Marlins 2011 Season Preview with Michael Jong

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those have been posted throughout the week.

Today, we will learn more about the Marlins from Michael Jong in our fourth and final installment in our look around the NL East.

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1. How would you rate the off-season for the Marlins?

The offseason was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Marlins made the right decision in trading Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves in lieu of extending him for five years. The team also went out and got Javier Vazquez on a deal that is likely below market, a high-risk / high-reward move that fits perfectly with the team’s outside chance of contention. At the same time, the Uggla trade return looked subjectively unappealing, even if it probably was objectively fine. Furthermore, the team filled the catcher position but did so by giving John Buck more money than they needed to; while he is likely to be worth his contract, the team simply did not need to pay him that much. The team radically redid its bullpen, but may have paid more to do so than was necessary as well. The changes may not leave them any better than they were last season.

2. Do you agree with the Marlins’ plan to turn Chris Coghlan into a center fielder? Why or why not?

The short answer is a resounding “no.” Coghlan took time to transition himself to left field from the infield, and it showed both in the defensive metrics and in the eyes of the fans via the Fans Scouting Report. Now the fans think he is an average left fielder, but an average left fielder is undoubtedly not close to an average center fielder, and the decision looks worse when you consider the sizable distance a center fielder would have to cover in Sun Life Stadium compared to a left fielder. Add on the fact that Coghlan will be playing the outfield anchor alongside Logan Morrison, who just started playing left field professionally and is no Carl Crawford out there. Now throw in how Coghlan is coming off a torn meniscus that ended his 2010 season. The move has “disaster” written all over it.

3. What are your thoughts on the Marlins keeping Edwin Rodriguez? Would you have preferred they bring in somebody else?

There was always talk about Ozzie Guillen coming to town, since he got his start as a third base coach in Florida, but the last time the team had a strong personality at the helm, owner Jeffrey Loria came down to the clubhouse himself and got involved. In that light, Edwin Rodriguez and his soft-spoken nature may suit the team best. I generally have no preference towards any managers though, as long as they aren’t messing up pitchers’ arms or distracting the team.

4. Should we expect big things from Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez this year?

It’s scary that the projection systems all have Mike Stanton hitting 35-plus home runs this year, but it is totally believable given what he did last season. When you put together his monstrous Double-A year and his impressive rookie campaign, the guy hit over 40 home runs in just under 650 PA. And he’s 21 years old in 2011. I’m excited to see his power output again this season. Gaby Sanchez, on the other hand, appears to be a known commodity despite this being his second season. He basically hit his preseason projections last year and did exactly what everyone thought he would do. He is a strong bet to repeat his 2010 line, but with Morrison playing out of position but being important to the team’s future, Sanchez figures to be the odd man out at some point in the next year.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Matt Dominguez is a big name to watch, if only because he is coming in as the top option at third base despite not showing that he is ready to be a major leaguer and face big league pitching. Chris Coghlan‘s trial run in center field will start in the spring, and it would not surprise me if the Marlins ended it by spring’s end as well. Scott Cousins is the likely backup option for center field, but he’ll need to show he deserves a roster spot as a fourth outfielder before he gets the opportunity to be the starter.

6. If you had to guess on the Marlins’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

Without running the numbers, I would say the team is in line to win 83 games and place third in the division. This is has happened so often to the Marlins since 2003 that it has become almost an annual tradition. I eagerly await for them to tease me with a Wild Card run before falling completely flat in September.

BONUS: I can haz @LoMoMarlins?

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We will have our Logan Morrison. Phillies fans always get what they want.

Thanks to Michael for stopping by to participate in this Q&A. Be sure to check out his blog Marlin Maniac for all your news and analysis during the 2011 season.

If you missed the previous three installments, here are links:

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

On Twitter, one of my followers (@Slap_Bet) linked me to the active leaders in hit-by-pitches on Baseball Reference. Although I have long respected Chase Utley‘s ability to get hit, I was surprised to see him at #8 with 125 career bruises, only 47 shy of tying Carlos Delgado in second place. On the career leaderboard, Utley sits in 48th place, tied with Jeff Kent and Honus Wagner.

Due to Utley’s late start — his first full season came at age 26 — it is unlikely he makes it within the top-five but this skill of his hasn’t been recognized the way it had been for Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall. And make no mistake, getting hit by pitches is a legitimate skill. Utley led the National League in HBP for three consecutive years from 2007-09. Biggio did likewise from 1995-97. A scan of the year-by-year leaders yields a lot of repeat leaders as well.

How does Utley compare to two of the more recent HBP champs?

Utley’s three worst seasons came from 2004-06, two of which were partial seasons. He didn’t have quite the “peak” that Kendall had, but is overall very similar in HBP skill.

Interestingly enough, left-handed pitchers hit Utley at approximately twice the rate as right-handers: 5.0 percent to 2.6 percent. His HBP rate has declined since 2007 and in particular the past two years’ HBP rates against lefties have been lower than in ’08:

  • 2008: 14 HBP in 270 PA (5.2 percent)
  • 2009: 8 HBP in 235 PA (3.4 percent)
  • 2010: 8 HBP in 166 PA (4.8 percent)

Lefties have gradually thrown him more and more pitches towards the outside part of the strike zone. Notice the shift on the following heat maps from Baseball Analytics:

Lefties seem to have realized that they can’t pitch Utley inside without risking giving the Phillies a free base runner. While the shift shouldn’t have a drastic effect on Utley’s HBP totals, it is interesting to note how a seemingly benign skill can have a lasting effect on how opposing pitchers approach him.