denotes changes from 2020

  1. Corey Dickerson, LF
  2. Starling Marte, CF
  3. Jesus Aguilar, 1B
  4. Adam Duvall, RF
  5. Brian Anderson, 3B
  6. Miguel Rojas, SS
  7. Isan Diaz, 2B
  8. Jorge Alfaro, C
  9. Pitcher

The lineup should be fairly similar to 2020, with the addition of Duvall in the middle. Dickerson and Marte have both had success near the top of the order. Marte and Rojas may end up getting some starts in the leadoff role as well, but Dickerson was mostly plugged in at the top of the lineup card last year.

Second base will be the biggest question mark this year. I would like to see Jazz Chisholm start out the year, but it seems that the Marlins favor Isan Diaz. Defense is the category in which Chisholm holds the considerable edge, as he makes highlight reel plays with ease. If Diaz shows signs of an improved defensive effort during Spring Training, he will likely get the nod at second base. Chisholm will certainly contend for time, but may get a majority of his reps in AAA if the minor leagues happen as planned.

Another position battle to keep an eye on will be the starting catcher. Alfaro struggled mightily last year with a 71 wRC+ and an inability to effectively handle the young pitching staff. In light of this, Chad Wallach made most of the starts late in the season, especially in the playoffs. While I don’t believe either catcher is the long-term answer, it will be intriguing to see who provides the greatest benefit in the short-term.

Projected Bench:
Bold denotes changes from 2020

Last season, with the designated hitter in play, we saw many creative lineups from Don Mattingly. With two first basemen in Aguilar and Cooper, as well as a crowded outfield, the DH allowed Mattingly to keep both first basemen in the lineup without losing range in the outfield. However, this year Mattingly will need to get creative in utilizing the big bats at the first base and outfield positions. There has been some talk that Cooper may primarily be an outfielder this season, but I think it’s more likely that Cooper would give Aguilar a rest day. With a strong group of true outfielders, consistently slotting Cooper in the outfield would be a disservice to the defensive talent the Marlins have available.

The crowded outfield will surely provide some storylines this season. Dickerson, Marte, and Duvall seem like a solid, experienced everyday trio. As mentioned previously, Cooper could also be thrown in the mix of players vying for time in the outfield. And then we have Miami’s favorite, Lewis Brinson. As part of the Christian Yelich trade, hopes for Brinson have always been high. And yet, he has consistently underperformed. Brinson is coming off a season in which he improved quite a bit, and the Marlins seem eager to give him every opportunity to continue to prove himself. To me, this seems like a make it or break it year for Brinson. If he doesn’t show some serious progress at the plate, it will be hard to keep believing that he is the everyday centerfielder of the future. Lastly, Sierra provided a spark last year with his speed and could be an excellent pinch-runner this season. Although with the depth in the outfield, he may see more time in the minors this season.

Projected Rotation:
Bold denotes changes from 2020

  1. Sandy Alcantara
  2. Pablo Lopez
  3. Sixto Sanchez
  4. Elieser Hernandez
  5. Gio Gonzalez

Alcantara will return as the ace after missing a good portion of the 2020 season. Breakout arms Lopez and Sanchez will follow. The Marlins finally heard my pleas for a serviceable veteran starter, signing Gio Gonzalez to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. He will join the battle for the last rotation spot with Daniel Castano and Nick Neidert, both of whom gained experience in the starting role last season. With his big league experience, I think Gonzalez would be the best fit to round out the rotation, with either Castano or Neidert taking on a long relief role in the meantime.

Projected Bullpen:
Bold denotes changes from 2020

The bullpen is where the fruits of the offseason will be most evident. In an attempt to revamp a bullpen that lacked depth, the Marlins brought in five new arms. Bass will likely see some time as the closer, however, Yimi Garcia was very effective last season. I can see Mattingly taking a closer-by-committee approach, at least early on in the season.

Detwiler and Cimber will probably take on long relief roles, joining Bleier. Hoyt seemed to embrace the role of working out of jams last season. Curtiss, acquired in a trade from the Rays, put up a 1.80 ERA with 25 K in 25 IP last year. Curtiss was used in a variety of roles in Tampa Bay, but I would expect to see him mostly in the seventh or eighth inning for the Marlins.

Record Projections

FanGraphs Projected Record: 70.9 – 91.1, 5th place in the NL East

PECOTA Projected Record: 70.5 – 91.5, 5th place in the NL East

Personal Projection: 74 – 88, 4th place in the NL East

In 2020, the Marlins struggled to keep themselves in games sometimes. When the starting pitching went south, there was not much bullpen depth to stop the bleeding and allow the offense to chip away at the deficit. This offseason they added five arms to a lacking bullpen while retaining nearly all of the offense from last year. I believe that this will allow Miami to outperform the projections.

Last year, between the COVID outbreak and various injuries, the Marlins often were fielding a time with little to no Major League experience. This season will undoubtedly be different, especially since the Marlins have brought in a few experienced players. While the Marlins will certainly regress, 2020 was not a fluke. This team is better than the cellar, and although the NL East is stiff competition, Miami should be able to edge out at least one other team (looking at you, Phillies).

Final Thoughts

With the rebuild phase waning, the Marlins enter 2021 with refreshing confidence and a passion to prove that last year was not a fluke. The front office has repeatedly stated that winning ballgames is the goal, and this offseason they backed that statement up by making crucial moves to address areas of concern. Although playoff contention may not be in the cards for a couple more years, this young team will certainly be fun to watch in the meantime. What did we learn from 2020? Anything can happen. As a Marlins fan, that means optimism abounds.

Kara Godsey

Kara is pursuing a graduate degree in Applied Statistics. She has been a Marlins fan her entire life and dreams of working in a front office one day.

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