Marlins Inbox: Too early for panic button?

April 13th, 2022

MIAMI -- At 1-4, the Marlins' season hasn't gotten off to the start they had hoped for. Perhaps some home cooking will turn the tide? During last year's 95-loss campaign, Miami went 42-39 at loanDepot park.

With an off-day before the home opener, there's no better time than now to let out the early-season frustrations in an Inbox.

I know the front office emphasized a good start early. It has not happened. When does the front office press the panic button? Is it still too "early?" -- @ohhenryboy
Considering we are just 3.1 percent into a 162-game season, it is certainly too early. Stretches like this will happen to every team; it just gets amplified at the beginning of the year. The Dodgers dropped two of three to the Rockies, and the Braves did the same with the Nationals. The Brewers' superb starting staff ranks last in the Majors in ERA. Of course, in what is expected to be a highly competitive National League East, the Marlins will need to limit these stretches if they want to contend.

There are many variables -- some might say excuses -- that could explain the struggles. For one, the expedited spring. Only Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Joey Wendle received at least 30 at-bats during Grapefruit League play. That is a far lower number than usual. Garrett Cooper, Jesús Aguilar and Brian Anderson are returning from their respective surgeries. Avisaíl García is dealing with back tenderness. Not to mention hitting -- or lack thereof -- is contagious. Wendle, Cooper, Aguilar, Anderson and García have combined for one RBI: a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.

And let's give some credit to the Giants and Angels. Thirteen of Miami's first 15 games will come against clubs that finished 2021 above .500, including 107-win San Francisco, NL Wild Card St. Louis and World Series champion Atlanta. The Angels, who clearly improved their pitching staff, are expected to compete for a playoff spot in the American League. This isn't meant to be an easy part of the schedule.

Will Jazz bat higher than eighth on Thursday? -- @NateKidd33
Doesn't this question bring about a feeling of déjà vu? Much like the similar record, fans last year were clamoring for Chisholm to move up in the order after a hot start. It wasn't until Game 18 of the 2021 season that Chisholm debuted as leadoff. It makes sense to put your best hitters toward the top so they get more at-bats. Chisholm is one of the club's hottest batters at the moment, but he's seeing fewer opportunities. For what it's worth, as the ninth batter in Tuesday's loss, he came to the plate with runners on in each of his first three at-bats.

Still, Chisholm's speed -- something the lineup lacks -- would be a welcome addition at the top. During the spring, I mentioned how the Marlins had quite a few similarly profiled players: Jorge Soler, Cooper, Aguilar and García aren't going to take an extra base. They're right-handed sluggers. Why not spice things up?

Just don't expect Chisholm to lead off with a southpaw on the mound. Much was said in San Francisco, where Chisholm sat against one of the game's toughest lefties in Carlos Rodón. In his career, Chisholm has a .621 OPS vs. lefty starters (.681 OPS including relievers), so I'm fine with him being lower in the order those days.

Why does manager Don Mattingly stick with Brian Anderson after struggling since last season? Why not give him the bench treatment to see if he reacts? Joey Wendle has been playing good. -- @RonaldPS1993

What does Bryan De La Cruz have to do to play ahead of Anderson in the outfield? Right now I would be open to replacing several bats in the lineup, but let’s start there. -- @MarkN99

I have combined these two questions since they center around Anderson. I alluded to this a bit in the first question, but I can dive a bit more in depth now. Don't forget that Anderson appeared in just 67 games last season due to IL stints for his left oblique and left shoulder. That's a whole lot of time to miss out on live pitching. Prior to those injuries, he was running into a lot of hard-hit outs. What I've noticed in a very small sample size in 2022 is Anderson putting the ball in the air (71.4%) and striking out (53.3%) compared to line drives (14.3%). What the Marlins have done so far platooning Anderson and Wendle makes complete sense. The execution is just off. For his career, the left-handed-hitting Wendle has just a .623 OPS vs. lefty starters. The right-handed-hitting Anderson is at .768 (RHP) and .765 (LHP).

Soler, Jesús Sánchez and García are the starting outfielders. Soler and García are the free-agent signees with proven track records, while Sánchez has been one of the bright spots so far. He was the "question mark" coming into the season because of the uncertainty of his return to center. That doesn't leave many opportunities for De La Cruz as the fourth outfielder. Soler is an option at designated hitter, which would give De La Cruz an opportunity in left, but Aguilar and Cooper are taking turns between DH and first base.

Before Miami signed Soler, the idea was for Anderson to remain in the lineup (112 OPS+ from 2018-20) by seeing time in the outfield. He has started there just twice this season, in each of the last two games. So this is less to do with De La Cruz, who impressed everyone over last year's final two months, and more to do with getting the veterans going. If the struggles continue, however, De La Cruz should see more playing time. Remember we are still at a five-game sample size, and some players (Cooper, Aguilar and Soler) are notorious for slow starts based on splits.