Part 4 of a six-part series on the Miami Marlins’ latest rebuild.
The Marlins are planning to make a philosophical change in the type of hitters they will target this winter.
According to two sources, the Marlins are now inclined to pursue contact hitters who are skilled at getting on base and using the wide outfield gaps at LoanDepot Park, as opposed to lower-average hitters who have more power. Speed also will be prioritized.
Marlins officials privately have wondered if an adjustment in approach will lead to more runs, especially with their struggles with runners in scoring position this season. The Marlins repeatedly have produced base runners but then flame out without runners advancing or scoring.
The Marlins lead the National League in stolen bases, but they’re in the bottom quarter of most key offensive categories, including 25th in runners in scoring position at .231. Miami is 22-38 in one-run games this season.
The Marlins are still receptive to adding more power to the lineup, but it won’t be a priority.
When Derek Jeter and Gary Denbo essentially ran the organization, the Marlins put an emphasis on acquiring five-tool players with high ceilings and low floors. The plan now is to focus on players who are reliable bat-to-ball hitters, not home run-or-bust sluggers.
Jorge Soler, signed last winter, would qualify as a home run-or-bust player during much of his career. He’s expected to exercise his $15 million player option this winter and has a $9 million player option for 2024.
This philosophical change has been triggered by a realization that the team needs to take a different approach; because of the size of their ballpark, and also because of recent 2023 MLB rules changes.
Among those changes: The bases will increase from 15 to 18 inches square, with expectations that the larger size will reduce collisions around the bag and slightly shorten the distance between bases. That will theoretically make it easier to steal bases.
MLB also is banning defensive shifts; all four infielders will be required to be on the dirt, preventing teams from playing one infielder in the outfield for certain hitters, which has become more commonplace in recent years. Overshifting three infielders to the right side of the second-base bag will no longer be legal.
According to MLB’s research, fans want more stolen bases, doubles, triples and superb defensive plays. MLB believes these rules will achieve that, and the Marlins want to be very good at those things.
Steering from high-power, lower-average hitters also makes sense because balls generally don’t carry well at loanDepot Park.
“To me, in a big-league ballpark, there should always be a spot on the field where it’s not a pitcher’s part of the field,” Cooper said. “This park doesn’t have one. It’s not a good hitter’s park. The ball hangs up a little more. It doesn’t carry as much as you would like to see your home ballpark be. Five years here, you see how many deep flyouts and deep lineouts that guys maybe thought they hit out that are dying on the track.”
Cooper is right, but the metrics also show this: The Marlins hit equally as poorly on the road (3.6 runs, 69 homers) as they did at home (3.6 runs, 67 homers). Their home batting average is poor (.232), but their road average is worse (.226).
The Marlins who hit much better on the road: Cooper (.236 at home, .287 on the road), Avisail Garcia (.208 at home, .250 away), Jacob Stallings (.195 at home, .253 on the road).
But several other Marlins hitters were better at home. Cooper said players talk “all the time” about why the ball doesn’t carry more with the roof closed for nearly all games.
“You see some of these guys hitting homers that travel 96, 97, 98 off the bat that travel down the lines, and you don’t see that here,” Cooper said. “You haven’t seen that here in five years. You take a good swing and think you may have gotten it and it doesn’t go out and you kind of get a little bit defeated as a hitter. Those 99-102 [mph balls that] guys hit are just long flyouts.”
He said he wouldn’t broach the topic with owner Bruce Sherman or general manager Kim Ng — unless they did with him — but has discussed it with Jeter.
“When Derek was here, they said they brought it in enough,” Cooper said. “Our team has been built on pitching. It plays to their favor. But you’ve got to string together a ton of hits to get some runs here.”
The Marlins already have changed the ballpark’s dimensions twice to make it more hitter friendly. Before the 2020 season, the center-field fence was moved in from 407 feet to 400 feet, and the right-center field fence from 392 feet to 387 feet.
“It’s the same ballpark it was five years ago, maybe a few feet shorter in right center,” Cooper said.
Departing Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he would leave the park the way it is — because it helps the Marlins’ pitching staff — and create a roster suited to play here, which the Marlins intend to do.
But he admits that the ballpark has worked against some of the team’s young hitters.
“Guys that hit balls good and it doesn’t go out, it changes the way they do things,” Mattingly said. “It changes guys here.”
Does it impact the confidence of young hitters? “Absolutely, if you’re that guy that doesn’t have a true different kind of pop. We brought it in twice since I’ve been here. And it’s still kind of the same.”
We found this interesting: Only two of the Marlins’ top six starters pitched better at home this season, entering this week; Sandy Alcantara has a 1.64 ERA at home, 3.16 on the road, while Braxton Garrett is 2.48 at home, 4.40 on the road.
The other Marlins starters have been better on the road: Pablo Lopez (4.55 ERA at home, 3.15 on the road), Trevor Rogers (5.94 at home, 5.0 on the road); Jesus Luzardo (4.95 at home, 2.60 on road) and Edward Cabrera (4.57 at home, 1.62 on the road).
“You can look at it two ways,” Mattingly said. “We make it more of a hitter’s park, it’s more of a hitter’s park for the visiting team, too. It goes back to the old Cardinal teams and Royal teams; you’re playing in a big park, fast field, you play with speed, you play a different game. You build your team based on your field.
“It’s not necessarily just speed. If you have guys that are fly ball guys that aren’t true power guys, you hit a lot of fly balls here and you get a lot of outs. You always are going to have a couple guys who will hit the ball out of anywhere; [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Marcell] Ozuna hit them here. They hit them anywhere they play. Then you have other guys that play in Cincinnati and Milwaukee and Philadelphia and hit more because of the ballpark.”
With the Marlins moving away from signing feast-or-famine type bats, there’s no incentive to move the walls in further.
Herald senior baseball correspondent Craig Mish hosts Fantasy Sports Today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Newswire from 2 to 3 p.m. weekdays on Sportsgrid. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigMish. Follow Barry Jackson at @flasportsbuzz
Here’s part 1 of the series on how the team has struggled to identify good hitters.
Here’s part 2 of the series on the team’s top 10 position prospects and the team’s growing payroll disparity within their division.
Here’s part 3 of the series on some of the other position prospects.