Marlins’ recent pursuit of ‘good, pure hitters’ signals shift in strategy
During the past six months, there has been a shift in the Marlins’ priorities when it comes to their desired hitting profile.
It started to be seen in late July when the team selected infielder Jacob Berry No. 6 overall in the 2022 MLB Draft.
What stood out to the organization about Berry?
“Everything from just being a pure hitter to his knowledge of the strike zone, his plate discipline,” Marlins general manager Kim Ng said.
It continued a couple weeks later, at MLB’s trade deadline, when Miami traded relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop to the Toronto Blue Jays for infield prospect Jordan Groshans.
“This is a guy who’s got a pretty good bat,” Ng said. “Line drive, gap-to-gap hitter.”
It has picked up fullsteam this offseason.
Miami has acquired four position players so far this winter to bolster their infield depth: reigning American League batting champion Luis Arraez in a trade with the Minnesota Twins, free agent Jean Segura on a two-year deal (with a club option for a third year), and prospects Xavier Edwards and Jacob Amaya in trades with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.
The quick scouting report on each of them:
Arraez: “Puts the ball in play, elite contact skills,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said during a
Sirius XM Radio.
Segura: “A hit machine,” Ng said, while also noting his “nice combination of power, speed and positional versatility.”
Amaya: “Offensively, one of the things that was very attractive to us about him was his plate discipline, and his offensive game overall,” Ng said.
Edwards: “Switch-hitting infielder that can play a couple of different spots with a good control of the strike zone,” Ng said. Starting to see a trend? Just one season after the Marlins attempted a powerheavy lineup that failed to produce — in part due to injuries (Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jorge Soler), in part due to underproduction (Soler and Avisail Garcia) — Miami is shifting course, with Ng focusing on building a roster with “good, pure hitters.”
“Sometimes the market doesn’t necessarily dictate that,” Ng said, “but when it does and when you can, those are things that I think are foundationally great elements to have as part of your team.”
NEW PLAYERS HELP
It doesn’t take much time to explain the Marlins’ offense overall by the end of the 2022 season: It was bad.
Pick an offensive statistic outside of stolen bases and the Marlins were probably in the bottom 10 of the league in the category in 2022.
The Marlins’ hope, then, is that the shift to a contact-over-power approach on offense will spark the offense as they try to be competitive in a daunting National League East division that saw its top three teams (Braves, Mets, Phillies) make the playoffs and either improved or at least stayed level this offseason.
And, on paper, Miami acquired the players to do it.
Start with Arraez, who is coming off a season in which he won the AL batting title with a .316 batting average in addition to a .795 OPS, 31 doubles, eight home runs, 49 RBI and 88 runs scored. All of those marks outside of the home runs would have either led or been second on the Marlins last season.
Arraez had just a 7.1 percent strikeout rate last season that was the best in baseball and over the course of his MLB career has more walks (137) than strikeouts (131). According to Statcast, Arraez has made contact on 93.3 percent of pitches he swings at inside the zone and 85 percent of pitches he chased in his career.
Segura, meanwhile, has a career .285 batting average and .330 on-base percentage to go along with a career strikeout percentage of just 13.8 percent. He has had a strikeout rate of 15 percent or lower in each of his past six full MLB seasons and struck out more than 20 percent of the time in a single season only once — the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (20.7 percent).
As for the prospects: Groshans, who made his MLB debut on Sept. 13, had a career strikeout percentage of just 18 percent in the minors while hitting .285. Amaya is at a 19 percent strikeout rate but also has a 13.9 percent walk rate in the minors. And Edwards has a career .300 batting average in the minors to go along with a 13.1 percent strikeout rate and 10.3 percent walk rate.
STILL NEED POWER
Now, this focus on contact hitting doesn’t mean the team is shifting from power entirely. The Marlins know the value home runs and steady extra-base hits can provide.
Chisholm and Soler, who combined for 27 of the team’s 144 home runs in just 132 total games played, will lead the group. The hope is Garcia, who has 135
career home runs but hit only eight last season, has a bounce-back year. Outfielders Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz, catcher Nick Fortes and first baseman Cooper have power potential, too.
But they also understand that a feast-or-famine approach at the plate — that appeared at times last season and backfired when injuries derailed the approach — is not sustainable if there aren’t other options in the lineup.
Just look at what happened last season when they lost their top two power hitters — Chisholm and Soler — midway through the season.
In the Marlins’ first 73 games of the season, through the last game Chisholm and Soler played together on June 28, the Marlins had a collective .244 batting average (14th in MLB), .706 OPS (16th in MLB) and 80 home runs (14th in MLB) while averaging 4.4 runs per game.
Miami’s collective stats in the final 89 games: .216 batting average, .278 onbase percentage, .331 slugging, 60 total home runs and 2.9 runs per game — all worst in MLB.
Something needed to change. Depth, at a minimum, was needed.
The Marlins opted for a philosophical overhaul and acquired the players to fit that philosophy.
Now, it comes down to execution.