Miami Marlins: it´s a Baseball catenaccio

I am deeply sorry if this is too soon to make an Italian football reference after the England defeat in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

My country Finland made its debut in the Euro´s this year and has never even been in the World Cup so I can´t quite relate to the pain of defeats in the later stages of these tournaments when talking about football (soccer) but I have followed the Miami Marlins baseball team this season and that is a huge amount of pain for a human being to handle.

It´s been a season with off-field drama, injuries, losing streaks, blown saves, in-field drama and we still have almost two months to go. In the darkest corners of the loanDepot park chief executive officer Derek Jeter and GM Kim Ng are building a team for the future which got me thinking; are they fans of 90´s Italian football?

Catenaccio, meaning door-bolt, is a football (soccer) tactic that is ultra-defensive. The purpose of this tactic is to prevent the opponent from creating goal-scoring chances. This takes a toll on the team’s attacking opportunities and usually the outcome is a low scoring game with little offence to show for. Marlins first-year GM Kim Ng was talking to the reporters in early June when the team was in a slump and piling up losses. This is her quote that got me thinking about 90´s Italian football:

“I think I mentioned this before, I never anticipated us being a real high-scoring team. I don’t think that’s how we’re constructed. We’ve always said that we’re very pitching-centric. I looked at it over the last day or so, 70-percent of our games are determined by three runs or less. I think that says something about our pitching.”

Well, those anticipations came reality. If we look at the first four months of the season from April to July Marlins are ranked 27th in runs scored and runs batted in. They have the fourth-highest K% with 25.9 and second-lowest wOBA with .296. As of now in early August they have a 10-22 record in one-run games. This is pain.

On the other side of the ball if we look at starters statistics (I don´t want to look at the bullpen stats and for the love of God, please do not mention Anthony Bass) Miami finishes in the top 10 in the following categories: 74.7 LOB%, 3.65 ERA and 3.97 FIP. So that is encouraging!

Are they trying to build a rotation that relates to the catenaccio style of football which just tries to shut the door every day and have somebody come to the plate with a slight hope that they could score a run or two? It sure looks so.

At the start of this season, the Marlins rotation was thin and it raised the question would they be able to get through a lot of innings during the season. Marlins “Big 3” Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers managed well until the All-Star break. Then Pablo Lopez suffered a right rotator cuff strain and Trevor Rogers had minor back issues.

These injuries have given starts to the likes of Braxton Garrett, Zach Thompson, Nick Neidert and a lot of bullpen games. They have done their best, Thompson may be the best and most surprised out of them but the offence has been nowhere to be seen. It was always a gamble to trust heavily on those “Big 3” guys and now it didn´t pay out but it could payout later. Heading into the trade deadline Marlins was in full sell mode as the season seems to be done.

Embed from Getty Images

There are always few moments in a season that defines it. For me, I think the moment was May 27. That was when the Marlins were 24-25 heading into the game against the Phillies. A win would clinch the series against the Phillies and put the Marlins at 25-25. That didn´t happen. What happened was that they only managed to win 10 games in the next month and lose 20. Over this period of time there was a lot of talk that the Marlins do still have a few good chips to move at the deadline and that was the case.

They didn´t manage to sign a long term contract for Starling Marte who was arguably the best overall player Marlins have had in recent memory but instead, they managed to trade him to the Oakland Athletics and got left-handed pitcher Jesus Luzardo in return. Luzardo is coming home. He grew up as a Marlins fan and saw them lift the 2003 World Series as a young boy. How can you not be romantic about baseball? Marte was traded to the Marlins from the Diamondbacks in 2020 and in that trade Marlins sent Caleb Smith to the Snakes. So basically it was Caleb Smith for Jesus Luzardo. I tip my hat to you, Kim.

Now with Marte gone, centre field was a problem for the Fish and it will be one of the key positions heading into the next offseason. To replace Starlings position Marlins managed to trade Yimi Garcia to the Houston Astros. In that trade, one of the players Astros sent to the Marlins was outfielder Bryan De La Cruz. You want to guess Bryan´s middle name? Starling. You can’t make this up. This is dark comedy at its best.

Marlins entered this season with a playoff spot in their back pocket from last year and expectations were high. Now looking back at those expectations, they might have been a bit too high. We can argue that maybe if there was no injury for Starling Marte and Brian Anderson then they might have salvaged something from this season. Maybe Sixto starts the season and is lights out. Maybe Dickerson would have found his bat. Maybe a few more wins. Maybe. That’s a lot of maybes. All excuses of course. The rest of this season is just getting through, looking up to September call ups. Just get over 60 wins. Next season though, oh my days!

Now with Luzardo on the rotation, the Marlins have a chance to throw quite a starting rotation next season. Here is one potential one:

That looks scary. In a good way for Marlins fans. It still is missing Max Meyer, Edward Cabrera and Dax Fulton to name a few. Only one problem; who hits the ball and scores runs? Lewis Brinson might not be the answer to this question even though he has been hitting RBI´s lately like Hank Aaron. Remains to see if any of the other prospects are the answer either. With this many starting pitcher prospects and already proven talent at MLB level, it will surely be interesting to see who is the odd man out. Giants 2012 and 2014 World Series victories came with an offence that ranked outside the top 10 in runs scored in the regular season ranking 12th on both seasons. Other champions have been the top team or close to the top 5 in the league. That being said the Marlins need a proven MLB hitter(s). Somebody who leads this offence. Somebody who shows the next step that this franchise has to take. Jeter and Ng has to find Miami owns Totti, Inzaghi, Del Piero or Vieri. I think they would get the reference. They have built this baseball catenaccio team. La Pazienza È la Virtù dei Forti – “Patience is a Virtue”

Stay safe and Go Fish!

Photo credit: Michael Reaves

Stats:, FanGraphs

Tomi Korkeamaki is covering the Miami Marlins during 2021 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @TKorkeamaki

While we have you, check out Gav’s trade deadline review. Click on the Giants’ new poster boy.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.