The Miami Marlins: History in the Making

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Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week, but I’ve been busy. Most importantly, I am now a writer for one of the best baseball resources on the internet, High Heat Stats (link). I still have every intention of posting original material here on my personal blog, but it may be a little less frequent. I’ve also been working with some great people in Springfield, MO to get an 18-and-up baseball league going and we had our first practice/scrimmage last week. So without further adu, here’s my 1st post for High Heat Stats.

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria talked a big game just one offseason ago, acquiring big-name free agents like Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle while making a run at the biggest fish in the sea, Albert Pujols. While Loria’s attempts to lure Pujols to South Beach would ultimately prove unsuccessful, the message was sent nonetheless: these new Miami Marlins were finally willing to open the pocketbooks to win. But the wins never materialized and dysfunction quickly set in. The Marlins slummed their way to a dismal 69-93 record which was good for a 2nd consecutive last place finish in the NL East.

The Marlins, as they are notorious for doing, decided that this current roster wouldn’t get the job done. They opted to leverage nearly all their usable roster pieces into future assets, making multiple trades that left the big league roster in tatters. Out the door went Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and their combined 13 All-Star appearances, only to be replaced by a handful of minor league prospects plus some veteran placeholders. If the Marlins could only muster 69 wins with that group of players, it was worth wondering how low they could go with an even less talented group. Well, if the early returns are worth anything, these 2013 Miami Marlins may make a run at some truly terrible history.

Through the first 39 games of the 2013 season, Miami has scored just 110 total runs, which averages out to about 2.8 guys crossing the plate per game. Since the advent of the designated hitter in 1973 every single Major League team has managed to score at least 3 runs per game. The lowest scoring ball club during the designated hitter era was the 1981 Toronto Blue Jays, who average 3.1 runs per game during the strike shortened, run suppressed season. (Teams today average about a quarter of a run more per game than they did in 1981.) The only other ball club to approach that level of ineptitude is the historically bad 2010 Seattle Mariners team that managed to finish dead last in the American League in nearly every offensive category outside of stolen bases.

The biggest problem for the Marlins has been their inability to keep Giancarlo Stanton healthy and on the field. At this stage of the team’s development, Stanton is the only Marlins hitter worth paying the price of admission to see, yet he’s been anything but entertaining in the early going. Shoulder injuries have put limits on his ferocious swing, which has led to career-worst numbers in OPS (.728), batting average (.227), and homers (3.4% of his at-bats end with a long ball compared to 6.1% for his career). Without a healthy Stanton pounding baseballs in the middle of the lineup, opposing pitchers can carve through the Marlins without a worry in the world.

A good offense is fueled by a strong catalyst at the top and that’s something the Marlins just don’t have. Juan Pierre has hit lead-off in 30 of the Marlins 38 games this season and he’s got a terrible .220 batting average and .273 on-base percentage in that spot. Placido Polanco hasn’t been any better this year hitting .242/.306/.280 while mostly hitting in the #2 or #3 hole. It’s damn hard to score runs when your top of the lineup can’t get on base.

The rest of Miami’s veteran pickups have been disasters as well. Casey Kotchman managed to get 5 hit-less at-bats under his belt before succumbing to injury. Thirty-something outfielders Matt Diaz and Austin Kearns have both lived up to their reputations as back-up outfielders gone bad, combining for just 6 hits in 41 at-bats. And don’t even get me started on Miguel Olivo, who’s .248 on-base percentage from the past 2 seasons combined has proven to be no fluke. Olivo is currently hitting .186/.226/.373 in a part-time role. Manager Mike Redmond may not have many options behind these guys, but at some point you’ve got to stop doing what’s unsuccessful and try something else.

That something else could be Christian Yelich, the 15th ranked prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Yelich is currently stationed at Double-A Jacksonville, where he’s tearing the cover off the ball, pounding 14 extra-base hits in 19 games. The Marlins have also been giving more burn to Marcell Ozuna, the 75th ranked prospect in baseball. Ozuna’s responded well during his first 12 Major League games, hitting .326 with one homer and 5 RBI, which is more than most Marlins hitters can boast about. But apart from Ozuna, the rest of the Marlins who made the leap to the big league level have struggled.

Catcher Rob Brantly and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, the key pieces to all of last season’s maneuverings, have looked overwhelmed by big league pitching. Brantly has shown an excellent batting eye, walking nearly as many times as he’s struck out in his young career, but the rest of his game is lacking. He still struggles to drive the ball to the outfield and left-handed pitchers have carved him up thus far, holding the rookie to a .091 batting average. Hechavarria, on the other hand, has had trouble elevating the ball off the bat. He hits ground balls twice as frequently as the average big leaguer which is a bad thing because those are the balls that are most frequently converted into outs. As long as Hechavarria continues to pound pitches into the ground, he’s going to continue to make outs.

This season was always going to be a long one down in Miami, but I don’t think anyone saw a train wreck of this magnitude coming. The hope was that on the way to 90 losses, some of the young prospects would show some promise in the hopes of building a contender by 2016 but that may be taking the optimistic view. This current roster has may 5 or 6 usable Major League players on it and the best of the group, Giancarlo Stanton, is already trying to force his way to another city as we speak.

As far as the outlook for the rest of this season goes, well, it isn’t good. The Marlins aren’t going to be calling in any real reinforcements which means look out 2010 Mariners and 1981 Blue Jays, the ranks of the terrible may have some company by the end of the season.

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