The Marlins suffered a devastating loss last September when ace SP Jose Fernandez was killed in a late-night boating accident. Not even taking into account the on-field effect, it likely hasn’t been easy for the players to cope with the loss of a friend and teammate. Will it have an effect on the field? The team didn’t make any major moves in the offseason, with the biggest names joining the team being SPs Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily via free agency and a trade, respectively. They also signed C A.J. Ellis to serve as a veteran backup to C J.T. Realmuto. The young offense will continue to run through RF Giancarlo Stanton, who has put up some of the best power numbers in the majors in recent years.The Marlins’ 79 wins in 2016 was an eight-win improvement over the year before. The offense had its ups and downs, with a .263 batting average ranking fourth in MLB, but the offense ranked next-to-last with just 128 home runs for the season. With their lack of power, the Marlins ranked near the bottom of the majors with a .716 OPS. More than half of the Marlins’ 128 homers came off the bats of three players — Stanton, who hit 27, and OFs Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who mashed 23 and 21, respectively. Realmuto and veteran 3B Martin Prado both finished the season with batting averages above .300, and Yelich hit .298 on the season to add to his power numbers. Yelich had a team-best .859 OPS, followed by 1B Justin Bour’s .824 OPS. Yelich had a WAR of 5.3, which was the seventh-best among position players in the National League.
The pitching staff ranked in the top half of the majors with a 4.05 ERA and 1,379 strikeouts. The bullpen’s 55 saves — 40 of those from RP A.J. Ramos — was tied for the second most in the majors. SP Wei-Yin Chen, who is expected to be the team’s No. 1 starter without Fernandez, is coming off the worst season of his five-year career; he posted a 4.96 ERA and had 100 strikeouts over 123.1 innings in 22 starts. Volquez, who should slot in as the No. 2 behind Chen, also had a disappointing 2016 with the Royals, with a 5.37 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 34 starts and 189.1 innings. In addition to his 40 saves, Ramos put up a 2.81 ERA and struck out 73 in 64 innings. RP Kyle Barraclough performed well as the setup man in his first full season in the majors, racking up 113 strikeouts over 72.2 innings in 75 appearances to go along with his 2.85 ERA.
Without any major additions on offense, you shouldn’t expect much of an improvement at the plate. One hitter who should give the team better production this season is 2B Dee Gordon, who played in just 79 games last season after serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He doesn’t hit many home runs, but he has a career .289 batting average, which can lead to more runs for the team given his speed and ability to steal bases. The starting rotation will see a big change this season, with Chen and Volquez at the top and Straily likely at the bottom of the rotation. SPs Adam Conley and Tom Koehler should get a chance to hold down the middle of the rotation for the Marlins. The team should have a chance to win games if the starters can get a lead to the bullpen if Barraclough and Ramos can repeat what they were able to do late in games last season.
The Marlins finished just three games under .500, a mark they haven’t surpassed since 2009. I’m expecting it to be another sub-.500 season for the Marlins. The offense should be decent, but the lack of home runs will make it difficult to put runs on the board. The team also has question marks among its starting pitchers without a clear ace on the roster. I’m expecting the Marlins to be about a 75-win team this year, a bit of a drop-off from last season. In the NL East, they’re still likely the third-best team in the division and likely won’t do better than that in the standings.