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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Which Marlins hitters could get a desert boost in 2020?

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If MLB games are played in warmer Arizona or Florida climates in 2020, which Marlins hitters get a boost?

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Technically every Marlins hitter would get a boost if we had desert baseball in 2020. So that’s the answer. But I want to look a bit beneath the surface and see if there are hidden gems on this Miami team. Which guys are the most exciting for fantasy baseball purposes?

So welcome to Part II of this short series. If you missed the Mike Yastrzemski propaganda, be sure to check that out!

And before I move on, I’d like to reiterate: I’d never want baseball to be played if players were put at risk, or if that meant MLB personnel (who would otherwise be at home) were soaking up valuable tests that could be used to save people’s lives. It’s a delicate balance between being excited about the return of sports, but also wanting it do be done responsibly. I’m hoping we get some form of the MLB in 2020. Okay, moving on.

The Marlins are my second choice of team with a terrible home park that would theoretically get a sizable boost from playing games in the triple-digit heat of Arizona. To pick said teams, I’m utilizing ESPN’s home run park factor. Remember, a home run park factor of 1.000 is considered average. Anything above 1.000 is favorable for the hitter, anything below (and the farther below you move) is unfavorable.

For reference, the range in 2019 was from 1.317 (TOR) to 0.691 (SF). Also, 15 of 30 MLB teams were above average, with the 16th-ranked Citi Field coming in right at 1.000. As stated in the first installment, Oracle Park was truly atrocious. Now let’s scope out Marlins Park, which isn’t much better.

Marlins Park (MIA): 0.835 (25th), 0.650 (30th), 0.828 (28th)

Here are the ADPs of the poor, downtrodden souls who call will call Marlins Park home in 2020:

2B/SS Jonathan Villar, 44.76
C Jorge Alfaro, 210.55
3B/OF Brian Anderson, 217.42
SS/3B/OF Jon Berti, 274.18
OF Corey Dickerson, 298.17
1B Jesus Aguilar, 396.75
1B/OF Garrett Cooper, 531.24
OF Lewis Brinson, 653.33

Seven guys in the top 600. That’s two more than the Giants, and three more if you include Brinson, who I think should be being considered a bit higher in drafts. Let’s spend time on each one...some more than others.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Villar seems a bit polarizing in the fantasy community, but I’m aboard the train—even if I’m not the conductor. He’s a bigger dude than you think, at 6-1 and 215 pounds. I only say it because I think there’s a stigma with guys that can run, and I wouldn’t want anyone thinking Villar is some 5-8, 160 pound shrimp. The double-digit power is legit. I’d be more concerned about his batting average than I would be his homers. But there are encouraging signs under the hood for Villar, who is still only 28 years old and has shown steady improvement. Here’s what I said about him in the State of the Position for second base:

As for Villar, I’m totally down with the volume-based speed he’ll offer. He has shown steady growth with regard to his plate discipline, in the form of swinging more in the zone, making decent contact, and leveling out his chasing tendencies (about 2% better than average the last two years). He’s also a big dude (6-1, 215) who can run. Last year’s 27.9 ft/s sprint speed was in the 72nd percentile. While that’s not blazing, it is solid. It is also Villar’s typical speed, as it’s the same percentile he was at way back in 2015—at 27.8 ft/s and in the 72nd percentile. Stealing bases is a mixture of speed AND instincts. So it’s encouraging to me that Villar hasn’t lost a step. I’m all-in on his wheels in 2020.

Given that speed is such a scarcity, I was already considering Villar a “push” at his ADP. If we had a version of Villar in the desert heat, I’d be all over him at his ADP. He’d push for 20 homers and 40 steals again...how many guys can you say that about?

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Jorge Alfaro was a nice surprise in 2019, slugging 18 homers in his first year as a Marlin. He was still himself, posting a whopping 33.1% strikeout rate that was buoyed by yet another high BABIP—a .364 mark. He actually batted .288/.338/.433 at home, with seven of his 18 homers. His ISO jumped from .144 in Marlins Park to .179 on the road (11 homers) but it cost him. His away slash was .238/.287/.417, so that’s worth noting. It’s only one season so it’s noisy, but it seems that Alfaro may have attempted to lift the ball more on the road—which makes sense to me, if you’re escaping the confines of a cavernous home park...

Alfaro’s healthy 26.4% line drive rate at home plummeted to 18.0% on the road, while his fly ball rate increased from 21.7% to 28.7%. I don’t think this was a good move if it was intended, as Alfaro got away from hitting the ball hard and his BABIP likely suffered as a result. The hard% dropped from 50.4% to 38.0%, while the .434 home BABIP cratered to a league average .302 mark on the road. For a guy who strikes out as much as Alfaro, that was a poor recipe. A move to the desert for this guy...maybe it would bring out a bad habit? Again, it’s one season of data so it’s noisy. But he’s not someone you were aggressively drafting anyway, not with that strikeout rate. So a desert move wouldn’t change much for me—he’d have to fall into my lap, and he’s not done that all draft season.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Anderson is a stud. The 26-year-old is slated to bat second behind Villar, and he’ll qualify at third base and the outfield. Don’t let last year’s short season (126 games) fool you. He’ll be a run-scoring asset no matter where he plays. He was quietly top 10 at the hot corner with 87 runs in his first full season. And in Year 2, he trimmed his ground ball rate and beefed up his hard contact rate. His 45.7% hard hit rate per Statcast put him in the 86th percentile, for reference. And in 2019 he increased his barrel rate from 5.8% to 8.9%, with the average launch angle rising from 8.7 degrees to 11.1 degrees (supporting fewer ground balls). Any move to desert heat, and the 20-homer power becomes a threat of 30 bombs, in my opinion. Add in that he’s a plus in runs with league average stats elsewhere, and he’s a fine depth piece with upside for your deeper league teams. Slam dunk at his ADP north of pick 200. Another guy I was already in on, and this hypothetical just gets me more excited.

Honestly, I’m not super-enthused about a lot of these other guys. Jon Berti is a 30-year-old platoon bat, no matter how much YOU want him to be a starter. Garrett Cooper is an injury concern and another bench bat. That leaves Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar, and Lewis Brinson as the remaining three that have specific roles carved out.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The lefty hitting Corey Dickerson is slated to bat third and he’s still only 30 years old, despite it feeling like he’s been around forever. Surprisingly (to me), C-Dick is actually decent versus lefty pitching, so this reads like another underrated move by the Fish to contend a bit more in 2020. Really, check out the career slash lines by handedness:

vs. LHP: .272/.310/.409, .137 ISO, .310 wOBA
vs. RHP: .290/.333/.533, .243 ISO, .363 wOBA

Okay, so he’s not powerful versus southpaws, but a .270+ batting average in your weaker split will play—i.e. he’s not a guy that should be benched automatically against a lefty pitcher. Here’s a fun concept—let’s assume that 100 degree Arizona heat plays like a top five ball park. Not a huge leap, in my opinion. Now let’s see what C-Dick did during his tenure with the Rockies, as that locale seems much closer to desert heat with regard to hitting than his time with the Rays would. 2014 was his largest sample as a Rockie, so here are the splits:

Home: .363/.415/.684, .321 ISO, .467 wOBA, 15 HR (234 AB)
Away: .252/.305/.431, .178 ISO, .319 wOBA, 9 HR (202 AB)

What a beast! A combined .312/.364/.567 slash with 24 homers and eight swipes. Heck of a season. For giggles, let’s check the abbreviated 2015 that C-Dick had, in his last year in Colorado:

Home: .395/.446/.697, .303 ISO, .483 wOBA, 5 HR (76 AB)
Away: .257/.272/.453, .196 ISO, .309 wOBA, 5 HR (148 AB)

An overall slash of .304/.333/.536, with 10 dingers in 65 games. Not a bad year, but it was cut short by two broken ribs in late June. These home splits in Colorado sure are tantalizing given that it’s possible C-Dick gets a more fortuitous place to hit than Marlins Park in 2020.

Lastly, after batting .245 in his first stint with the Rays in 2016, C-Dick has posted batting averages of .282, .300, and .304 in the three most recent years. That’s sneaky good and something I didn’t expect, especially for a guy with a career .218 ISO. So yessir, at his his ADP of 300, I’ll take all the C-Dick in the hypothetical desert!

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Jesus Aguilar is 29 years old and just a year removed from a monster 35-homer season with the Brewers in 2018. His landing spot in Miami is nice for playing time, but the home park leaves something to be desired. However, moving to the desert could potentially bring his power into play, so let’s check out the skills. Aguilar’s walk rate rose from 10.2% to 11.7% last year—and his strikeout rate fell from 25.3% to 22.0%, which is a quality mark for a slugger. That improving K-rate was backed by growth in swinging strike rate, which fell from 12.4% in his banner 2018 to 10.7% last year. Aguilar also trimmed his chase rate from 35.6% to 29.8% while upping his contact rate a few ticks. So the plate discipline looks tolerable.

Unfortunately, Aguilar is slow (sixth percentile sprint speed). His exit velocity (54th percentile) and hard hit rate (42nd) are middle of the pack, and the .246 xBA was in the 26th percentile. Between the foot speed and the quality of the contact, I’d say a solid projection (unless he’s really getting lucky on BABIP) is a .250 batting average. Maybe he could be a 25-homer guy in the desert, but I wouldn’t be stashing him thinking I had the next big thing on my hands.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Lewis Brinson had a torrid spring, slashing .345/.355/.793 with three homers, a pair of doubles, and a triple over only 29 at-bats. This would be more impressive if we hadn’t seen it before, as Brinson has excelled so much during Spring Training that he’s earned himself the unfortunate nickname of “Mr. March.” However, the Achilles heel of Brinson’s—strikeouts—has been noticeably strengthened this year. Brinson only had three strikeouts over his 29 spring at-bats, and he’s driven the ball with more authority in the 2020 spring than in the springs prior. He has a long way to go, as evidenced by last year’s .173/.236/.221 slash over 81 games and subsequent demotion to Triple-A. But add in this spring’s hot start and last year’s .270/.361/.510 slash in the minors—with 16 homers and 16 swipes—and it’s clear that Brinson is a player of intrigue heading into 2020. This whole coronavirus deal was probably really bad timing for him given his torrid start...but if we do get baseball in 2020 and that comes with expanded rosters of any kind, that’s probably back to being good news for him. He’s worth a really late dart in your fake leagues!

Conclusion (arbitrarily ranking these guys based on skill sets and potential desert baseball)

I like them this way: Jonathan Villar, Brian Anderson, Jorge Alfaro, Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar, Lewis Brinson, Jon Berti, and Garrett Cooper. Brinson finishing that high is a hot take, as is denting Berti that much. I just don’t see it for a guy who doesn’t have a starting role and who didn’t do anything of count against right-handed pitching in 2019.

What say you guys? Are you drafting any Marlins more aggressively if we get desert/Florida baseball in 2020?