How Bad Will the Marlins Outfield Actually Be?

No matter what you think about the Marlins’ rebuild, there’s no getting around the fact that they’re rebuilding. Or, to put it in Derek Jeter’s words, building. The Marlins had what might’ve been baseball’s best outfield, but it’s been completely dismantled, and then some. Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was traded. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna was traded. Outfielder Christian Yelich was traded. Infielder Dee Gordon was traded, and moved to the outfield. You could say the Marlins have traded four starting outfielders, then, which doesn’t seem like something that’s normally possible, but here we are, and the regular season is going to be rough.

From the Marlins’ perspective, 2018 hardly matters anymore. That is, in terms of major-league success. It’s going to be a bad season, and all they’ll care about is player development, and making more moves. I don’t think the Marlins much care if they win 50 or 60 or 70 games. This being a season like any other, though, we can still analyze the Marlins, for our own fun. I’m sure the team understands the numbers will be ugly. Just how ugly might they be?

This post is interactive. Following the text will be one single poll.

Even though spring training is finally underway, the offseason isn’t really over yet. There are transactions yet to be completed. And for the time being, on FanGraphs, all we have are the Steamer projections — we’re still waiting on the full ZiPS roll-out. Those two points being made, I’d like to show you a plot. Here are, as of this writing, the 2018 team outfield WAR projections, combining all three positions. I won’t give you a hint about where to find the Marlins. The hunt is the fun!

Yeah, the Marlins are in last. Of course the Marlins are in last. They’ve traded all the good ones. Their combined projected WAR right now is a hard-to-fathom 0.6. Overall, the Marlins rank 30th. In left field, they rank 28th. In center field, they rank 26th. In right field, they rank 30th. My question to you is, which do you think will be higher — the Marlins’ combined outfield WAR, or the lowest individual WAR posted by one of the four outfielders they’ve traded away?

That’s the poll. Before the poll, I should provide some information. If you feel like you’re not sure what’s going on in the Marlins outfield, you’re not alone. Importantly, they did acquire Lewis Brinson, as part of the return for Yelich. They still have Derek Dietrich, who might play a corner. There’s been talk about using Garrett Cooper in the outfield. Magneuris Sierra came over from the Cardinals in the Ozuna move. And 2018 should bring the big-league debut of Braxton Lee. Furthermore, the Marlins are bargain shopping, reportedly thinking about Melky Cabrera or Jon Jay. I might as well note that Rafael Ortega is another guy hanging around. He was very bad a couple seasons ago, but he does make contact.

You already know what Steamer thinks about the group. Dietrich isn’t much of a defender, and he could be traded or moved to another position. Cabrera or Jay could be traded in the middle of the year, were one of them to sign, and Cabrera has been replacement level in two of the past three seasons, and also three of the past five. Brinson didn’t hit in a 2017 cup of coffee. Neither did Sierra, really. Lee has yet to play above Double-A.

But for every pessimistic outlook, there’s something that’s at least a little bit positive. What could be more hopeful than youth, right? Right now, Brinson is 23. Sierra is 21, and Lee is 24. Each of them has played center field, so they have young athleticism and defense. And Brinson is one of baseball’s better prospects, having just put up a 146 wRC+ in Triple-A. He is a definite major-league player, and he’s got a shot to be the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year. Sierra is a speed-and-defense guy, which gives him a certain useful foundation. And while Lee isn’t very well known, he was just 30% better than the average Double-A hitter. He ran an OBP of nearly .400. He has speed and discipline, which could allow for a smooth transition. For all I know, he might be an average big-leaguer by June.

You can see something in the youth, if you squint. Brinson alone might make a huge impact. And Cooper might be a useful slugger, even if he’s playing out of position. Dietrich, too, should be some kind of positive. The Marlins might not be thinking about the short-term, but they’ll still give the opportunities to the players who appear to most deserve them. You’re almost inclined to regress them up, if that makes sense.

That’s the Marlins. Now for the ex-Marlins. Here’s what Steamer sees for 2018.

  • Stanton: 6.3 WAR
  • Yelich: 3.9
  • Ozuna: 3.9
  • Gordon: 1.7

It seems like that might be low on Gordon. Which makes some sense, because he’s an atypical player, which introduces something of a forecasting challenge. Here’s what happened a year ago.

  • Stanton: 6.9 WAR
  • Yelich: 4.5
  • Ozuna: 4.8
  • Gordon: 3.3

Gordon is still the low guy. Still, he had a strong season. For a further frame of reference, here is each player’s performance over the past three seasons, expressed in terms of WAR per 600 plate appearances.

  • Stanton: 5.1
  • Yelich: 3.6
  • Ozuna: 2.9
  • Gordon: 3.2

Now it’s Ozuna who brings up the rear. His number is still good! But, finally, here is each player’s lowest single-season WAR, since 2015.

  • Stanton: 1.8 WAR
  • Yelich: 2.4
  • Ozuna: 1.2
  • Gordon: 1.0

This is just as important as the other stuff. Of course, all four players are at least pretty good. Not a single one of them has yet celebrated his 30th birthday. But every projection has positive and negative error bars, and what this question asks about is the worst 2018 season from any one of four players. That’s four times the likelihood of something going wrong. Taken individually, we’d probably all think these players will be productive moving forward. But do we think they’ll *all* be productive moving forward? How good are the actual chances of that?

They’re actually probably still okay. But, as recently as 2015, Ozuna simply struggled. Didn’t put it together. Stanton has had several injury problems, and his 2016 season was below his usual standard. Gordon missed half of 2016 because of a PED suspension. Maybe that’s unlikely to happen again. But, who knows! Gordon’s suspension was shocking the first time around. Gordon also, you should remember, is going to play center field for the first time. Maybe he’s the weak link here. Or maybe you just think someone will get significantly hurt. Could just be a fluke. Flukes happen all the time. With a group of four, negative probabilities are greater. I don’t want to keep pushing this angle, because I don’t want to bias the responses, but I just want to make clear what’s being asked, and what’s reasonable to consider. All of the ex-Marlins are good. But, you know. Life. You never know who’ll be the next Alex Gordon.

There’s nothing left for me to do here. The rest is in your hands. Thank you all for your participation.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Bad. Really bad. The Marlins just hope Brinson improves over the season to offset the disaster in right field.

If for some reason (trades of various sorts) neither Dietrich or Prado plays much in left field, the whole outfield WAR might be negative.