Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Marlins' Love Affair With Emilio Bonifacio

Everyone has to have a cause in life.  This Fan has two. One is to hound the Red Sox until they retire Wade Boggs' number. The other is to figure out just what the Florida Marlins see in Emilio Bonifacio. There is nothing personal against the young man from the Dominican Republic. It's just that he's one of those guys whose only real attributes are a good attitude, speed and a willingness to play wherever he's told to play. Those are admirable qualities. It is exactly those qualities that convince those making decisions for the Florida Marlins to continue to trot Bonifacio out there in uniform day after day. The only problem is that for all intents and purposes, he has no business doing so.

For being only 25 years old, Bonifacio has played for three different organizations. He started with the Diamondbacks and actually got a cup of coffee with them in 2007. In 2008, Bonifacio was traded by the D-backs to the Nationals for big Jon Rauch. The D-back turned around and traded Rauch to the Twins for a player to be named later (basically nothing) and Rauch has become a good reliever for the Twins. The funny thing about that trade is that Rauch is a full foot taller than Bonifacio.

Bonifacio got into 41 games with the Nationals and wasn't very good. But the Nationals turned around and coupled Bonifacio with a couple of minor leaguers and traded them to the Marlins for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham. Giving up some major league value like that, the Marlins immediately announced that Bonifacio would be their starting third baseman for the 2009 season.

Things started well in 2009. Bonifacio hit an inside-the-park homer on Opening Day, the first time that had been done since Carl Yastzremski did it forty-one years earlier. After the first couple of weeks, Bonifacio was hitting nearly .500 and was stealing bases and everyone gushed. It didn't last. And it didn't last long. Even so, the Marlins allowed Bonifacio to accumulate 509 plate appearances. 255 of those plate appearances came as the lead off batter. Another 193 of them came from the second spot in the batting order. As a lead off batter, his on base percentage was .299. Ugh! From the second spot in the line up, his on base percentage improved to .305.

So if you are keeping score, the Marlins gave Bonifacio 448 plate appearances in the top two spots of the line up. The end result was that Bonifacio accumulated the lowest OPS in the majors for anyone over 500 plate appearances at .611 He finished with a 61 OPS+. Yes, he stole some bases but with his speed was only successful 70% of the time. If you subtracted his nine caught stealing (he was also picked off a few times) from his OBP, things were even worse.

It almost got to be a comedy that season. Rob Neyer, then with, now with SBNation, wrote scathing posts about him. Others picked up on Neyer's lead.  The Marlins' then manager, Fredi Gonzalez, defended Bonifacio as someone who helped the team win by doing something special every day. The Fan heard him say that while in Florida for a couple weeks that summer of 2009. The remembered emotions were disbelief.

And it wasn't like Bonifacio played great defense. His arm is too weak for third and he lacked accuracy. rated his defense at -24 runs above replacement. Fangraphs was only slightly kinder.

So that was Bonifacio's season. And it appeared that the Marlins had learned their lessen the hard way with him and he did not make the club out of Spring Training in 2010. Whew! "Enough of that business," thought the Fan. But the Marlins weren't done with their love affair with the speedster. They brought him up mid-season and Bonifacio ended up seeing action in 73 games. he was a better base stealer. He stole 12 bases without being thrown out. He played six different positions. Fangraphs scored his fielding as above average. Baseball-reference below. So that would make Bonifacio a super-sub or a super-utility guy. Except he was still far from super. Oh, he did raise his OPS+ to 71, but that's still a long way from the MLB average of 100.

The entire trouble with Emilio Bonifacio is that he is a speedster that can't get on base, strikes out too much and has no power whatsoever. His Opening Day inside-the-park homer remains his only homer in the big leagues. In 933 career plate appearances in his career, Bonifacio has 24 doubles and 14 triples. He strikes out over 20 percent and he walks less than 10 percent of the time. If those were reversed, things would be different. Bonifacio now has a total career OPS+ of 64. And it's not like he lit up the minor leagues when he was there either. His career OPS as a minor league player was .703.

Surely, the Marlins could see all of that lack of development and ability and find another man-crush. Please don't call the Fan, Shirley, and no, they haven't. Not one of their spring players has more plate appearances in this pre-season than Bonifacio. The Marlins had hoped that Matt Dominguez would win the third base job, but the prospect slumped badly this spring and now the talk is of moving Omar Infante to third and installing Bonifacio as the starting second baseman to open the season. What!? Yes, friends, their love affair continues.

Nevermind the fact that even batting .175, Matt Dominguez still has a higher OPS than Bonifacio (.617 to .578). Nevermind that Bonifacio has proven in nearly a thousand career plate appearances that he's not going to get better. The Marlins are sticking with their man.


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