2020 Record: 31-29
Second place, NL East
Team ERA: 4.86 (21st in MLB)
Team OPS: .703 (23rd in MLB)
What Went Right
Coming off a 105-loss season and back-to-back last-place finishes, the Marlins made the playoffs for the first time since 2003 while finishing over .500 for the first time since 2009. They beat the favorite Cubs in the Wild Card Series before being eliminated by the division rival Braves. It was a successful year for Don Mattingly's club, full stop. It was even more impressive after the team experienced a COVID-19 outbreak shortly after the start of the 60-game campaign. Miguel Rojas was the team’s best all-around player, hitting .304 with a .392 on-base percentage while playing excellent defense at shortstop. The rotation saw exciting contributions from the likes of Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, top prospect Sixto Sanchez, and Elieser Hernandez. We also saw the arrivals of Trevor Rogers and Braxton Garrett. Waiver claim Jesus Aguilar enjoyed a nice rebound after a rough year between the Brewers and Rays. Brian Anderson largely duplicated his solid 2019 season while Garrett Cooper was one of the team’s best hitters after missing time due to COVID-19. Jon Berti was once again productive in a utility role, playing five different positions. Brandon Kintzler outperformed his peripherals while posting a 2.22 ERA as the Marlins’ closer. The team’s bullpen also got some strong contributions from Yimi Garcia, James Hoyt, Richard Bleier, and Brad Boxberger.
What Went Wrong
The Marlins had their season temporarily paused after 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week of the season. The obvious health concern outweighs everything, but it also caused crazy roster turnover. A number of prominent players were involved, including the likes of Miguel Rojas, Sandy Alcantara, Jorge Alfaro, Garrett Cooper, Caleb Smith, Jose Urena, and Harold Ramirez. Isan Diaz opted out following the outbreak before later changing his mind, though his return lasted just five games before he went down with a left groin strain. He’s going to have to earn his spot next year. Alfaro struggled to get his season on track after returning from his COVID-19 diagnosis and Harold Ramirez suffered a season-ending hamstring strain almost immediately after his return. Jose Urena had his second straight disappointing season before suffering a non-displaced ulnar fracture in his right forearm on a comebacker in late September. While the sample sizes were admittedly small, the team’s position player call-ups (Jazz Chisholm, Monte Harrison, Lewin Diaz, and Jesus Sanchez) didn’t exactly thrive in their first exposure to the majors.
**The Marlins’ lineup still leaves a lot to be desired, both in real life and fantasy leagues. They were able to secure a noteworthy upgrade at the August trade deadline, with Starling Marte coming over from the Diamondbacks for Caleb Smith, Humberto Mejia, and a player to be named later. Marte might not have matched his ADP (average draft position) in terms of production this season, but he wasn’t far off either, slashing .281/.340/.430 with six homers, 27 RBI, 10 steals, and 36 runs scored over 61 games. The power was lacking compared to the past two seasons and it was accompanied by decreases in barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and average exit velocity. Still, he makes a lot of contact and there’s every reason to think he’ll be a valuable all-around contributor again in 2021. It would help if the Marlins improve the supporting cast, though.
**The Marlins’ rotation might already be the strength of this team and Sixto Sanchez has the potential to be the ace. As with most young pitchers, he experienced some ups and downs during his first stint in the majors. Lighting up the radar gun, the 22-year-old dominated out of the gate with a 1.69 ERA and 29/5 K/BB ratio through his first five starts before giving up nine runs over his final two regular season starts. Only Jacob deGrom threw more pitches at 99 mph+ during the regular season. Sanchez then blanked the Cubs over five innings in the Wild Card Series before the Braves got to him for four runs in three innings in the NLDS. Despite the huge velocity, Sanchez didn’t pile up huge strikeout numbers (something that we saw in the minors too), but he’s always shown good control with a knack for keeping the ball on the ground. Even with questions about workload, he’s going to be a very popular pitcher in drafts next year. And rightfully so.
**Sanchez got most of the attention this year, but there’s plenty of love to go around in this rotation as Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara should be mixed league mainstays. Lopez, 24, posted a strong 3.61 ERA and 59/18 K/BB ratio in 57 1/3 innings over 11 starts this season. Keep in mind that included one disaster start where he gave up seven runs in 1/2 innings against the Braves. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine out of his 11 starts overall. Alcantara was one of the Marlins players who was hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, but he was still very good when healthy, compiling a .3.00 ERA and 39/15 K/BB ratio in 42 innings across seven starts. In the limited sample, he improved his strikeout and walk percentages while doing a better job keeping the ball on the ground. Both Lopez and Alcantara make for respectable fourth starters on a mixed league staff, but there’s the potential for more. Elieser Hernandez was great (3.16 ERA, 34/5 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings) in his limited time with the Marlins before going down with a lat injury and will be worthy of consideration in mixed leagues assuming he’s healthy in the spring.
**On the surface, Brian Anderson turned in a comparable follow-up to his productive 2019 campaign, batting .255/.345/.465 with 11 homers and 38 RBI over 59 games. However, how he got there was quite a bit different. Anderson’s strikeout rate climbed from 21.9 percent all the way to 28.8 percent as he was much more aggressive swinging at pitches in the strike zone. His production against breaking pitches completely fell off the table, which isn’t the best news at a time when pitchers at throwing fewer fastballs in general. He also saw decreases in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. Anderson still has multi-position eligibility in his favor, but he doesn’t stand out in regard to power or batting average and he doesn’t offer much in the speed department either. There’s value here, but fantasy players figure to chase more upside in the later rounds of mixed league drafts.
**Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star in 2018, but he faded with a .236/.325/.389 batting line between the Brewers and Rays last year before the Marlins plucked him off waivers. It was exactly the sort of gamble a team like the Marlins should be making. And it paid off for them, as Aguilar bounced back with a quality .277/.352/.457 batting line and eight homers over 51 games. His contact rate was much higher than anything we’ve seen in the past (18.5 K rate, down from 22 in 2019 and 25.3 percent in 2018), but he didn’t stand out in the popular power metrics. There’s no doubt he’s a productive hitter, but the Marlins could have some tough decisions to make if the DH doesn’t stick around for 2021. Garrett Cooper (.853 OPS in 34 games this year) is a good hitter in his own right and Lewin Diaz is also around. Something to think about with teams trying to save money this offseason.
**Monte Harrison hit .170/.235/.255 with a 26/4 K/BB ratio in 51 plate appearances during his time with the Marlins this season while Jazz Chisholm batted .161/.242/.321 with a 19/5 K/BB ratio in 62 plate appearances. These are obviously very small samples, but making contact was an issue for each of them in the minors and there’s still work to do here. Any fantasy player worth their salt (especially in a dynasty league) will be watching these guys. The potential remains intriguing. But it’s hard to project any sort of legitimate breakthrough just yet. The same goes for Isan Diaz, who holds a .174/.251/.294 batting line through 223 plate appearances in the majors. The Marlins really need to hit on one of these young position players. It hasn’t happened yet.
**Fun with small samples here. Miguel Rojas had the same wOBA (.379) as free-agent-to-be George Springer and checked in higher than the likes of Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Trevor Story, Ian Happ, and Xander Bogaerts. He was also quite useful in mixed leagues, batting .304/.392/.496 with four homers, 20 RBI, 20 runs scored, and five steals over 40 games. His overall numbers might have looked better if he didn’t miss time due to COVID-19. Rojas is a high contact/low exit velocity guy and he managed just one barrel in 107 batted balls this year. He doesn’t have great speed and primarily hits in the bottom-third of the Marlins’ order, so there’s always going to be a ceiling to what he can provide in fantasy leagues. It’s not exactly a newsflash to competitive fantasy players, but keeping things in perspective is always a good thing.
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Team Needs: First order of business is to settle on a replacement after president of baseball operations Michael Hill was let go after 19 seasons with the organization. Billy Eppler, who has a history with Derek Jeter, has been mentioned as a possibility. The Marlins are one of the few teams where starting pitching doesn’t necessarily need to be high on their wish list. Instead, they need to procure a big bat for the middle of this lineup. The Marlins were fifth from the bottom in home runs this season. A reunion with Marcell Ozuna would be ideal and George Springer would look great, but obviously they are top-of-the-market talent. Will the Marlins finally break the bank? The return of Brandon Kintzler hasn’t been ruled out, but either way, the Marlins figure to land a couple of back-end arms.