Playing time is a premium nowadays for the Astros, who have built up a capable major league roster in recent years.
When one examines the Astros outfield, you should probably think of George Springer first. Josh Reddick and his “Wooooo” likely follows next. Then you have the rotating door for the team’s third outfielder, which has been composed of Carlos Beltran, Marwin Gonzalez, Nori Aoki, Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick at various points. This is where the Astros outfield becomes something interesting to write about.
First off, Gonzalez shouldn’t be expected to fill in an outfield position on a consistent basis. He is utilized at a number of positions (shortstop, third base, second base, etc.) so it is unlikely that he would be considered as a long-term solution. Regardless of the position, the Astros will be looking for ways to keep his 175 wRC+ in the lineup.
Kemp is back with the Fresno Grizzlies at the time of writing this post. The only way he will be a major player in the outfield is if injuries overtake the roster. Then you have to account for the offensive struggles of Beltran (87 wRC+) and Aoki (70 wRC+).
Enter Marisnick, who has provided an unexpected spark with his bat this season with an 140 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances.
It seems like the most common knock on Marisnick’s career has been his bat, or lack thereof. And this viewpoint isn’t exactly unfounded. In fact, his 82 wRC+ in 2015 and 58 wRC+ in 2016 were far from encouraging. As a fourth or fifth outfielder known for his defense, then this production from the plate can be slightly overlooked. But not from a starting position of a contending outfield.
This season, though, has been an encouraging one for Marisnick. He has hit for a higher average, .296, along with a more power, .537 SLG. His four home runs in 2017 is just one less than his entire 2016 total, which came in 311 plate appearances. He is also taking in more walks, 9.8% BB%, in his first 32 games than he did all of last season.
As you may recall, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com had an interesting article about Marisnick’s adjustments at the plate during Spring Training. One area in particular, the ability to hit more line drives and less ground balls, was noted. Thus far in 2017, Marisnick has increased his line drive rate up to 20.7%. The previous two seasons he averaged a line drive rate of roughly 19.5%. Progress has been made. On the other hand, his groundball rate has climbed to 48.3% this season. In the previous two seasons, Marisnick had a ground ball rate of 41.9% and 45.2%. In turn, his fly ball percentage has dropped to 31% and his infield fly ball percentage has climbed to 22.2%.
I will concede that the sample size is still rather small. But you have to agree that his results with the bat have been positive overall. Compared to the struggles of someone like Aoki this season, I would like to think that the Astros management will at least give more credence to the thought of playing Marisnick more often.
In conjunction with his commended defense in the outfield, Marisnick provides another option for the Astros when he hits well. Of course, there are warning signs with his improved production.
Take his BABIP as an example. Currently, Marisnick’s BABIP is sitting at .462 on the season. This is simply not a level of production that is likely to be maintained all season long. The highest BABIP of any qualified batter last season was DJ LeMahieu at .388. Marisnick’s highest BABIP for his major league career thus far has been .338 in 2014. Unless he starts hitting for more line drives and fly balls, his ground balls will eventually lead to some outs.
The strikeouts are also another issue to keep an eye on for the foreseeable future. Once again, I will invoke the sample size, but a 39.3% K% is still something to watch. Let’s be honest that Marisnick isn’t exactly known for his lack of strikeouts. He has averaged anywhere from 26.7% to 28.2% K% in recent seasons.
Despite the potential drawbacks, the Astros need to pencil in Marisnick into the lineup more times than not in the foreseeable future. While his positive results may not last all season long, the team may need to consider him over Beltran and Aoki for the time being. The lineup is still producing well, but you never know when having that one extra quality bat can change the tide for any given game.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**