Archive for Marlins

The Marlins Are Doing Just Fine Without Dee Gordon

Last week, there was a little event you may have heard about called the “summer solstice.” Both calendars and my elementary-school science classes tell me that means summer just officially began. There are a few basic truths about summer’s infancy: children in your community may currently be in a state of euphoria; it’s time to plan July 4th barbeques; and, most relevant to our shared interests here at FanGraphs, there is still a lot of major-league baseball left to be played this year. As a result, the standings are largely inconsequential at the moment and still subject to massive changes before the postseason rolls around. And, yet, I’m struck by this meaningless triviality: if the season were to end today, the Miami Marlins would be a Wild Card team.

It’s not the most shocking scenario imaginable. The Marlins weren’t among the handful of rebuilding National League teams whose playoff aspirations were written off before the season even began. After all, the team boasted popular preseason picks for MVP and Cy Young in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, respectively. But this is also a team which last finished above .500 when Bryce Harper was a high-school sophomore… It wasn’t hard to have doubts that the Marlins would finally capitalize on their talent and actually field a winning team this summer, but the club is currently doing its part to help people forget those doubts. This past weekend, the Marlins took three out of four from the suddenly mortal Cubs to bring their record up to 41-35 and put them into a second place tie in the National League East with the scuffling Mets.

Due to the unpredictable nature of injuries and on-field performance, no team is able to perfectly execute a preseason plan — players get hurt, stars underperform and role players have breakout years — and the Marlins are no exception. One of those unexpected developments for the Marlins is that they’ve fielded one of the best outfields in the league due much less to the contributions of Stanton (currently in the midst of a career-worst season) and much more to Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. It’s been a wellcovered storyline for the Marlins.

There’s another key way in which the Marlins have had to deviate from their preseason plan, too — namely, who they’ve played at second base.

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The Pitcher Who Doesn’t Get Put Into Play

I don’t know you, but I know you didn’t spend last night watching the Marlins and the Padres. Tom Koehler won. Jeff Mathis hit a grand slam. The most interesting player who appeared for the Padres allowed Jeff Mathis to hit a grand slam. The Marlins aren’t bad, and I know even the worst team in the majors is a team of elites, but, look, there’s compelling baseball and there’s less compelling baseball, and the game didn’t have much of a draw. The Padres did try to rally a bit in the seventh, but they wasted a runner on third with nobody out.

That runner reached by drawing a walk. He was stranded in large part because the two following batters struck out. The Marlins reliever in charge of the inning was one Kyle Barraclough. For the fifth consecutive appearance, he struck out multiple hitters. For the 13th consecutive appearance, he struck out at least one hitter. For the 16th time in his last 18 appearances, he walked at least one hitter. Don’t worry if you didn’t know anything about Barraclough before. You’re about to learn. Really, you already have.

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Ichiro Is Hitting Almost Literally Everything

If you’d kind of forgotten about Ichiro Suzuki, I totally get it. I mean, he’s undeniably been an icon, but as far as his remaining a major-leaguer goes, he’s in his 40s, and he’s spent time on the bench for a team that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The league is awash with young, premium talent, and in the Marlins’ own outfield, Ichiro’s behind three young players of considerable ability. And, you know, there was this:

ichiro-wrc+-short

The wizardry had become less and less apparent. I assume that, once you’re a wizard, you’re always a wizard, but Ichiro had perhaps grown weary of using his magic. Or maybe it just takes him longer to recover his mana. He’s been chasing 3,000 big-league hits, and that’s a hell of a milestone, but when the Marlins elected to bring Ichiro back, many figured it was just a publicity stunt, a way to squeeze some profit out of a deteriorating player’s pursuit of history. That tells you something about how people see the Marlins, but that also tells you something about how people saw Ichiro.

I’m now going to embed the same plot as above, only with one extra line segment. Ichiro! is re-earning his exclamation point.

ichiro-wrc+

42 years old. The gap between Ichiro and Christian Yelich is old enough to vote.

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Jose Fernandez Has Been Unhittable, and So Hittable

Just as much as we’ve trained ourselves not to take Spring Training stats at face value, we should also by now have trained ourselves not to take player and manager Spring Training quotes at face value. Words are words, and until those words become actions, they’re not super fun to consume or analyze. Like, here’s a few examples pulled from a preseason story by the excellent Clark Spencer, with expectations for the upcoming season inferred from comments by star pitcher Jose Fernandez and manager Don Mattingly.

Spring Training Report #1

  • Expectation: “He just might not resort to his fastball quite as much…”
  • Reality: Fernandez’s fastball rate is mostly unchanged, and in fact is slightly above (52%) his previous career-high (51%).

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Is Marcell Ozuna Breaking Out?

Marcell Ozuna is the third-best outfielder on his team. He can’t match the power and discipline of Giancarlo Stanton, and he can’t match the patient, contact-oriented approach of rising star Christian Yelich. Partially related to those two statements, Yelich and Stanton have signed contracts worth nearly $400 million total while Ozuna, despite possessing more service time than Yelich and having played 50 more games than Stanton since the start of 2014, will be paid near the league minimum this year. Ozuna is off to a great start this season, and we might want to look for changes to his game after a rough 2015 season, but Ozuna is very much a similar player to the one that slugged 23 homers back in 2014.

Ozuna has a fairly unique game. He has good power, but in more than 1500 plate appearances, it has only shown up as average with a .157 ISO. He walks at a below average rate (6% for his career), strikes out at a below-average rate (23% for his career), and has maintained a high .331 BABIP. Together, it has made him a roughly average offensive player, and a difficult home park elevates his wRC+ to 104. Not too bad. On defense, Ozuna has recorded nearly 3,000 innings in center field and both UZR and DRS place him right at average. Average offense and average defense in center field combine for an above-average player. Average to above-average might sound a bit boring, but Ozuna’s streaky performance and perceived inconsistency means he gets to his stats in rather exciting fashion.

Ozuna has had one really good year, in 2014, followed by a disappointing season in 2015 that saw him receive a demotion in the middle of the season, although that demotion might have been tied more closely to Ozuna’s super-two status and his agent Scott Boras rather than any strict performance-related deficiencies. This season, Ozuna is back, picking up where he left off at the end of 2015 and playing like the player who exhibited so much promise two seasons ago. How long will this last? It’s hard to say.

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Christian Yelich Is Starting to Soar

You know who’s figuring it out? Christian Yelich! Not that Yelich ever didn’t have it figured out — his big-league career began with three consecutive 117 wRC+ seasons. He was as steady as anyone you could find, but he kept on occasionally hinting at more, and now he’s showing more more often. He’s 24, and he’s being coached by Barry Bonds. People everywhere kind of saw this coming. Yet it was never going to be automatic. Yelich has put in the work to get to where he is.

This is where he is:

Yelich hasn’t been constantly hitting home runs or anything. You would’ve heard about that. He has five, which isn’t that many, but then his career high is nine. His slugging is way up, and his walks are way up, and his strikeouts are down. Christian Yelich seems to be moving into a higher tier, and he’s among the reasons why the Marlins are hanging around the early playoff race.

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Adam Conley Looks the Same, Is Not

Adam Conley is surprising some with his sophomore effort, just by seemingly repeating what he did in his debut last year. His velocity, ERA, WHIP — even his swinging-strike and ground-ball rates — are all about the same as they were in 2015. But he’s different! In important ways.

Late last year, in the midst of a decent debut with the Marlins that saw him hitting 94 mph on the radar gun and shutting out the Mets on their way to the World Series, the lefty starter saw a picture of himself and froze. “I really didn’t like what I saw,” Conley told me a few days before he no-hit the Brewers for seven-plus innings this year. “It didn’t look like what I thought I looked like.”

Maybe the image was something like this one from his start against the Nationals late last season. “I could see in the picture that my front side was gone completely and my foot wasn’t down,” Conley says. “My foot is floating through the air and I’m trying to throw the ball.”

But once he saw that thing, he was convinced. He had to get back to the things he’d heard growing up, when he took the drive to Pete Wilkinson’s camp to work on his pitching mechanics. He had to get away from results-oriented development — “throughout the minor leagues, they would talk about results a lot,” he said — and get back to making sure his process was good.

The effort was two-pronged. He had to make sure he was getting his power from the right places, and he had to make sure his pitches worked together. The results brought him back to where he was, in a more sustainable way, with differences that appear once you look under the hood. And as he describes it all, you start to hear all of the things that we’ve been hearing recently as the new numbers have caught up to the pitching coaches.

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Gordon Suspension Magnifies Concerns for League, Players

Major League Baseball is now in its second decade of testing and suspensions, so we should be past surprises when it comes to the type of players getting caught for using performance-enhancing drugs. The controversy surrounding Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire might have made PEDs famous in baseball, and Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Braun, and Alex Rodriguez have all been suspended by MLB for PED use, but there’s no single type of player using PEDs. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Galvis, and Dee Gordon have all tested positive, as well — Gordon representing the most recent case after testing positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol. In most cases, a suspension is held up as an example that the system works and that MLB is catching users. Given Gordon’s contract situation, however, that might not be the case here.

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Jose Fernandez Has Two Breaking Balls

Sometimes you just have to ask. Different systems have different answers for the pitching mix that Jose Fernandez brings to the mound each game. So I did ask him. I said, “Do you consider your breaking ball a slider or a curve?” And the Marlins’ righty said, “I got both. I can throw both. I trust them both equally.” It was a group scrum, not the time for a real in-depth thing, but just knowing there are two there can set us on a path.

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An Introduction to Adam Conley

Based on what was happening in my Twitter feed, scouts drooled over few players in spring training quite like they drooled over Adam Conley. My memory might be exaggerating things, but I know that Conley was getting a fair bit of hype. Now, the problem was that there’s not much meaningful analysis we’re able to do with spring-training performance, especially those that take place in Florida, away from any PITCHf/x instrumentation. But, wouldn’t you know it? Conley just pitched well on Wednesday in New York, nearly beating the Mets. You want to talk a little bit about Adam Conley? Let’s talk a little bit about Adam Conley. That way we can at least get him on our collective radar.

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The Most-Teams-Ever-Played-For Record Is Under Attack!

You may not care about Marlon Byrd. Or Edwin Jackson. Or Dana Eveland. Or Josh Wilson. That’s a reasonable position to take, as none are remarkable players at this stage of their careers. And yet here we are, not one paragraph into this piece and I’ve mentioned all of them. But wait! Don’t click on that other article you saved, the one about the rise in butt implants quite yet! There’s a very real and interesting (maybe!) reason I’ve mentioned all of these players, but you have to read the next paragraph to find out. Ooo! This is like a mystery.

So what binds these guys together? Byrd may yet manage to find a team on which to dump his age-38 season, but to date he’s an old free agent with maybe one skill to offer. Eveland is a 32-year-old pitcher who has averaged 15 appearances a season over the past decade. His specialty seems to be riding the shuttle back and forth between Triple-A and the majors. Wilson is a backup middle infielder/defensive specialist, which is a nice way of saying he can’t hit, as his career OPS+ of 64 attests. And Jackson is a once-promising fireballer who seems resigned to scooping up innings wherever he can until his clock runs out. So they’re all varying degrees of bad, but “here are a bunch of lousy baseball players” is not really a driving theme for an article. There is something that holds these players’ careers together though, and that is this: each of them has played for nine different teams in their careers.

[Pause while you read your piece on butt implants.]

I know! I can’t believe they do that either. So where were we? Oh yeah. What makes this significant is that nine is the highest number of franchises for which any active player has played — and Jackson, Eveland, Wilson, and Byrd are the leaders of that list. Actually, LaTroy Hawkins has played for 11 different teams, but he’s retiring, so as soon as this season begins the aforementioned group will be the active leaders.

The second thing that makes this (hopefully!) interesting is that the record for the most teams any player has ever played for is 13. You’ll never guess who did it, so I’ll just tell you. The record is held by Octavio Dotel. Dotel played for Houston, Oakland, Detroit, the White Sox, Kansas City, the Mets, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Toronto.

[Pause to re-read piece on butt implants.]

Humorously enough — though not as humorous as butt implants (I know!!) — Dotel was once traded in a deal that included Edwin Jackson. Because of course he was. Baseball is a closed circle and now I’m sad I’ve already reached the quota for butt-implant jokes this paragraph.

So the obvious question now: can any of these players exceed Dotel’s total of 13 teams played for?

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KATOH Projects: Miami Marlins Prospects

Previous editions: Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles (AL).

Earlier this week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Miami Marlins. In this companion piece, I look at that same Miami farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Marlins have the worst farm system in baseball according to KATOH. They’re even worse than the Angels. As you’ll see below, there isn’t much to get excited about in Miami’s system, especially from a statistical standpoint.

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Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Miami Marlins

Other clubs: Angels, Astros, Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Indians, OriolesRedsRed Sox, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, White Sox.

To start off, a brief programming note: I’m going out of alphabetical order here, as inside information trickles in at different rates. I’ll be jumping around to different teams as soon as I get a suitable amount of corroborating sources for each.

With regard to the Marlins, specifically, they don’t have a ton of impact offense waiting in the wings, but there is a plethora of pitching reinforcements — mostly in terms of depth but some with high ceilings — at all levels of the minors. It’s interesting to think about what this group will do in the next few years, having enough potential to turn out a number of surprise contributors but not enough blue-chippers to rank highly among the league’s best farm systems.

Tyler Kolek has struggled a bit as a professional, but his talent makes him the best prospect in the organization. It seems I’m the high guy on Chris Paddack, but his placement only sticks out here because of the lack of certainty among other prospects around him. There aren’t a ton of other surprises elswhere, with a reasonable argument to be made about anyone outside the top-four or -five guys to either be in the top 10 or at the bottom of the list.

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Just How Quickly Did Ichiro Used to Get Down the Line?

As far as topic ideas go, they’re typically the product of one of three circumstances:

  1. stumbling upon a unique storyline or stat that could serve as the root of an interesting/fun article
  2. reacting to a recent transaction
  3. asking a question that leads to an unshakable curiosity

Door number one is probably the most common. Door number two is the majority of the offseason, and while those sometimes feel contrived, they’re the most necessary and topical. Door number three is almost always the most fun, both for the writer and reader.

What follows is sort of a mixture of what’s behind doors one and three. See, I was reading an article the other day written by Mike Petriello, formerly of FanGraphs and who’s now doing excellent work for MLB.com, usually using or explaining Statcast numbers. Mike wrote about which players, according to Statcast, got down the line from home to first the fastest. Billy Hamilton wasn’t the fastest, but he was third-fastest. Dee Gordon was second. Billy Burns, surprisingly, or maybe not, was number one. No matter the order, these three guys are the kind of guys you’d expect. They’re young, they’re obviously extremely fast, they steal plenty of bases, they’re all very relevant; this all passes the smell test, and why shouldn’t it?

But Mike’s leaderboard went five deep. And there was a tie for fifth place:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 8.16.07 AM

Mike’s parenthetical bewilderment says it all. Ichiro! Ichiro is still one of the five fastest players (from home to first) in baseball at 41 years old! Let’s run through our smell test checklist from just a second ago and apply the criteria to Ichiro. Young? Ha, nope. Obviously extremely fast? Eh, debatable, at this point. Steal plenty of bases? Nope. Very relevant? Mostly when pitching.

This is when the unshakable curiosity took over. If Ichiro at 41 is one of the five fastest down the line in baseball, how fast could he have been in the early 2000s? Let’s begin with a quick Google query, our search terms being: “ichiro home to first time.”

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Come Fall In Love With Christian Yelich’s Potential

We don’t really know what to make of hitting coaches, but we know what to make of hitters, and we know what to make of Barry Bonds, so Bonds linking up with the Marlins is at least greatly intriguing. If you let yourself get carried away by your own imagination, you can see Giancarlo Stanton breaking Bonds’ own dinger record. Perhaps more realistically, it’s going to be interesting to see whether Bonds can tap into Marcell Ozuna‘s considerable offensive reserves. With Ozuna sticking around in Miami after an active stretch of rumors, which way he goes will play a big role in which way the Marlins go.

For my taste, though, I’m the most captivated by Christian Yelich. It doesn’t need to have anything to do with Bonds, necessarily; I’d be equally captivated if Bonds were somewhere else. But, I think we know about and have observed Giancarlo Stanton’s ceiling. Marcell Ozuna has been good before, but I get the sense he’ll always be streaky. Christian Yelich seems steady, and he seems like he is what he is, yet I think his upside is massive. And I think Yelich stands a good chance of getting there. Quietly, Yelich has hinted at a star-level future.

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MLB Farm Systems Ranked by Surplus WAR

You smell that? It’s baseball’s prospect-list season. The fresh top-100 lists — populated by new names as well as old ones — seem to be popping up each day. With the individual rankings coming out, some organization rankings are becoming available, as well. I have always regarded the organizational rankings as subjective — and, as a result, not 100% useful. Utilizing the methodology I introduced in my article on prospect evaluation from this year’s Hardball Times Annual, however, it’s possible to calculate a total value for every team’s farm system and remove the biases of subjectivity. In what follows, I’ve used that same process to rank all 30 of baseball’s farm systems by the surplus WAR they should generate.

I provide a detailed explanation of my methodology in the Annual article. To summarize it briefly, however, what I’ve done is to identify WAR equivalencies for the scouting grades produced by Baseball America in their annual Prospect Handbook. The grade-to-WAR conversion appears as follows.

Prospect Grade to WAR Conversion
Prospect Grade Total WAR Surplus WAR
80 25.0 18.5
75 18.0 13.0
70 11.0 9.0
65 8.5 6.0
60 4.7 3.0
55 2.5 1.5
50 1.1 0.5
45 0.4 0.0

To create the overall totals for this post, I used each team’s top-30 rankings per the most recent edition of Baseball America’ Prospect Handbook. Also accounting for those trades which have occurred since the BA rankings were locked down, I counted the number of 50 or higher-graded prospects (i.e. the sort which provide surplus value) in each system. The results follows.
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2016 ZiPS Projections – Miami Marlins

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Miami Marlins. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Oakland / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / St. Louis / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Texas / Toronto / Washington.

Batters
Only three batters last year recorded both 300-plus plate appearances and also a .300 isolated-power figure: Chris Davis (670 PA, .300 ISO), Bryce Harper (654 PA, .319 ISO), and Giancarlo Stanton (318 PA, .341 ISO). That’s merely one of the many possible ways to state an obvious thing — namely, that the Marlins’ right fielder is among the most impressive power hitters in the league. What else that set of criteria reveals, however, is that Stanton was limited by injury. Because if the plate-appearance threshold were raised to 319, his name would disappear.

In his five years as a regular, Stanton has averaged 512 plate appearances per season. Not the worst case scenario, certainly, but not ideal — and the results have been fantastic, regardless. If his projection (499 PA, 4.9 zWAR) seems a bit light relative to his prodigious talents, however, it’s the result of a somewhat modest plate-appearance forecast.

Examining Miami’s field players as a whole, one finds a group well equipped to produce wins at an average rate in 2016, with Dee Gordon (606 PA, 2.6 zWAR), Martin Prado (578 PA, 2.6 zWAR), and Christian Yelich (596 PA, 3.2 zWAR) all complementing Stanton. First base, meanwhile, appears to be the most immediate area of concern: even in a platoon, Justin Bour (501 PA, 1.1 zWAR) and Chris Johnson (443 PA, 0.2 zWAR) might exhibit some difficulty in separating themselves from replacement level.

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Identifying 2015’s Pop-Up Champion

I’ll tell you what this was supposed to be about. Over the weekend, Howie Kendrick was in the news, since he re-signed with the Dodgers. I was going to take the opportunity to write about how Kendrick just about never hits a pop-up. It’s one of those things that helps explain why he’s been able to run high batting averages, and even though I know I wrote about this very thing like a year ago for Fox Sports, Kendrick didn’t hit a single pop-up in the most recent season. Nor did he hit a single pop-up in the previous season. So, by our numbers, Kendrick has gone more than two regular seasons without a pop-up, which is insane and well worth re-visiting. Who doesn’t like to read about the weirdos?

But, you know, ideas evolve, especially when you give them a few days to simmer. Kendrick, pretty clearly, is exceptional in this regard. However, he’s not unique. You might be thinking right now about Joey Votto, and Votto is also pop-up averse, but this past year there were just two regular players who successfully avoided pop-ups: Kendrick and Christian Yelich. This is fitting, because over the past five years, if you set a 1,000 plate-appearance minimum, Yelich and Kendrick own the lowest pop-up rates in baseball. They both feature phenomenal bat-to-ball skills, reflected by these numbers, and they’re valuable because of the extra singles they can scratch out.

So, Kendrick doesn’t hit pop-ups. Yelich doesn’t hit pop-ups. By at least one source, neither hit a pop-up in 2015. Might it be possible to crown either the 2015 pop-up champion?

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Farewell to Marlins Park 1.0

Marlins Park opened to much fanfare four years ago, and while the team quickly abandoned what it had taken on as its new operational identity, there’s no abandoning a ballpark that fast. Not that the Marlins want to leave, anyway, but — love it or hate it — Marlins Park will be around for a while yet. One of the funny things about the stadium is that it took exactly one game for people to be left with a certain impression. That impression: it’s enormous. In the opener, Giancarlo Stanton hit into a couple warning-track outs, and Lance Berkman was one of many players to talk about the park to the media. Said Berkman:

“If they don’t move the fences in after this year, I’d be surprised,” Berkman said. “And I’m going two years as the over-under on that.”

He continued:

“It’s the biggest ballpark in the game,” Berkman said. “And people have tried that big-ballpark deal, and it never works. Detroit moved the fences in. New York (i.e., the Mets) moved the fences in. I mean, there’s a reason why it’s 330-375-400 (in most parks). That’s a fair baseball game. You try to get too outrageous, and you end up with something that I think is going to be detrimental to their ballclub. I mean, Stanton hit two balls that probably were two home runs. And they were both outs. And we won the game.”

To further Berkman’s point, Seattle and San Diego also later moved in their fences. In the end, Berkman was wrong about his estimate — the Marlins didn’t move in the fences after a year, or after two years. But they are now making changes after four years. Pretty much all the fences are being lowered, and maybe more importantly, they’re doing something about the vast center field. It’s taken this long, but like so many other newer ballparks, Marlins Park is taking a step toward neutrality.

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J.T. Realmuto as Bizzaro Mike Piazza

Catcher defense is all the rage, at least for some. For those of us who care deeply about catcher defense, this year has brought us glimpses of Statcast and Baseball Prospectus’ recently gathering of enough data to extend their pitch framing, blocking, and throwing metrics back as far as 1950 in some cases. We’ve always known about catcher defense, but our ability to measure and understand it has improved greatly in the last five years, and more advances are likely on the horizon.

This ability to measure something affects our perceptions not just of that thing, but of all other things related to that thing. As Ben Lindbergh recently noted, Mike Piazza was known as a horrible throwing catcher during his career and that colored his entire defensive perception. Yet our modern metrics look back favorably upon his blocking and framing. It’s important to note that we didn’t just learn about blocking and framing in 2015. It’s not as if baseball fans couldn’t conceive of their value in 1997, it’s just that the only thing we had rudimentary numbers for at the time was his arm. We could measure that and see it most clearly relative to the other skills, so it did the heavy lifting in our minds.
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