Welcome to the best day of the year! We're not in last place! There's (almost) a 0% chance of rain in Miami! I'm so glad John Lannan is my opening day starter and not Brett Myers! Play ball!
Here's my take on the Opening week series against the Fish. If you came by last year, you'll remember that for each series I give a scouting report on the opposition's batters, bullpen, and game one starter, and then I'll scout the starting pitchers before each game for the rest of the series. And of course, I'll give my "fearless predictions" (last year I finished 35-21, and no I didn't just pick them to lose every game).
When the Marlins Are Up
--Leading off will be our old friend Emilio Bonifacio. His game is simple. Put the ball in play and run. He's a total hacker with no strike zone command, so he won't draw walks, leaving all his value in his batting average. But he's got world-class wheels, and if he can get his contact rate to a respectable level he could conceivably give the Marlins a .280 BA / .320 OBP line. Not what you want in a third baseman or lead-off man, but given the offense they get from 2B and SS, they might be able to get away with it, especially if he can figure out how to use that speed to not get caught stealing 37% of the time and if the stellar defense he was supposed to have ever shows up (his career UZR/150 at second is a slightly below average -2.7). The most favorable (overly so, based on what we've seen so far) comp you hear for E-Bone is Luis Castillo. But Castillo in his heyday had strikeout rates around 10-12%. Emmylou K-ed in a whopping 27% of his plate appearances last season as the Nationals gave up on him. This spring he got that strikeout rate down to 18.5%, which is progress, but he needs to knock at least 6 more points off of that rate to be of any use to the Fish, even as an 8-hole middle-infielder. I'm rooting for him though, and I bet he'll surprise some people. One last thing: he can't hit right-handed at all, so look for Lannan to get him out four or five times today.
--Hanley Ramirez is finally starting to get some of the hype he deserves. He might not last as a short-stop long-term, though he improved last year, and right now no team (other than maybe the Phillies and Chase Utley) has a greater advantage on the rest of the league at a given position than what the Marlins have at short. He's batting third this year, which some people take as an improvement, because he'll no longer be leading off. But in fact it's worse because he'll be losing about 50-60 plate appearances over the course of the season, and no batter in front half of the line-up comes to the plate with two outs and no one on more frequently than the 3-hole hitter. With Emmylou leading off that'll be even more true. The Fish should be batting Han-Ram second or fourth. Regardless, he's the whole package: tremendous power, very good plate command, solid contact rate, and enough speed to give you a few extra runs to boot.
--Cameron Maybin, part of the booty from Detroit in the increasingly one-sided Dontrelle Willis-Miguel Cabrera deal,
is getting his chance to learn at the major league level, but he's probably not really ready. He has great bat speed and natural power, but his strike zone command and contact rates are terrible. He's like Lastings Milledge maybe two years ago, but with more upside. If he can't get his Ks in order, he could easily be staring at the Mendoza line for the better part of the season. But the Fish aren't going anywhere, so why not let him learn here?
--Jorge Cantu is a hacker with pop who made a ton of outs even in a good year and shouldn't do nearly as well his second time through the NL East. Lannan should be able to keep the ball down and get him out. He's playing first base now that the even more hacktastic out-machine Mike Jacobs is playing in KC.
--Before last season, I had Dan Uggla pegged as another Marlin hacker with good home run totals obscuring weak on-base skills. Last season his walk rate jumped from 9.7% to 12.7%, and his OBP jumped from .326 to .360. In fact, as good as he was last season, an ankle injury sapped him of almost all his power, leading to a first-half / second-half split in SLG of .605 / .396. But how he's healthy and tere's never been more reason to believe in him as the real deal. His skill set tends to age poorly, and he's turned the page to 29 years old. And who knows how much longer he can last at second (there was talk this off-season of moving him to third), though he's been an average defensive two-bagger to date according to UZR. But all that's still probably a year or two away. For now, he's one of the elite 2Bs in baseball.
--Jeremy Hermida's a former tip-top prospect who may be getting his last chance. His .249 / .323 / .406 line last year wasn't good enough to merit a starting job as a corner outfielder, and more concerning is that his walk rate, K-rate, and ISO power all took sharp turns in the bad direction. Ross Gload could be plan B by mid-season if Hermida tanks any further. Regardless, Hermida's playing this year for a chance somewhere else, because by next season the Fish will be hoping to have top prospect Mike Stanton in right.
--John Baker seemed to burst on the scene out of nowhere last year when Matt Treanor got hurt, but he's been a prospect for a while, getting mentioned in Moneyball way back in the day. He's got those Billy Beane on base skills, but had faded from the prospect radar because of his defense. But apparently he did ok last year, and a .392 OBP gives you enough value to endure some bumps behind the dish. Plus, he's left-handed. He's probably the second best catcher in the NL East, and if you're scrounging for a catcher in your fantasy league, he's a better option than the Brian Schneiders, Nick Hundleys, and Miguel Olivos of the world.
On the Mound
Ricky Nolasco, who came over from the Cubs in the foolish Juan Pierre trade, should be a solid #2 starter in major league baseball for a long time if he can stay healthy. He's had elbow problems, but last year bounced back with one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher in all of baseball. His 4.43 K:BB ratio was seventh in MLB, besting the likes of CC Sabathia and Cole Hamels.
He throws a standard four-pitch repetoire of fastball, slider, curveball, and change, and he's a flyball pitcher who historically has struggled a bit with lefties (though that split almost totally vanished last year). If we get to him, look for it to be Nick getting on base and Dunn slugging him home. Oops, sorry, I forgot that we're idiotically hitting them the other way around.
Last year the Marlins' bullpen was a fairly effective group, posting a 4.06 ERA. But three of their four most effective relievers, Joe Nelson, Doug Waechter and closer Kevin Gregg, are gone. Matt Lindstrom and his 100-mph fastball will be getting the 9th inning duties, however he's recovering from a strained rotator cuff in the WBC. He says he's ready "if needed" (what does that mean?), but we'll see. Otherwise they're looking for holdovers Renyel Pinto and Logan Kensing to step up, as well as Leo Nunez, who came over from the Royals in the Jacobs deal.
I see the Fish taking the season opener with Ramirez and Uggla going long-ball to ruin Lannan's Opening Day honors. Final score: 6-2.