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Analytics to play big role for Marlins at Deadline

Front office expanded use of various technologies in offseason
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

JUPITER, Fla. -- With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Marlins are tapping into all their resources to identify players they may be interested in acquiring.

Miami's pro scouts have been combing through the Minor League systems of postseason contenders, while president of baseball operations Michael Hill has corresponded with his peers, gauging the market. The Marlins are open for deals that make sense, but they won't make any moves without first consulting their analytics department.

JUPITER, Fla. -- With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Marlins are tapping into all their resources to identify players they may be interested in acquiring.

Miami's pro scouts have been combing through the Minor League systems of postseason contenders, while president of baseball operations Michael Hill has corresponded with his peers, gauging the market. The Marlins are open for deals that make sense, but they won't make any moves without first consulting their analytics department.

Under the supervision of director of player personnel Dan Greenlee, Miami's analytics department has become the epicenter for all player evaluation decisions.

Their input was heavily involved in offseason trades, the 2018 MLB Draft in June, the international signing period and, in two weeks, the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"The analytics department now has become one of the most valuable departments in the Marlins' organization," vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo said. "The reason is, they're affecting every single department. It's pro scouting, amateur scouting, international scouting, baseball operations, the Major League team, and every one of our Minor League teams. It will have a major effect at the Trade Deadline as well."

Contenders already have inquired about right-handers Dan Straily, Brad Ziegler and second baseman Starlin Castro. The Marlins also will listen to offers for, but are less likely to deal, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and closer Kyle Barraclough, unless they are blown away by an offer.

When the group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter assumed ownership last October, the commitment was made to build the organization from the ground up. Boosting analytics became a priority.

"I think we've done a lot of catchup in the past couple of months," Greenlee said. "I think we've sprinted ahead in some areas. I have the feeling this Trade Deadline, teams are not going to have more information than we have."

That hasn't always been the case, because analytics was not a high priority under previous ownership. The past few years, highly-respected former senior director of analytics Jason Pare had a seat at the front-office table. But he didn't have many resources.

In October, Pare joined the Braves, and Greenlee was hired after serving five seasons with the Yankees as an analyst.

"Analytics was an area that we were behind in," Hill said. "Now, there is no part of baseball operations that analytics does not touch. They are heavily involved with our advanced scouting in Major League operations, our shifting, our game planning at the Major League level. Similarly, at the Minor League level, analytics is great information from a teaching standpoint."

Based at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla., Greenlee's department is being leaned upon for the daily operations of all the team's affiliates, and they provide reports to the big league club.

Through TrackMan, the radar technology that also powers Statcast™ for MLB.com, the Marlins are prioritizing -- among many things -- exit velocities and launch angles to evaluate hitters. For context, the median MLB batting average on balls put in play at 100-plus mph in the first half of this season was .616, and batting averages on batted balls between 10-25 degrees was .651.

"One of the worst feelings you can have is when somebody is making a decision with more resources than you have," Greenlee said. "I feel like we're on even footing, with even the top teams in that space. That's my impression right now."

Ownership has made a substantial investment in providing the resources to assist in the decision-making process. That includes Greenlee overseeing a staff of seven -- Neil Gahart, David Sayet, Benjamin Wong, Robbie Knopf, Dawson Friedland, Bradley Woodrum and Myles Lewis.

"People like Dan Greenlee are very difficult to find, because he has a great deal of knowledge in the world of analytics, but he also has a way about him that he can easily explain the complicated numbers that come out of that department to our coaches, to our managers, to our coordinators, to our scouts," Denbo said.

Analytics played a key role in the first trade made under new ownership. Last Nov. 20, Miami acquired left-hander Caleb Smith and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Cooper from the Yankees for Minor League pitcher Michael King and international signing bonus pool money.

In Smith, the Marlins saw a left-hander with a mid-90s four-seam fastball with an above-average spin rate of 2,365 rpm. The league average is 2,264 rpms. The higher spin creates more deception for hitters. Before undergoing season-ending surgery a few weeks ago to repair a Grade 3 left lat tear, Smith led all MLB rookies in strikeouts -- 88 in 77 1/3 innings.

"Ownership has been phenomenal in affording us all the resources necessary to build a best-in-class analytics department," Greenlee said. "And because of ownership's genuine interest and support, we are on our way to that end."

Miami also has upgraded its video technology, making a substantial investment in high-definition cameras that pinpoint exactly what players are doing. At the disposal of Joey Nero, the club's MLB video coordinator, the videos show everything in super-slow motion. For example, a normal pitch that takes two seconds to throw in real time can be broken down in a 45- to 60-second video. These clips allow pitchers and staff to see exactly how the ball leaves the hand.

This technology has helped in the development of rookie right-hander Elieser Hernandez. With minor revisions to his mechanics, Hernandez's four-seam spin rate has improved this year. While his season average is 2,177 rpms (below the MLB average), in his past two outings, the pitch has been tracked at 2,363 rpms, according to Statcast™. In those two appearances, the 23-year-old has thrown three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

"I guess if we had a motto, it's, 'We're not trying to use analytics the most,'" Greenlee said. "That's not the aim. We don't think that's necessarily impressive. It's to use analytics the best."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

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