The media crowned them contenders one year too soon. But with the healthy returns of Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, and a few sneaky improvements and additions, the 2016 Marlins will be a force to be reckoned with.
Before the 2015 season, the Marlins were somewhat of a media darling, with many experts predicting that they would be wild card contenders out of the National League East. That was a silly group-think position at the time, as we pointed out on January 22nd (“The Marlins Are Nowhere Near the Nationals“) and February 5th (“The Mets Project as Second Best in the NL East, Ahead of Marlins“) right here on The Read Zone.
For the record, 0 of 6 Grantland writers picked the Mets to make the playoffs, while 3 of 6 picked the Marlins. Of 15 ESPN Experts, only one picked the Mets while an astounding nine picked the Marlins. Again, high five to Pedro Gomez, Eno Sarris, Mike Petriello, and Paul Sporer who believed in the Mets ahead of the curve.
In order to think the Marlins would be good last year, you’d need to believe the following five things would all break for the Marlins:
- Jose Fernandez would have to come back from Tommy John Surgery on time, healthy, and immediately effective,
- Giancarlo Stanton would have to come back healthy with no ill effects from his harrowing hit-by-pitch to the face,
- Dee Gordon would be as good as he was in his career year,
- Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna would have take a step forward and,
- One of the long-shots on the pitching staff, probably Mat Latos, would be good.
All of those miracles did not happen, but some of them did, which is why the 2016 Marlins have a foundation to build on which could make them competitive.
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Thanks to a few of those above questions resolving in a positive way, the 2016 Marlins had a more firmly established “floor” than the 2015 Marlins, who struggled along the way to only 71 wins. The team has also made some sneaky improvements this offseason and as a result should have a good deal of fight in them for 2016.
Most importantly, Fernandez and Stanton came back healthy (although Stanton was felled by unrelated injury). In the meantime, Gordon proved his 2014 was a legitimate breakout (posting 4.6 WAR last season) while Yelich and Ozuna performed well in the second half, and are young enough where you can still be optimistic about their futures.
The Marlins were also fortunate to discover the absolutely insane Carter Capps last year (16.84 K/9, 1.10 FIP) to fortify an already strong bullpen, and added Wei-Yin Chen as a free agent. Chen is no world-beater, but he is a vast improvement over a 2015 rotation that I have no problem calling pathetic. Even Adeiny Hechavarria took an unheralded step forward last year, upping his wRC+ from 82 to 86 but posting a stellar defensive season in line with his tools (_9 DRS, +15.8 UZR) for a total of 3.0 WAR.
The Marlins ZiPS projections for 2016 (top) compared to 2015 (bottom) bear out this optimism:
The Marlins 2015 ZiPS were set before the acquisitions of Gordon and Martin Prado, so the 2016 edition is returning many of the same starters as last year. Nonetheless, the improvements set these two teams apart.
The Marlins will get more than 74 games from Stanton and more than 11 starts from Fernandez. Along with incremental improvements from Chen, Capps, and a step forward from at least one of Yelich (age 24) or Ozuna (age 25) and the Marlins will be a force to be reckoned with this season.
I don’t expect that they will contend for the National League East title, but I would not be surprised — if either the Mets or the Nationals stumble — if the Marlins were not in the wild card race all year.