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Good face, bad player: Why track records matter

It’s a bad sign when you’re hitting .247/.296/.300 for the fifth-worst OPS in the league and the local newspaper is running articles questioning your defense.

Such is the life of Emilio Bonifacio, who got some people way too excited with a few great games to begin the season and has since predictably lived up to his minor-league track record by being one of the worst everyday players in baseball.

Back in mid-April, when Bonifacio was sporting a .500 batting average after a handful of games, Jon Heyman of wrote about how “Florida stole an undervalued speed demon ready to contribute” when they acquired him from Arizona. Here’s more from Heyman’s glowing piece:

But the Marlins knew better. And now, a week into his Marlins career, Bonifacio, who moves faster on the diamond than anyone in baseball, has moved up in everyone else’s eyes. Those outside the Marlins organization once again view the 23-year-old as an exciting young player after watching him ignite the Marlins offense with a .500 batting average, exhibit the best baseball speed since Deion Sanders and lead his club to a 5-1 start.

The Marlins’ scouts seem to know things others do not, so they figured it might be worthwhile to give Bonifacio, primarily a second baseman, a look at third base. So far the slap-hitting speed demon has looked like a star at a position normally reserved for power hitters. Bonifacio put together multiple-hit efforts in the Marlins’ first five games of the season and produced enough theatrics to excite even the minimal crowds they draw down here.

Keep in mind that those words were written about a player who had produced a .703 OPS over 656 games in the minors and .629 OPS over 60 games the majors coming into this season. And while Heyman was one of the more vocal Bonifacio bandwagon occupants, he certainly wasn’t alone.

There were all kinds of articles popping up about his supposed “breakout” and there were all kinds of angry missives in my e-mailbox about my “unfair” skepticism. Yet for all the talk of how “the Marlins’ scouts seem to know things others do not” and all the hyperbole about Bonifacio possessing “the best baseball speed since Deion Sanders” at the end of the day he’s performing exactly like his minor-league track record predicted.

And since starting the season with 14 hits in 24 at-bats, Bonifacio has batted .213 with a .272 on-base percentage, .238 slugging percentage, zero homers, and a 41/14 K/BB ratio while being thrown out on four of his nine steal attempts in 38 games. I’m sure that his “theatrics” are still off the charts, though.