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Expansive analytics helping decision-making

@JoeFrisaro
July 25, 2020

Putting together the Marlins’ daily game plan is a group effort that includes input from the coaching staff, scouting reports and the analytics department. Coaching and scouting have been traditional staples in the Marlins' decision-making process. But in the past three years, the analytics department has had more say than

Putting together the Marlins’ daily game plan is a group effort that includes input from the coaching staff, scouting reports and the analytics department.

Coaching and scouting have been traditional staples in the Marlins' decision-making process. But in the past three years, the analytics department has had more say than ever before in club history.

There was a time the Marlins lagged behind the rest of the industry in relying on advanced statistical data. Not anymore.

“I guess, in general, we're like a team,” manager Don Mattingly said on a Zoom call Saturday. “We're all a group here. That's the way we look at it.”

The analytics department is headed by Dan Greenlee, the club’s Major League director of player personnel. And its influence is expansive, providing more information on daily matchups as well as defensive positioning.

“Obviously, we look at numbers all the time,” Mattingly said. “The best matchups, and the best matchups aren't necessarily average or what they did against that guy. Obviously, we've got a formula that goes into our number. Every team's got them. We had them in L.A.”

The difference now to when Mattingly managed the Dodgers is the Marlins’ analytics department is more of a presence at the table.

Before, the club had an analytics person or two, who provided numbers, but didn’t operate with the resources that the current ownership has provided to Greenlee and his staff.

When it comes to setting the daily lineup, Mattingly and his staff ultimately make the call. Mattingly, with input, made the call to go with first baseman Jesús Aguilar hitting in the two spot and dropping third baseman Brian Anderson to fifth in the lineup.

In Spring Training in March, Aguilar was hitting cleanup and Anderson was batting second. One reason for the switch was Aguilar’s patience at the plate, hitting behind Jonathan Villar, who is a threat to steal.

With Anderson hitting fifth, he doesn’t have to worry about whether to take a pitch in case Villar attempts to steal.

“There's a lineup optimizer,” Mattingly said. “It tells you the combination of guys, it doesn't really tell you where to hit them. You have a pretty good idea of where that is. It doesn't really change much by moving a guy from two to three, or three to four.”

In setting their rotation, the Marlins opted to go with José Ureña on Sunday in the series finale at the Phillies, and Pablo López on Monday in the home opener against the Orioles.

In his career, Ureña is 21-13 with a 4.78 ERA on the road and 11-30 with a 4.38 ERA at home. Last year, López had a 3.39 ERA at home compared to a 7.36 ERA away from Miami. Those are some basic numbers, and more goes into how the rotation was set. But the numbers play a factor to some degree.

Defensively, the Marlins are relying on the metrics to help set the infield. In Friday’s 5-2 win against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, they shifted on 13 batters, which was tied for the 12th-most shifts of all MLB teams, according to FanGraphs.

“With Dan and his guys, they give you great information,” Mattingly said. “There's a lot of good stuff out there.

“I think the best thing about analytics and our guys is it's more of a presentation. It's more of a collaboration more than like one against the other. All of us are open to being the best team that we can be. Whatever that takes, and whatever that is.”

Plenty of bullpen options
With rosters at 30 for the first two weeks of the season, the Marlins are carrying 12 relievers. Normally, that high of a number isn’t seen until the September callup period.

“It definitely feels like September out there with how many of us there are,” right-hander Brad Boxberger said. “It’s the nature of the game right now, and it definitely gives us options at any point in the game. It’s going to kind of play out over the next week or so, and establish a couple of more roles.”

Even with that high number, Mattingly is pretty much settled on his primary back-end options, at least early in the season.

Boxberger pitched in the seventh inning on Friday, with Yimi García working the eighth and Brandon Kintzler closing.

The bullpen also includes four players who have never pitched before in the big leagues: Sterling Sharp, Nick Neidert, Jordan Holloway and Alex Vesia.

Boxberger’s advice to the rookies: “Just stay calm and do what got them here. They didn’t get here by accident. It’s a matter of going out and throwing strikes, and attacking every hitter at every chance they’re given.”

Catching options
Now that Jorge Alfaro is on the 10-day injured list, the Marlins' catching duties are being split between Francisco Cervelli and Chad Wallach.

Cervelli started on Friday, with Wallach behind the plate on Saturday.

The emergency third catcher is Sean Rodríguez, who was in Philadelphia because he is part of the taxi squad.

On Monday, the Marlins likely will add another catcher to their taxi squad. The likely choice is Ryan Lavarnway, who is currently at the alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla.

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