Miami Marlins

As Marlins attempt to fix their hitting woes, a look at the roots of their struggles

Don Mattingly explains why the Marlins fired their hitting coach

The Miami Marlins announced on April 19, 2019 that they had fired hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo.
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The Miami Marlins announced on April 19, 2019 that they had fired hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo.

It’s no secret that the Miami Marlins have been one of the worst offensive teams in Major League Baseball to start the season.

Through 20 games, the Marlins (5-15) have scored just 51 runs (last in MLB), have grounded into 23 double plays (most in MLB), are hitting .215 (27th), have struck out 187 times (tied for eighth), have been shut out a league-high five times and had been shut out for 24 consecutive innings before scoring in the second inning of Friday’s 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals.

It’s that type of performance that ultimately cost hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo his job, a move that the club announced after Friday’s win. Jeff Livesey has been promoted to interim hitting coach and minor-league hitting coordinator Eric Duncan will be joining the major-league staff as the assistant hitting coach.

“Our offensive approach, we’re an easy team to pitch to,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said about the move Friday night, barely a half hour after the Marlins snapped a four-game losing streak. “I didn’t get the feel that we were making the necessary adjustments and battling and fighting the way that we know this team is capable of performing offensively. I felt like it was time for a new voice and subsequently a change needed to be made.”

But on the analytical side, what are the root factors attributing to the Marlins’ struggles? Let’s take a look.

Plate discipline

The high strikeout count can be attributed to an undisciplined approach at the plate.

According to Statcast, the Marlins are the second-worst team when it comes to swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, doing so 31.1 percent of the time. The major-league average is about 27 percent.

Meanwhile, they are only swinging at 63.6 percent of pitches inside the strike zone, tied for the fifth-worst mark among MLB clubs and slightly below the league average of 65.6.

The Marlins are the only team in Major League Baseball in the bottom five of both categories.

The Marlins are also whiffing on 27.9 percent of their swings. Three starters who have faced at least 200 pitches this year have missed contact on at least 30 percent of their swings this season: Catcher Jorge Alfaro (39.5 percent), outfielder Lewis Brinson (35.1 percent) and third baseman Brian Anderson (30.9 percent). First baseman Neil Walker (29.5 percent) and outfielder Curtis Granderson (29.3 percent) are close to that threshold. Those five account for 100 of the Marlins’ strikeouts this year.

Lack of timely hitting

While the Marlins’ batting average is already on pace to be the worst in club history — they have never finished with a team batting average below .230 — the numbers get worse as the team gets into key hitting situations.

With runners on base, the Marlins are hitting .211 (51 for 242) with 64 strikeouts.

With runners in scoring position, batting average dips to .197 (23 for 117) with 36 strikeouts.

With runners in scoring position and two outs, it’s .158 (9 for 57) with 17 strikeouts.

With a runner at third base and less than two outs, the team is hitting .160 (4 for 25) with nine strikeouts.

“You look at the makeup of our club,” Hill said, “and we feel like we can do better.”

Launch angles

The Marlins are in the middle of the pack when it comes to making hard contact, defined by Statcast as a ball put in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. Their 37-percent hard-hit rate is 15th in the league.

The problem is the Marlins aren’t getting enough pop on these hard hits. The club’s average launch angle — the angle in which the ball leaves a bat after contact is made — is about 10.2 degrees, which is the fifth-lowest in MLB and is indicative of a high groundball and shallow line drive rate.

So while the Marlins are generally making solid contact when they’re not striking out, it’s not producing the results one would normally expect.

Take Alfaro and Starlin Castro, for example.

Alfaro ranks seventh in MLB among hitters who have put at least 25 balls into play with a 58.6-percent hard-hit rate, putting him in the company of players such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and New York Mets rookie slugger Pete Alonso. However, Alfaro’s average launch angle is just 7.3 degrees, which ranks 232nd out of 269 eligible players.

Castro, meanwhile, has hit a team-high 29 hard-hit balls but with a an average launch angle of just 6 degrees, most of those have resulted in groundballs.

‘All on the attack’

So what do the Marlins need their identity to be on offense?

In simplest terms, Marlins manager Don Mattingly said they need to be a team that’s “all on the attack.”

With this roster, every run is precious. Every baserunner is crucial. They need to find some way - any way - to scratch across whatever runs they can on a nightly basis.

“We’re trying to attack with getting guys on base, with being able to put the game in motion, to generate runs in different ways,” Mattingly said. “That’s what we feel like we have to be. We’re not gonna be a team that’s going to break records for home runs for our club the way we’re constituted right now. I feel like that’s the type of offense we need to be.”

The Marlins have shown the capability of doing that in small doses. Despite their overall struggles, the Marlins are the only team in the majors to have three 16-hit games this year.

The problem? The Marlins are averaging just 5.5 hits in the 17 other games they have played.

“Guys can’t lay back and wait around for the three-run homer or wait for somebody else to do it,” Mattingly said. “Every guy has to take on his responsibility within the offense.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.